This story all began when Girl Guides of Canada reached out to me to say that a parent had called looking for a unit for her Guide-aged daughter. Her daughter has Asperger’s and some other disabilities and wanted to make sure the Guiders in her unit would be compassionate and understanding and that she would fit in with the other girls. Of course I said she would be welcome in my unit and that the girls are wonderful and would make her feel welcome too. After hanging up the phone I was totally panicked. I didn’t know what Asperger’s was. I didn’t know if I was prepared to handle a child in our unit with special needs. I had just lost my own son to suicide after a battle with schizophrenia and was not in a position to really ‘be there’ for this girl.
My niece Molly was a former girl member and had just graduated from Queen’s University with a degree in psychology and wanted to work with kids with autism. I called her up and asked her if she would be a Guider with me, and she could work with our new girl. She was excited to do this–it would be great for her resume and she could get some one-on-one experience. Molly and I met our new girl Alexandra and her mom at a coffee shop one afternoon to talk about what we could do to make Guides easier for her. Alexandra was delightful and a bit shy; her mom was warm and kind and explained her disabilities. My worries almost vanished.
Alexandra was in our unit while she was in Grades 5 and 6. She was enthusiastic and wanted to be part of everything. When Alexandra heard about the Lady Baden-Powell Challenge, she said she wanted to earn it. I told her that there would be some catching up to do as she would only have two years in Guides. During the two years, she did some extra work at home and during camps and completed her whole program.
Last October when we had Patrol Leader Elections she was elected Patrol Leader. We have eight girls and it was so heartwarming to see that she was chosen. I was so proud of all of the girls and Alexandra that day. She was a great Patrol Leader. She never missed a meeting, and was kind and generous with the other girls. Every test night Alexandra would come prepared to do a badge. Some that seem so easy for most of the girls were very difficult for her, but she completed many of them.
I know that Guiding helped Alexandra and that she will continue in this organization. It is a safe place where she can be the same as everyone else and truly experience the sisterhood of Guiding. After our meetings ended for the year I received this card from her mother:
Guiding may have changed Alexandra’s life, but Alexandra has also changed all our lives as well.
Guest post by Lesley Skelly. Lesley has been a Guider in Toronto for over 30 years. She is retired now and balances her time between her grown family, Girl Guides and her advocacy work in mental health.
Be sure to check out our resources supporting inclusion and diversity within Guiding: