Friday, January 23, 2015

Meet the Team: Camp Texlake Retreat Specialist, Katie "PJ" Sweeney

Hi, I’m your new Camp Texlake Retreat Specialist. A little about me—I’ve been a registered Girl Scout for 23 years (10 years as a girl, 13 years and counting as an adult). 

I've earned my Girl Scout Gold and Silver Awards. I was even active in Girl Scouting while in college at Baylor University in Waco where I graduated in 2005 with a BA in Journalism and a minor in Social Work (the first person in my entire family to graduate with a 4-year college degree).

I grew up going to Girl Scout camp and those experiences impacted all aspects of my life. My first paying job was helping in the kitchen at Camp La Jita as a teenager, where I eventually worked my way up to the youngest Assistant Horseback Riding Director the camp had ever hired!

I've held a variety of odd jobs in my career, all of which have in some way helped me prepare to be your Texlake Retreat Specialist. In addition to my camp roles of counselor, horseback riding instructor and, most recently before Texlake, as camp director for Camp Mira Sol, I’ve held a variety of fun jobs in the “outside” world too. 

       When I worked in Communications for SeaWorld San Antonio, I got to travel across the country with the Animal Ambassador Team and variety of exotic animals to promote conservation. I love to tell stories of my adventures. When you come to camp, feel free to ask me what it’s like going through airport security with penguins or about the time a lemur tried to steal my sandwich while we were waiting in a van in Corpus Christi. I also spent eight months in the Disney College Program working at Disney World. I got to see how much hard work, and how many people, it took to run the happiest place on Earth.

                I’m lucky enough to currently live at Camp Texlake with my husband Don (Drummer is his camp name), and our dog, Zoey and cat, Kallie. I really love to cook. Getting in the kitchen and creating something new and unique from different ingredients is magical to me. I’m a total bookworm who also has a strong desire to learn new skills and just generally enjoys doing something I've never done before. I have a passion for traveling and meeting new people. Everyone has a special story and I’m excited to hear about those journeys. I also like collecting cool quotes, whether it’s from a camper or a famous person, I find these tidbits of wisdom incredibly inspiring and fascinating. 

One of my favorite quotes is:
If you can dream it, you can do it. Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse. - Walt Disney

You’re always welcome to follow my adventures at Camp Texlake on Twitter or Instagram (@CamptasticTexas).
Happy Camping,
Katie "PJ" Sweeney

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Gold Girl Scout Spotlight

         This month's featured Gold Girl Scout is Kavya Ramamoorthy who created a                          documentary on Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972. Congratulations                on becoming a Gold Girl Scout, Kavya!

When I was in 8th grade I researched a federal law called Title IX for a Nation History competition. Like many other students today, I did not even know that a law like Title IX existed. By learning about this law and the enormous impact it had on society, my appreciation for the rights and opportunities that I have been given has increased. I want to be an advocate for the law and for the power that it gives students. I also want to encourage girls to pursue higher education in any area, be it in STEM, Liberal Arts or any field of their choosing and to dream big. Today, thanks to laws like Title IX, educational opportunities in our country are available equally to boys and girls. This is not the case in many other countries around the world.

For my Gold Award Project, I created a ten minute documentary on Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 to show how this law has impacted higher education in America. I collaborated with Social Studies teachers at Round Rock ISD to ensure that the documentary covers the TEKS for Title IX and to ensure that the documentary can be used as a supplemental lesson by teachers in the district. I researched Title IX, interviewed experts, used information from my project on Title IX created for the National History Day competition, and gathered information to present. After gathering the information, pictures and video clips, I worked with the technical staff at RRISD to piece together my documentary. My sponsor, Ms. Tina Melcher, who is the lead Social Studies Curriculum Specialist at RRISD, reviewed my status every step of the way. After I had a complete draft version of the video, I sent it for review to various people including Ms. Nita Hornbeck at the American Association of University Women (AAUW); Mr. Brown with RRISD Tech support; and Ms. Melcher, my sponsor. Each of these people helped check the documentary for historical accuracy and clarity. Ms. Melcher helped me in identifying a Social Studies teacher, Mr. Bradley, who did a test run of the documentary with other Social Studies teachers at Westwood High School. This confirmed that he and other teachers will be able to use my documentary in their classrooms. After gathering all the feedback, I made the final revisions to the documentary before submitting it to the school district for them to distribute to teachers district-wide.

From my project, I hope that students will gain awareness about the opportunities they have in higher education today. The documentary can also be used in presentations done by RRISD to promote higher education.

I gained confidence in myself by doing this project. By talking to many influential adults, I learned not to be shy in asking for help. I even got a response from Dr. Bernice Sandler, the Godmother of Title IX. People are willing to help if you ask them. Collaborating with others opens doors to lots of new opportunities. I gained valuable networking skills in this project and have built relationships with organizations like the AAUW.

By teaching about the history of Title IX, I hope to motivate other students to appreciate their opportunities and to empower them to make use of the educational resources that are available today. I also want to show them that the government in our country values education for all.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Giving Confidence for the Holidays

A gift can say a lot of things, but what we usually want it to say is "I care." When you have a Girl Scout in your life, you look for every opportunity to give her new experiences that'll let her see how amazing she is and all the potential she has. We can't say enough about how camp is the the best embodiment of Girl Scouting. But don't let us do all the talking! Here is a post written by our Camp Texlake counselor, PJ, about why giving a Girl Scout camp for Christmas (or Hannukah, or Kwanzaa or just because!) is the gift the keeps on giving.


I’m really excited that our summer camp guide debuted Tuesday, December 9 so that you have the chance to actually start planning what’s coming up this summer, just in time for the holidays! I know what you may be thinking, “Who in the world wants to talk summer camp around the holidays?” Well, I’d like to invite you to think about Giving the Gift of camp this holiday season to a young lady in your life. Here are just a few reasons why:

Recent studies show that the satisfaction of having a fun experience far longer, especially with children, than the instant gratification of getting stuff.
Less clutter in your house (hey, whatever keeps the house clean!)
Physical health benefits – The most obvious is getting exercise, but did you know the large amount of time spent outdoors at camp raises levels of Vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues? Kids spending time outside has even shown, in clinical research, to help improve distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness!
Mental health benefits- Learning leadership skills, building confidence and discovering independence are just the tip of the ice berg for what girls learn at Girl Scout Camp. Camp experiences help kids learn life skills and even become more resilient to life pressures and stress 

This post would be days long if I listed all of the benefits camp has to offer, so I suggest you check out my favorite list for yourself. 

Now I know getting a piece of paper isn’t as much fun for kids to unwrap, so I polled a few Girl Scouts and here are some suggestions from actual Texlake campers for getting camp as a gift this year:
Give a stuffed toy along with a homemade gift certificate for camp. If your girl picks a horse camp, for example, give her a stuffed horse. Bonus, she can take the stuffed animal to camp when summer comes!
Let your camper choose the camp. One girl I spoke with wanted to get a “gift card, a camp [guide] and how much money I can spend” so she could pick her own camp!
Give a journal (for older girls) with some fun pens. One camper told me “I want to write down all the things I want to do at camp and check off the list.” 
Give a camera along with the camp registration so she can start thinking about capturing memories. Disposable cameras don’t cost too much and digital cameras from almost any budget are available for girls who are ready for those kinds of electronics. 

What holiday gift suggestions do you have for giving the gift of camp confidence this holiday season? 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Seniors Go Tech! - Helping Every Age Stay Connected

This month's featured Gold Girl Scout is Rachel Freeman who focused her efforts on helping senior citizens learn how to use technology to stay connected and active with their communities. Congratulations on becoming a Gold Girl Scout, Rachel!

My Gold Girl Scout Project, 'Seniors Go Tech!', was designed to provide senior citizens the knowledge and hands-on practice with technology so they would be empowered to maintain and expand their connections with family, friends and their community.  Medical studies have shown seniors who remain socially connected live happier and healthier lives which benefit everyone around.  Technology is one way to help senior citizens can stay connected but many do not know how to use a computer, the Internet or smart phones.  

Although the retirement centers I worked with provided free internet access, only one offered access to community computers and none provided any type of technological support or education to their residents. I created lesson plans and held classes, as well as individual tutoring sessions on several topics including Introduction to the Internet, Introduction to GoogleUsing Facebook, iPads, iPhones, Email and Kindle for two local retirement centers.  As part of my project I created 'how-to' handbooks for the senior centers and local community groups so others could continue presenting the technology classes I created and possibly expand on the topics.

The 78 senior citizens who attended Seniors Go Tech! classes and tutoring sessions are now able to use their technology much more effectively. In the long-term they will become more connected with their families, friends and communities.  At one Seniors Go Tech! class I met Muriel. Muriel told me she was invited to meet some friends for lunch but she wasn’t going to go. When I asked why not she said she didn’t know where the restaurant was. I told her we could find the address and directions on the internet using her iPhone but she replied she couldn’t read maps very well any more. When I explained to her we could have Google Maps give her verbal directions on her iPhone she was so excited.  We found the address online, programmed the address into her phone and she drove off to meet her friends. I am happy I was able to help her learn how technology can work for her. In the future Muriel will be able to meet her friends for lunch, dinner and movies. She can share what she’s learned with her friends and they will all maintain their connections with families and friends and their community.

