As busy Guiders, we all spend occasional weekends doing Guiding activities, sleepovers, camps, cookie sales and outings. But what about having your weekly unit meeting on a Saturday? Could this be a way to engage girls and families who aren’t available on weekday evenings? Guiding encourages flexibility, and units meetings are one place to start.
So why did I choose to have my unit meeting on a Saturday morning? It was really to meet the needs of our girls. I began volunteering with a multi-branch unit a few years ago in East Toronto. The goal of the unit was to grow Guiding among newcomers to Canada, and provide a ‘Canadian experience’ to the children and youth of this community. The first year, we started like any other unit with a weeknight meeting. It worked pretty well in the fall, but as winter came, we noticed that our numbers started to dwindle. The few families that did come, talked to us about the cold, dark nights in Toronto and how it was a new experience for some of them to feel safe walking out at night.
Attendance picked up again in the spring with a recruitment event and we really wanted to keep the new families coming back for the following year….how could we make this happen? Luckily, we had planned an Intro to Guiding event for women to see if they would be interested in becoming Guiders and that is when we came up with the idea of a Saturday meeting! Many of the women wanted to volunteer or have their girls attend Guides but told us that weekday evenings would be challenging for them. They had other children at home, who they could not leave unattended to bring their girls to Guides. They also had to get dinner organized in the evenings, help with children with homework and were also juggling evening work and class schedules with their spouse. The early nights in the fall and winter was definitely an issue –many families did not feel safe walking at night with their young daughters. We agreed that Saturday would be the best day for the girls and women to participate in Guiding – so that’s what we did!
Our unit now runs on Saturday mornings. We have recruited new Guiders from the community and we have many girls from ages 5 to 14 years attending as Sparks, Brownies, Guides and Girl Assistants. Our girls mostly come in sibling pairs, which makes the activities a lot of fun for them – little sisters always want to do what their big sisters are doing, so our activities are done jointly across branches with different levels of skills and depth to meet the developmental needs of the girls. We also plan our outings, cookie sales and service projects for Saturdays so there is consistency with the timing of our activities, making it simpler for families to plan for Guiding activities and special events.
We have had a few girls that had other activities on Saturday mornings, such as language classes, and have needed to step back from Guiding for months at a time. But they are happy to re-join during the year and we welcome them back as their time permits. Some of the families have settled and moved to the suburbs where the girls have joined other units. Their first exposure to Guiding helped make that transition easier. The timing also works well for our Guiders, who may work late or need to commute from work on weekday evenings. One great perk of picking up last minute supplies for meetings is no line-up at the dollar store at 9 a.m. on Saturday!
Guiding needs to be flexible to meet the needs of our diverse and changing Canadian society. Offering unit meetings on a weekend may be a way to bring in new members and expose them to our vibrant organization – it’s just another way to grow Guiding!
Guest post by Sunita Mathur, a Guider with 1st Toronto Spark/Brownie/Guide unit and a member of the Board of Directors of GGC. Check out her previous post: What’s next on your volunteering bucket list?
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What makes your unit unique? Share your story with us! ggcblog(at)girlguides.ca.