It’s time to kick-start another awesome Guiding year – and to introduce or re-introduce girls to what Guiding is all about and the kinds of activities your unit will participate in. There are lots of simple tricks you can employ to ensure every girl and her family feels welcome and can take full advantage of the adventures ahead.
Assume nothing. Some families in your unit will be brand-new to Guiding or some of the activities we offer. Start with the basics – offer lots of information about the kinds of activities you’ll be doing, mindful that not all girls and their loved ones come with knowledge of what Guiding is all about. And even the most experienced Guiding families will benefit from a refresher on expectations, needs, and more! Try hosting a Sparks parents’ meeting in September, or writing a ‘Welcome to Guides’ handout that covers the basics and that can be used as a reference guide throughout the year.
Beware the jargon. For Guiders, it’s easy to communicate in acronyms and Guiding lingo – but plenty of parents will get confused by the difference between units and your district/area/community, who Brown Owl and Tawny Owl are and what they do, or an instruction to contact a provincial or national council about an opportunity for girls. Use clear language to explain the whats and whos of Girl Guides – and translate it for them, i.e. “For more info, please contact our District Commissioner (DC), Guider Tanya. Tanya is the volunteer DC who provides leadership for the Guiding units in our neighbourhood. She can be reached at: 555-123-4567 or firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Use inclusive and appropriate language. Families and girls are all different, with different interests, beliefs and experiences. That’s what makes Guiding such a great place to be! Sharing food at your meeting? Choose a non-religious grace to sing before your meal, like these easy-to-learn tunes available online from BC Girl Guides. Do you want to host a ‘mom and me’ weekend? Pick a welcoming name for your adventure, and make it clear in all communications that girls may bring any female adult in their life to participate, not just a mother. Facilitating a discussion about healthy relationships with your Rangers? Be mindful of the normative language that can be our unconscious default, and opt for neutral words like “partner” over “boyfriend.” And don’t be afraid to respectfully interject to correct girls’ language if it’s exclusive. Your role as a Guider is to inform and challenge girls’ understanding of the world around them.
Ensure financial accessibility. Not all families know, or are comfortable asking, about the types of financial support that are available to help girls participate in Guiding activities. Be proactive and mention it at every opportunity! In an email or letter/pamphlet to parents about an upcoming camp, be sure to include a sentence or two about the types of support available and how families can access those subsidies. Help connect families directly with volunteers/staff at other levels of Guiding – stating that they should just “talk to the provincial office” can be confusing for those who don’t know how to navigate our organization. And be sure to highlight the fact that those subsidy funds come from cookie sales, helping drive home the importance of this program.
Help girls gear up! Finances aren’t the only barrier to participation – families may silently opt their girls out of activities that they don’t have the gear to participate in. Lucky for them, Guiding often has a surplus of supplies. For an upcoming sleepover, mention in your unit newsletter that extra sleeping bags and mats are available and include info about how to request them. At a planning meeting for a Pathfinder hiking expedition, talk about how extra backpacks and specialized equipment are available from your unit, district, or other sources of loaned Guiding gear.
Last but not least – be available for questions and discussion! Guiders are pros at being sources of info and support, but make sure parents know how and when to reach you. Commit to having a Guider regularly check your unit email inbox or take turns showing up a few minutes early at unit meetings so families know they have someone available to answer their questions. Encourage parents/guardians to bring up their ideas, and if they are passionate about making something happen, involve them in your unit – to facilitate an activity, organize an event, be added to your roster for occasional help, or even become a full-fledged Guider. Take any and all feedback as an opportunity to recruit!
Check out our other resources on how to help ensure your unit is inclusive.
Have more ideas? Share them in the comments below, Tweet or post on our Facebook page, and don’t forget to use hashtag #GuiderTip!
Guest post by Diamond Isinger. Diamond is an Ottawa Guider, keen camper and communicator. Recently transplanted from Vancouver, she previously served as West Coast Area Commissioner and PR Advisor, sharing stories of girl greatness. Check out her previous posts: Meet Charlie; Girl Guide cookies + green activities = a sweet combo!