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Lessons coronavirus taught me

Six months ago, I couldn’t have imagined the impact COVID- 19 would have on organizations like ours. Girls Scouts, you see, is based on a troop model of girls gathered in groups, with adult troop leaders and parent volunteers. How would we be able to preserve the Girl Scout experience if we had to say goodbye to Friendship Circles, sleep-away camp or sharing S’mores by the fire?

The answer was clear.

We had to find some grit and get to work – just like we would coach any girl in our program to do.

Girl Scouts are known for our resiliency and capability, and we quickly adapted to a new way of connecting with our girl members and adult volunteers.

Our staff quickly created “Live After Lunch” on social media each day, which spotlighted a talented staffer sharing their gifts, whether that be yoga, baking or crafting. Shortly after that, we launched Girl Power Half Hour, which delivered Girl Scout programming to any girl from the comfort and safety of her home.

And finally, we even managed to deliver camp as a virtual experience with Happy Camp’IN. Our amazing camp staff brought the outside to our members in their backyards, parks and local nature preserves, via Zoom programming, which first demonstrated and then encouraged girls to safely explore the natural world around them.

This fall, as the coronavirus numbers continued to climb, we knew we needed to embody the Girl Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” Our virtual programming from the spring and summer were so successful, we knew that no matter what, that expanded virtual programming would be a permanent part of our program delivery.

We also knew, that as we learn to live safely with the virus in our community, that we needed to create clear guidelines and strict, science-based parameters around whether, and how, girls met in person. Simply put, we had to help our members and their families, be adaptable and creative.

Outside masked adventures, online dance parties and modeling new ways to safely interact in small gatherings together indoors – the word of the day, is hybrid. Simply put, we are ready to meet our girls, their families and our volunteers wherever they are. Girl Scouts will be there too.

So, while these times have been stressful and trying, they have also taught me about resilience. Resilience of our 108-year old organization and resilience of the members we serve. Ironically, in a time when we are all kept apart, we have come together in many ways that do not involve physical space.

Our staff united in creative problem solving and our members connected virtually with girls from all over the country, on shared Zooms and virtual book clubs. Our leaders shared ideas with one another on how to keep ideas fresh and engagement strong. We’ve become a more nimble organization and those we support have exemplified that Girl Scout Law in everything they have done, from making masks to donating cookies to frontline heroes.

I am proud to be a Girl Scout, now more than ever.

Lemke has served as CEO of the Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes (GSNWGL) since November 2018. GSNWGL serves approximately 15,000 girls and 5,000 adult volunteers from 58 counties, across central and northern Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.