Tricia: [There was...] a study done by the American Association of University Women that showed a huge drop in self-esteem for girls entering middle school. It also [pointed out] that younger girls are more likely to learn from and really listen to older girls who have experienced some of these things like low self-esteem and eating disorders.
TI: Like learning from the experience of others!
Tricia: Exactly! So in 1989 our Girl Scout Council developed Teen Outreach. Senior girl scouts (grades 9-12) must complete a week long training about contemporary issues ranging from suicide prevention, to HIV/AIDS, to eating disorders, to self-esteem, to abuse, to GLBT issues (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender), to oppression. Then the high school girls give presentations [on these issues] to younger girls incorporating some basic information, some discussion and some activities to make it fun and interactive.
TI: What do you like best about the program?
Tricia: That the older girls also learn about these issues. They learn and become resources for their friends and they help younger girls too!
TI: What has Teen Outreach meant to the rest of you? Why are you a part of it?
Jean: For me Teen Outreach is mentoring younger girls. I've been mentored myself and it brings it full circle. You can go back and let [younger] girls know it's going to be O.K. That this is what you're going through [right now], we acknowledge that, and here are some things to make it easier. [You tell them] "You will get through it." It gives them some tools, some hope...
Amanda: It's about setting a good example. You know, [the younger girls] listen to us more than they would to their best friend's 30-something [year old] mother. They listen to us ... and it gives us a chance to talk to them and reach out and hopefully influence their decisions.
Jacia: Teen Outreach is a way to let girls have fun and learn some stuff, too. I started loving it and became addicted to it and being trained and I like the girls.
Paula: At first [for me] it was a way to stick with girl scouts. I'd always seen on TV big brother-big sister type things and I wanted to be involved in something like that.
For me Teen Outreach is mentoring younger girls. [You tell them] "You will get through it." It gives them some tools, some hope. . .
Jean: I think it helps us too! When I see that little spark of heroism and worship in the little Brownies' eyes, I go "O.K. What am I doing?" You consciously make better decisions yourself so you can look them in the eye and tell them how to be healthy.
TI: So you have become role models?
Jean: [Yes!] And I liked the concepts. It just seemed like a really healthy thing to do, to help [younger] girls, have a good time, and do something that we all believe in, [helping them solve] problems that we all deal with ourselves. If you think about all the drugs and teen pregnancies and everything, they come from a lack of self-confidence and self-respect. So if you can ... help [girls] give themselves self-confidence and self-respect then you have solved a lot of problems in that person's life. I like the idea of trying to help people find that.
TI: This sounds like a very cool program! What are the trainings like?
Jacia: I like trainings. Every time we have one, [it] really gets you re-psyched up to stay in Teen Outreach and to want to continue with the new year.
Jean: When Paula and I were counselors this summer, I could feel my TOVP training. Starting with the "I" statements and the games I could feel all that coming out [with my campers.]. I think it ingrains itself into everything you do.
TI: What are some other parts of the training that stuck with you?
Amanda: I like media images training because you start, "O.K. I've seen that commercial." And when you put them all together you realize you do see this every single day and it's so common you don't even think about it.
Jacia: And the next thing you know you can't look at a magazine again with a clear conscience. You go through the thing going "I should save for later as an example [for the girls.]" [Or] "This we could put on a poster..."
Jean: I like doing the "Getting Along Well with Others" program with the younger girls, because it's such a totally new concept for them. They've grown up with a No hitting. No biting. Share toys — thing. But they don't really understand. So turning on the light bulbs with the Brownies is fun. Trying to get the ideas, the knowledge to them like Helen Keller. W-a-t-e-r means the wet stuff. It's "getting along with others." [That] means getting along... it doesn't mean tolerating others. You have to try to figure out how to separate those two thoughts in a 6 year old brain.
It just seemed like a really healthy thing to do, to help [younger] girls, ... [helping them solve] problems that we all deal with ourselves.
TI: What's your favorite part of Teen Outreach?
Jacia: It's really fun when you come to the same [Brownie] troop and they all recognize you and they all remembered your name.
