A couple of months ago I put a post on my personal blog about becoming a Guider. The GirlGuidesCAN blog picked it up and after a short series of emails back and forth, I was asked to be a guest blogger, blogging about being a first-time Guider. This is the first in what will be a series of posts about my first year in Guiding.
So far, it’s been a blast.
But not without its trials, of course.
Here’s my situation:
I was never a Girl Guide (despite a resolved round of begging to join Brownies. How I coveted that brown uniform, cheeky tam and jaunty purse.)
I’ve started up a new Brownie Unit.
I’m the Contact Guider/Brown Owl (seems these terms are interchangeable… more on the “language of Guiding” later.)
I am now, also, the Contact Guider for the local Sparks Unit.
I’m the treasurer for at least one, if not both Units.
I openly covet pins.
I’m a touch INSANE.
How is it that someone who knew virtually nothing about Guiding a few months ago – short of loving the mint cookies (don’t try and convince me the classics are better. I’m not to be convinced) and having a daughter in Sparks – is now running TWO Guiding units?
Answer: I’m a warm female body that’s willing to do it.
NO, NO, NO. That can’t be it. There’s more to becoming a Guider than that right?
Well, I think being a warm female body helps. And to be honest, when I initially contacted my local community office in the spring with the idea of starting up an after-school Brownie Unit, that was pretty much what I figured. But after my screening, I realized that Girl Guides is probably looking for a little bit more than that.
To back up a tiny bit, I had no idea what to expect when I contacted the Guiding office with the idea of starting up a new Unit. Did they even do that anymore? Was it hard? Would they even want me?
The answers were: YES. NO. And YES (with an asterisk).
I spoke with Virginia, our ACL, who was thrilled with the idea of an after-school Unit (I’ve since figured out that we’re the only after-school Brownie Unit in Ottawa). I let her know that I already had a person who would be the other leader (my friend Julie who is a seasoned Guide and Guider). She set up a screening time for us (the asterisk above).
My screening took place at the local Starbucks (they had me at latte!). Virginia took me through a series of interview-style questions… it didn’t even involve taking my pulse. The questions were thorough, they all made sense and indeed there was depth there. She wanted to know about my background working with girls, how I would deal with discipline problems, bullying, etc., if I had camping experience (thankfully yes, I was a canoe instructor at a camp for several summers where we indeed did sing a number of Guide songs I realize now), and of course, the required legal questions about criminal activity, etc. (none to speak of). She also gave me a presentation about Guiding that left me feeling…. overwhelmingly overwhelmed. To put it mildly.
There was clearly going to be a lot to learn and it wasn’t just about the program.
And here is where language comes in.
Friends, when I’m not on leave-without-pay, I work for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. If anyone should win a prize for unclear, totally illogical acronym creation and creating a befuddling language that feels impossible to penetrate… it’d be that government department.
And yet here I was already swimming in acronyms and terms that left me feeling…. well, like I’d stepped into a foreign country and forgotten my dictionary.
ACL? Girl engagement? LAH? Guiding Law? UA? TEAM? WAGGGS? Safe Guide? Member Zone? IMIS? OAL? DC?
Still, if I made my way through the foreign affairs experience, I could do this. And I have for the most part but it ain’t for the faint of heart. The best way to figure it out is to throw yourself into reading, training and ask, ask, ask.
From the end of my screening until now, things have sailed along. I had the police check done and at the end of the summer and I started reading through everything I could get my hands on about running a Brownie Unit.
And I’ve taken every training opportunity that I could. I’m so glad I did.
The training offered through Guides is top-notch. The trainers are excellent; there is serious depth in the training sessions. I actually sang the Brownie songs, danced around the toadstool and said the Brownie Promise. I played games. In short, I became a Brownie!
I’ve also taken Safe Guide and done web training on being a treasurer. I’ll continue to take every training I can until I run out of things to take. It’s that good.
The thing I still struggle with (like a number of Units) is attracting girls to the Unit. We’ve done back-pack stuffers, used word of mouth, we’re going to have a Bring a Friend night but honestly I didn’t think it would be such a tough slog. And now I’m starting the same process for the Sparks Unit. I didn’t expect that I’d have to play sales-woman. I thought that Brownies sold itself. I can’t be the only one who loves to wear a uniform and collect pins and badges, right? (You have no idea how excited I get when that Canpar box arrives.)
I’ve tapped into the Girl Guides Facebook page. There was a discussion about attracting new girls that helped me generate ideas and also made me realize that even though this is a giant organization, I’m not alone. There are other Guiders who are struggling with the same issues. And are still having as much fun as I am.
In short (or long, as it seems now), my first impressions of becoming a Guider are thus:
- There’s a lot to learn. Take training. Learn by doing.
- Ask for help. I’ve been thrilled with the number of offers of help and mentoring I’ve received.
- It’s a big organization (huge, in fact) and that can be intimidating.
- There’s a wealth of experience to draw on.
- As far as programming goes, draw on my own experience. And don’t stick to the script.
- We need better ways to draw in more girls and more Guiders.
- These people like to have fun. And are all Brownies at heart.
Update: Check out Part II in this series, First Impressions, to read what Karen has to say about her first Unit meeting!
What piece of advice would you offer Karen and other new Guiders?