by Rachel Harrison-Lewis
A few months ago, I found myself at the end of a highly challenging but overall successful cookie season. My troop and I were so proud that we were able to sell 7,240 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies, raise $280 in donations, and donate 63 packages of cookies to Maggie's Place, a local organization committed to serving mothers. It was awesome!
Even with the excitement, I was exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally. I was questioning my ability to sustain my busy life, my business, my family, my health, my sanity, let alone my troop. How could I keep up?! Just a week after the cookie program ended, we began to reserve camp, research family camp, plan events with our funds, etc. It felt as though I didn't even have a second to breathe!
I was questioning my "why." Why was I volunteering my time, effort, sweat, and tears? Why was I struggling to feel appreciated when my work created positive change for girls and our community? Then, one stressful Monday, I was scrolling through our Facebook leadership page trying to plan the next thing and one word stood out to me in a post, "retreat." It was as if it was calling out to me!
It was an invitation for a 3-day, 2-night retreat hosted by the Authentic Leadership Community (ALC) called Return to Center. It was being held at Parsons Leadership Center exclusively for troop leaders and it turned out that it was taking place that upcoming weekend! All that kept playing in my mind was the word "retreat" and how desperately I needed one. So I extended the invitation to my new co-leader as it was her first-ever cookie season and she was also in need of self-care time. She said yes and we reserved our spots.
The day we arrived at the retreat we didn't know what to expect. We thought we were going to be able to bond with each other more, make new friends, learn about camp, how to get more volunteers, parent engagement, and all the other things we didn’t know. We felt apprehensive, unsure, hopeful, and exhausted.
As the event progressed, it was clear the incredible women in the Authentic Leadership Community put together an event that was so diverse in lessons and in their approach that our anxiety disappeared. All of their hearts were golden and each member incorporated an atmosphere of acceptance, friendship, guidance, and love. We became vulnerable, learned openly about ourselves, and gained valuable insight from others.
My favorite skill we practiced during each session, that we have since implemented into our troop, is the simple concept of "the circle" – an ALC tool, used at the retreat, that creates a safe space for participants to share ideas and opinions of various topics. After our troop's first circle, we asked the girls (Daisies and Brownies) what topics they would like to talk about in the upcoming circles, and we were blown away with their responses! They came up with this list of topics:
- Sadness and grief
- Hardships and how to overcome them
- Happy things
- Meeting planning
Knowing that they want to talk about these difficult topics that they face in their daily lives and having that safe space with people they trust to open up to has been so meaningful and has really brought our troop together.
There were so many great takeaways and meaningful moments during our retreat. As a person who is constantly on the go, my favorite practice I learned at the retreat that has helped me significantly were the mindful/full stop moments. A full stop is when a group, or individual, takes a moment to disconnect from previous tasks and thoughts. This allows all participants to take a moment to clear their minds and be present in the current conversation or task. Implementing this practice in my day-to-day has helped me organize my thoughts, destress, decompress, and breathe before tackling another obstacle. I do not feel nearly as stressed as I did before the retreat.
Return to Center was a great theme for the retreat. We all realized that we have to take care of ourselves to be the best leader we can be, and there's no way for us to pour out of an empty cup. Unfortunately, this thought of self-care was so abstract to so many of the leaders present because we're such givers, and it's hard for us to receive sometimes or even pause to fill our own cups up.
The women of the Authentic Leadership Community poured their love and encouragement into us, provided us with time to reflect and gave us the skills and tools to help us recharge. We were able to take those tools away with us and now we can use them during any moment that we feel drained. If ever you have the opportunity to attend, you will be happy you did! I know we cannot wait for the next one.
Shout out to all those at the retreat who have reminded me that we are not alone and do not have to do everything alone. I want to recognize our troop's new parent volunteers who help with our troop. I am thankful for my partner who was our Digital Cookie dad and incredibly thankful for my amazing Co-Leader! We could not do this without you all. I'm also so grateful to the troop leaders in Hayden's Ferry, our council volunteers, and the other neighborhoods for being there for me when we had questions! Thank you for being a sister (or brother) to every Girl Scout and helping me with our learning curve so our troop can help make the world a better place!
Before this retreat, I was questioning my "why." By the end, I remembered my "why" - it is and has always been to encourage Girl Scouts to be their best selves. To love them, guide them, encourage them, listen to them, and remind them that they are respected and appreciated. To teach them the tools and skills they need in life to help them discover the women they want to be. Our hosts and the other leaders who attended helped remind me why I am a troop leader, and I am so thankful for that.