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Troop Leader Spotlight: Jennifer Van Zilen


Sinagua Service Unit

Troop 3182, Cadettes

Years as a Troop Leader: 6

What inspired you to become a Troop Leader? 

My daughter's troop was disbanding, and I saw how much Girl Scouting benefited her and the other girls. I didn't want them to miss out, so I decided to step up and become a volunteer.

I'm so glad I did because it's been such an incredible experience. I learn as much from them as they learn from me.

What kind of activities do you do with your troop? What is their favorite thing to do?

We have done fun and educational trips around our state. Our troop has enjoyed tie-dying arts and crafts, painting kindness rocks, camping, and horseback riding. We've even gone to several state parks and earned our Junior Ranger badges!

Especially during this past year, our troop has realized how important it is for us to stay connected. Once we were given the okay to meet in person, any face-to-face meeting we could have has been our favorite thing to do. This past year has been hard for everyone, but it was hard not to see our Girl Scout Sisters regularly. We’re applying all the recommended guidelines so our troop stays safe and healthy and so we can continue to plan in-person meetings. 

What kind of service projects have you done with your troop?

Our troop enjoyed giving back to the community regularly. We've volunteered with a couple of different animal rescue sanctuaries to help feed, walk, bathe dogs and puppies. We've also volunteered at our community senior center and made blankets for babies in the hospital, which we enjoyed. 

Each year we also look forward to our neighborhood hosting a community Turkey Dinner, where all our troops help serve our community members dinner.

Our troop recently installed a Little Free Library at a local park to help our community have access to books. Our local paper, The Verde Valley Independent & Camp Verde Bugle, even wrote an article about us! 

Tell us about a volunteer moment that stands out to you. 

My favorite thing about being a volunteer is seeing these girls grow over the years.

Some were very shy and introverted when we started, and I've seen them blossom into strong, confident young leaders.

What advice would you give other Troop Leaders?

Stick with it. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, but it's so rewarding in the long run. You don't have to have elaborate meetings every time. Sometimes it's good for the girls to get together and play a game. Sometimes that's when the best memories are made.

What do you wish someone had told you as a new Troop Leader?

Don't hesitate to ask for help, and don't try to do everything on your own. It's okay to delegate tasks and get help from your parent volunteers! You’d be surprised that they are willing and want to help!

What would you like others to know about volunteer opportunities with Girl Scouts?

It's so worthwhile! If you're considering it, I can tell you firsthand that it's worth pursuing!

Why is it important to participate in the GS Cookie Program? 

We sell cookies every year not only to help fund our troop activities but for the girls to learn essential life skills.

They’ve learned business skills and money management, how to be confident, and strong communication skills. It’s such a well-rounded program in regards. 

What are your troop's cookie-selling tips and tricks? 

This year we weren't sure how things would go due to COVID-19, so we used the Digital Cookie site. And guess what? We wound up having one of our best years ever! Our customers loved our free local delivery offering and how they could press an online order through the girls' and troop Digital Cookie websites. 

I highly recommend that all troops enroll in Digital Cookie to offer this option to customers and so girls can learn other skills like e-commerce and digital marketing.

What is the most inspiring moment you have experienced as a Troop Leader?

I think I've been most inspired by my Girl Scouts when I see them work together to problem-solve and overcome challenges.

When we went to encampment with our neighborhood, one of my troop members was terrified to the point of tears by the rock climbing wall, but all our neighborhood Girl Scout Sisters built her up and encouraged her. She was able to complete the course! Girl Scouts is the ideal space for girls to support one another and thrive.