Friday, November 8, 2013

Interfaith Work

Earlier this week I attended the St. Louis Interfaith Partnership Dinner and Celebration.  I went as a representative of the non-profit I volunteer with and had not had any prior experience with this particular interfaith group.  It ended up being a wonderful and very eye-opening evening.  I was floored by the sheer number of people in attendance.  It must have been around 400 folks, representing just about every faith/humanist group in the metro area.  People were greeting each as old friends, catching up, and having faith dialogues.  The evening commenced with honoring a longtime volunteer from the LDS community and a keynote speaker that discussed his journey from Christianity to Islam.  The mood in the room was uplifting and joyful.

The event planners had arranged the seating so that every table would be a mix of religious denominations.  I am not sure how, but I ended up being the sole Unitarian Universalist at a table full of Pakistani Muslims.  After the initial awkwardness of being the "outsider" to this group of friends, we slowly broke the ice and it was great.  They were all in their 50s-60s and had been in St. Louis for thirty or so years, some spoke English better then others, but they were all so friendly.  We eventually got on the topic of our beliefs and they were very curious of mine.  At first I was a little uncomfortable as I don't often delve into such deep topics with people I barely know, but I am glad I did.  It was very engaging and we all left feeling that we had a lot more in common then not. 

What touched me the most though, was after the event.  I went out to get my jacket and ran into one of the women from the table.  I didn't get to talk to her very much as she was seated further away and had a harder time with English. She was also fully covered in a headscarf and reminded me of a sweet grandma.  When she saw me in the hallway, she rushed up to me and took my hand, hugged me and kissed me three times.  It was one of the most amazing, touching things I have ever experienced.  It almost left me in tears.  Friendly, open dialogue truly can make the difference.  That is why this work is so important.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Girl Scout Frustration

I have been a Girl Scout troop leader for several years.  My daughter is now a Cadette working on her silver award.  As happens frequently with troops, girls drop off the older they get.  Homework, sports, family time start competing for the girls' attention.  Currently, I have a troop of two.  Yes, that is very small, but they have been together for many years and we have had many other girls cycle in and out of participation. As a troop, we are content.  Daughter and P attend different schools and have different friends.  This is the only time they get to see each other and both of them love working on Girl Scout projects. 

Today I got an email from our Council stating that we are too small to qualify as a troop this year.  Evidently, you need five.  They sent me a list of girls that had expressed interest from a school that neither of my current girls attend.  I know this sounds harsh, but we are not interested in expanding.  It takes a lot of time to build up trust and relationships, we have that now.  We are a good group and enjoy working together.  Additionally, we are working on their Silver Award.  This has been a lot of work and is not something someone else can just jump into. I am so frustrated - I don't know what to do. 

This has just been the latest in a long string of frustrations I have with our Council.  Of course, I am only seeing my side, but they would go a long way in helping themselves if they could explain their actions better.  I have put in countless volunteer hours, sold dozens of cookies, taken time from my family to be certified in the numerous things that they require, gone way out of my comfort zone to take girls camping and been a general cheerleader for them.  This is what they say? Sorry, you don't have enough girls?!?!

I want to believe in Girl Scouts.  They have a lot to offer, but I am questioning their direction.  GS Campgrounds are closing across the US.  It has been particularly heartbreaking to see my childhood one in Iowa go on the sale block.  It appears that they are refocusing on STEM and leadership opportunities.  While I have nothing against these activities, I feel that they are forgetting the confidence and leadership that develops from camping and pushing your boundaries in a safe way.   The world is moving towards more technology.  Schools and homes are already embracing it.  GS should include it but not forget that they have something unique to offer in getting girls outside and appreciating nature and all that it has to offer.  How are we going to build the next environmentalist, scientist, chemist, engineer if they never get to see what nature has already perfected? Leadership and innovation come from making do with what is in front of you.  Minimizing or taking away camping will only push GS into another after school activity that doesn't have all that much new to offer. Please wake up Girl Scouts!