Jean: I like feeling like I can help. There was this one girl that I encountered, she had a really unhealthy attitude towards herself. She was 14 and over the course of a month by subtly correcting her [with words like] "No that's not healthy. Remember what we talked about before?" Just telling her a story, or that kinda thing, she would [start] correct[ing] herself. Instead of saying, "I'm so stupid!" She would say "This isn't working." So instead of doing things internally she would say what was actually wrong. Instead of beating up on herself. So that's a success story.
TI: How would you get other people involved in a mentoring type program like TOVP?
Jean: I would just say to them "Think about someone who has touched your life in that way and do it for someone else." Teaching, especially life skills, is something that should be passed along. Yeah, I would just tell people to pass the [torch].
Tricia: On the Teen Outreach application it says: "Why do you want to be a Teen Outreach volunteer and what special skills, training, and/or life experiences will you bring to TOVP?" Often girls will put "I've experienced depression and I want to help other girls deal with it." Or "I come from a broken family in one way or another." With these different life problems and with what they've learned they want to help other girls. Everyone has experiences they draw on, that they think "Oh, this is valuable and I can make a difference."
Jacia: I'd tell them this story: Once upon a time there was a young girl who saw starfish stranded up and down a beach. To save them she started to toss them back into the water. When an elderly man saw what the girl was doing he came up to her and said, "If you look down the beach to your right there are starfish as far as you can see. And to the left it is the same. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but there are too many starfish for one little girl to make a difference." The girl pondered this for a moment then she reached down her small hand, picked up another starfish, threw it into the ocean, and said, "I sure made a difference for that one."
TI: How does that relate to Teen Outreach?
Jacia: There are billions of little girls out there and we obviously can't reach all of them being that we only live in Minnesota. [But] we can help only one at a time, and that makes a difference!
...we can help only one [girl] at a time, and
TI: What are some of your most unforgettable Teen Outreach moments?
Jean: My most memorable moment from Teen Outreach was last spring when we did open mike poetry night for Take Back the Night. A woman who came had recently been raped by an acquaintance. Just hearing how she [was] not only on the road to emotional recovery from such a horrible act of violence, but ... a stronger person because of her road, that was really inspiring! So because of her experiences we are now able to tell the girls what [you can] do if your friend is raped and needs your help. How to get help. How to take initiative. How to [help] prevent [rapes]. Because of the shared experience we are better able to help others, and they are better able to help others [too].
Tricia: One memorable time for me was talking with girls about how it feels to be left out, how it feels to be included and how to include others. I had the girls picture in their minds a time when they were happy. They could all do that. Then when I said "Think about a time when you felt left out even if you were with people you cared about." And there's this little second grader telling me about a time when she was in her room crying because her mom and dad were fighting and her dad was hitting her mom. What do you say then? And another girl, same time, same little group of second graders, was saying it was Christmas and it was another act of violence in the family, someone was drunk. So here are these little girls telling about basically what their family was like. And I don't know how much I especially helped them, except that it was a chance at least to let them express their feelings. It illustrated to me how important what we're doing is. There are girls in every group we deal with that have had these experiences, whether they share them or not. We know we make a difference, just spending time with them, looking them in the face, letting them know that they matter, that they're important to us and that's why we're there.
TI: Anyone else have a special moment you'd like to share?
Jean: This summer I had a little girl who I found crying, because she said she missed her dad. So I said "Will your dad be picking you up at the end of the week?" And she said "No. I haven't seen him in 2 years. He doesn't want to see me." How do you tell a little 9 year old that everything is going to be OK when her daddy doesn't want to see her? We sat there and she cried and I rocked her. Then the next morning she had drawn me a picture thanking me for talking to her. A lot of times all a girl wants is a shoulder or an outlet.
TI: I want to thank everyone for talking with me about Teen Outreach. You should all be very proud of the great work you're doing to help younger girls grow up with self-confidence.
Want to find out more about TOVP?
Contact Tricia Andrews, Girl Scout Troop
Leader at [email protected]
Want to find out more about TOVP and The InSite's Teen Editorial Board?
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