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Youth Organization Leader

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What do several NASA astronauts and Mariah Carey have in common?

At one time, they were all members of a volunteer youth organization.

Whether it's with the Boy Scouts or Girl Guides, being a volunteer leader is one of life's most rewarding activities. You can help foster the kids in your neighborhood into the stars of tomorrow.

"I would encourage any woman who really is interested in the future of girls to become a girl scout leader," says Dee Montano. She is the membership development director for the Girl Scouts of Orange County in California.

Volunteer youth organization leaders around the world help organize activities for the children in their area. Whether it's camping, field trips or teaching a new skill, it's a leader's job to ensure younger kids have a great time learning about themselves and the world around them.

"The program is so flexible that women of all talents and abilities will be able to teach the girls skills that they will need to be successful and happy women," adds Montano.

And the same is true for the boys. Perhaps one of the world's largest scouting organizations is the Boy Scouts of America. With over 300 local council centers across the U.S., Boy Scouts of America employs professional leaders to guide and trains more than a million volunteers.

Real Lavergne started as a youth group leader when his brother began getting into trouble. "I took the initiative because the kids needed something to do," he says.

"So, together with the parish church, I coordinated sport activities and camping trips for a group of 17 boys. We also collected funds for the Foster Parent Plan. The program taught them about solidarity, collaboration and civic responsibility."

Captain Gilles Despres often volunteered his time with some military cadets. "Part of our responsibility was to help train the young -- the military men and women of the future," says Despres. "We hosted several cadet groups throughout the summer. It was a very exciting program."

"The cadet kids especially liked the parachute simulator. We started showing them basic maneuvers, how to control the parachute and practice landing from a six-foot platform. But it wasn't long before they were eyeing the 34-foot tower. They have no fear. It's incredible.

"Then came the orienteering exercises. Equipped with only a compass, the cadets were sent into the forest at night to find their marker. That made the tower look easy. But they survived to tell the stories -- all night long," says Despres. "It was great fun."

Anne Jankovich is a girl scout leader. "The most interesting aspect of this whole experience for me is watching the girls grow and seeing them learn new things and challenge themselves," she says.

"The bonds that I have formed between my group of girls is inspiring as well. In my group, I have a wide range of ages...from age six to 12. The older girls play with the younger girls and do anything to get them to giggle. It's a complete joy to watch their friendship blossom."

Owen Dickie is a volunteer leader with a scouts group. "One year, we spent time talking to the scouts about winter survival and rescue. We taught them how to recognize the signs of hypothermia, frostbite and how to manage crisis situations," he says.

"A few weeks later, one of our scouts was playing on the frozen lake with friends and a boy fell through the ice. The scout rescued him, saved his life and was eventually awarded the Scouts Canada Medal of Bravery."

Lavergne also taught his troupe about winter camping. "It was an exercise in skill development," he chuckles.

"But I remember one day, a fawn walked up to our campsite. She was so tame that the boys were able to approach her and ended up playing with her. It was strange. I'm not sure where she came from."

How to Get Involved

Montano got started with the Girl Scouts because she had been a scout when she was younger and she wanted her daughters to experience the program. "Later, I found that I enjoyed presenting the program to all the girls, not just my own," she says.

"I originally became a leader simply because I feared no one else would take over when the previous leader quit," explains Jankovich. "However, my outlook has changed. These girls are going to remember this for the rest of their lives and I feel honored to have been an influence on them."

So, what are these organizations looking for in a volunteer leader? "The talents councils look for are education, desire and willingness to learn," says Montano.

"To be a good girl scout leader, you need to really like children, care about them and their feelings. Be willing to learn ways of working with girls that present a challenge. You need patience, flexibility, commitment. Those are the qualities I consider important."

And each organization has a policy when considering volunteer candidates. Once you have chosen a group, first find out if you qualify. For example, "our council policy states that any adult over 18 who believes in the Girl Scout philosophy and is willing to take training and abide by the rules is eligible to be a volunteer leader," notes Montano.

Jankovich adds that, "there are things the Girl Scout Council requires, such as criminal background checks and training classes. But there are personality traits that one should have: excellent organizational skills, a love of children, boundless energy and patience."

Be prepared for a screening process that includes more than one interview. But keep this in mind: because scout and guide leaders are so carefully chosen, your reputation as a successful youth organization volunteer can often lead to a promising career.

Dickie has some words of advice. "GO FOR IT. You're there to be a kid. Just remember that being a scout leader is all about allowing the kids to make their own decisions. But ultimately, the kids are responsible for those decisions."


Girl Scouts of the USA

Boy Scouts of America

World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) r


Girl Scouts of the USA -- Volunteers
What you need to know before volunteering

Scouting Web
Check out this resource site

World Scout Movement
An international scouting site

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