Let’s be honest. Teenage girls are not lining up in droves to join Girl Scouts. The typical Girl Scout career begins in kindergarten or first grade, and fizzles out around fifth or sixth grade. But for Stephanie Banda, Girl Scouts was more than a fun after-school activity—it was a lifesaver. At 13-years old, Stephanie was faced with two options—juvenile detention or joining a Girl Scout program called Adelante Jovencitas (Young Women Moving Forward).
Adelante Jovencitas serves girls in all areas of the juvenile justice system, including those in detention or newly released from detention, in residential treatment, on probation, at alternative high schools, or at risk girls. The program addresses issues affecting young women in areas such as education, health, homelessness, gang activity, substance abuse, violence and sexual exploitation. Perhaps more importantly, it provides them with a group of girls who they can build friendships with and caring, consistent adults.
At the time, Stephanie had quit sports, was skipping school and lying to her family. Her plan was to attend Adelante Jovencitas until her mom forgot about the program. Then she could return to the life she was living.
Although initially reserved and detached, something clicked for Stephanie as she participated in the program. She began to take advantage of and enjoy the abundance of service and leadership opportunities that the Girl Scouts had to offer; opportunities that she rarely came across in her everyday life.
One opportunity that profoundly impacted Stephanie was the Oxford Leadership Program in London, England. "It inspired my passion for travel and truly opened my eyes to all the places I could go. It changed my world," Stephanie said.
Five years later, Stephanie has achieved success that she never believed possible. She graduated from Westview High School in May, volunteers frequently, and was a canoe instructor at Shadow Rim Ranch camp this past summer. Above all, Stephanie says she loves helping other girls learn that they too, can thrive.
In October, she will be one of three Girl Scouts recognized at the Women & Young Women of Distinction luncheon, a celebration of Girl Scouts and their impact in the community. Stephanie is being honored with the prestigious “Courage Award.”
"When I was first told that I was selected as an honoree, I literally sobbed. I can't believe people see me in this light and I'm so happy that my life is kind of a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for other people. I feel deeply honored and proud."
And Stephanie should feel proud. Growing up, she faced challenges that no child should bear alone. She was the primary caregiver for her younger brother and often felt she had no one to help her navigate life. Without the caring adults and friendships that Stephanie built in Girl Scouts, she would be in a very different place.
"Girl Scouts has shown me the value of education and self-worth. It not only changed my life, it saved my life. I know so much about myself, the world and the people living in it now. Thanks to Girl Scouts, I feel like I can do anything," Stephanie said.
The leadership role she is most proud of is the one she fills within her family. “I think taking leadership and control in my own life will inspire my younger siblings to do the same and remove themselves from their mediocre situations. I want them to see their worth, importance, ability and capability.”
Although Stephanie has not decided what college she wants to attend, friends and family are confident she will continue to inspire, lead and shine.
To learn more about the other honorees or the luncheon, visit girlscoutsaz.org/wywd.