Everyone at the College is familiar with Paresky Center and the medley of people and activity that circulates daily through the center of campus. Many are unfamiliar, however, with some of Paresky’s most colorful and vibrant visitors. When spring arrives, a few times a month Paresky comes alive with the arrival of the Williamstown Girl Scout Troop. While some students may be familiar with the persuasiveness with which they hawk their cookies to Whitman’s diners, few realize the full extent of the benefit that the troop imparts on the local youth and the greater community.
“Look at these!” were the first words that greeted me as I sat down to chat with the troop after a long evening of cookie sales and activities. The panoply of bright, enthusiastic faces proceeded to talk through all the specifics of their latest group project, a twist on the classic egg-drop that helped teach engineering and problem solving. The girls’ ages ranged from 10 to 12, and they represented six different schools (an unusual fact – most Girl Scout troops all come from the same school, while the Williamstown troop takes girls from as far as North Adams, Pownal and even Lanesborough). They were incredibly proud of their myriad of contraptions and could not wait to tell about all their various projects.
When many think of the Girl Scouts, images of cabins, sashes and baked treats may come to mind, but the Williamstown troop, like Girl Scout troops around the country, is challenging the stereotype and promoting what the scouts ardently called “girl power.” Some of the girls’ favorite and most memorable experiences with the Scouts involved building robots and completing challenges like the egg drop. They recently made an overnight trip to the Museum of Science in Boston, and many of the Scouts had an exuberant interest in science and technology, fields in which girls are traditionally underrepresented. One girl said that the Scouts made her “feel like [she] could do anything,” and the rest quickly nodded in enthusiastic assent, erupting with even more excited chatter about their latest and next group activities.
The Williamstown troop also pushes boundaries in more traditional scout activities. Like with many troops, the Williamstown Scouts love to go camping and enjoy the outdoors. “Camping as a troop is very valuable as it takes the some of the girls out of their comfort zone and gets them into nature which is very important,” Kristen Mabey, troop leader, said. The girls, however, still continue to challenge stereotypes even on their more traditional scout retreats. On one trip, they noticed that the Boy Scouts got to learn knife skills, while the girls did not. The girls decided to speak up, and they ended up finding someone to teach them. “We are a very adventurous troop [that wants] to do everything and for the most part we try to make that happen,” Mabey said.
Meeting roughly once every two weeks, the girls learn everything from science to international awareness and also do a hefty chunk of community service. Money raised by selling cookies goes to both the troop, to help girls participate in activities their families may not be able to afford, and to local charities. Group activities often involve work at local food banks, and community action is deeply ingrained in the troop’s culture. When talking about their favorite part of the Scouts, almost all the girls replied that the greatest piece was the opportunity to help others. Mabey added that “in the community service projects, we do teach the girls the importance of doing things for others and making the world a better place.”
Despite all the community service and female empowerment that the Scouts bring to Williamstown, very few students are aware of the exciting and involved group right under their noses. Mabey believes this is partially due to the regional nature of the troop, with participants not just from Williamstown but many of the surrounding municipalities as well. Although this means their connection to Williamstown is less firm, Mabey considers is a huge advantage. “Our troop is pretty diverse and at one point we had girls that were in eight different schools (we currently have six different schools between us) and they are able to meet other girls that they normally wouldn’t have met and we have become one big family.” Despite their regional presence, however, the troop’s leaders are eager to foster a stronger relationship with the College. They visit to sell cookies and do some activities, but Mabey “would love to have more interactions with students that can share their talents and experiences with my girls. I think [the more] interactions that young girls have with the [College] and the students, the better.”
College-affiliated or not, however, the Williamstown Girl Scouts will continue their persistent enthusiasm and passion for action. In the near future, they plan on continuing their involvement in science and technology, keeping up their devotion to community service and, of course, having a lot of fun. Although cookie selling season has passed, the Williamstown Girl Scouts will hopefully be back in Paresky soon with some new project and their infectiously good attitudes.