Seeing my new friends successfully using technology—some for the first time—was very rewarding. Seniors Go Tech! helped them learn to retrieve voicemail messages, send pictures, texts, emails and “surf the web” with confidence.  I was thrilled to help all of them learn how technology can help them in their daily lives and keep their social connections strong.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Meet the Team: STEM Programs Manager, Mitchell Whittier

Hey Scouts! I’m Mitchell Whittier the STEM Programs Manager at Girl Scouts of Central Texas. I’ve been a part of the Programs team since July 2014 and am super excited to be working here. “How did you get to be in this position with Girl Scouts?” I get this question a lot (probably because I’m a guy), so let’s get to that first. Thankfully, guys can be Girl Scouts too!

I earned a B.S. in Physics from the University of Denver. And, I earned a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Washington where I developed a love for experiential education. A year of my program was at a magical place called IslandWood, a school in the woods. At IslandWood, I was able to teach science on the shores of the Puget Sound, in the forest, up in a tree-house, and on a suspension bridge. I've also had the amazing experience of teaching science in the heart of the Rocky Mountains at the Keystone Science School. There, I had the opportunity to teach ecology, geology, and astronomy while hiking in the mountains, cross-country skiing through a forest, and breaking the rocks of the Rocky Mountains. 

I have also taught Math and Science in classroom settings at Jesuit College Prep in Dallas and Kirby Hall School in Austin. And, I have been a high-dosage tutor at Martin Middle School, Burnet Middle School and LBJ Early College High School here in Austin as well. Most recently, I taught MCAT Physics courses for students wanting to apply to medical school.

Okay, enough of the boring stuff. Let me tell you more about me, the person. I am an outdoor enthusiast. I love doing anything active and fun outside. My newest favorite pastime is Ultimate Frisbee, but I also really enjoy riding my bike, hiking the greenbelt, swimming in Central Texas’ amazing swimming holes, and especially camping and backpacking. I have an eight-year-old German Shepherd Mix, B-Dog, who likes going on adventures with me. But, he’s slowing down in his middle-age and can’t go on the big adventures anymore.

As far as downtime, I enjoy a good board game with friends and family--no, not Monopoly! Newer more awesome games like "Settlers of Catan" (not that new anymore) and "Dominion". I love reading science fiction; my favorite novel is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (I know, I know…the movie wasn't very good).

In my youth, I was an active boy scout. Earning the Eagle Scout award gave me some amazing experiences and I highly value the role scouting has had in my life. I’m so excited to be a part of the GSCTX family. Thanks for allowing me to share my passions for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Scouting with you.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Roxanne Flores "By empowering [girls], I empowered myself"

Roxanne Flores - Killeen Sister Cities Service Unit

I was a girl scout from first grade to sixth grade. I actually earned my Bronze award and loved the process. My family moved from Germany to Louisiana which put an end of my Girl Scouting years. There was not an active Service Unit in my small town in Louisiana, so my Girl Scouting came to an end at that point. I picked it back up when my daughter was in the first grade. I was not a leader then, just a parent volunteer and I loved it. My daughter's troop disbanded during that year and my daughter was placed on the waiting list. I was told the list was over a year long and the only way my daughter would get in a troop immediately would be for me to become a Troop Leader. I honestly was scared at the time because I didn't think I could fit it in my schedule. Thankfully, I was wrong and this was the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

 As a troop leader my goal was for the girls to try new things and make new friends. The first rule we set for our troop was that our girls be from different schools. We wanted them to make new friends and step out of their comfort zone. In hindsight, I am happy I made this rule; I think of the friendships that I now have because of Girl Scouts. Melissa and Tobi are some of my closest friends and we would have never known each other if not for Girl Scouting.

Girl Scouts has affected my life completely—personally and professionally. On a professional level, I work as Volunteer Services Youth Coordinator. I was able to use my experience as a Troop leader when I applied for this job. I had the administrative experience but being a Girl Scout leader prepared me for events as well as working with volunteers. During my time with the service team, I was an event coordinator and that taught me event planning. Now I plan many events over a year. When I first started my job I relied heavily on the experience and trainings I had with the Service Unit.

On a personal level, my life has changed drastically since I became a Troop Leader. The first part was leaving an abusive marriage. It is funny to me that I was so wrapped up in the situation, that I did not see how bad it was till I started stepping away and educating myself through activities built the girls’ self-esteem. By empowering them, I empowered myself. I asked myself one time , " How can I be a great role model and show them a strong woman when I am in this bad situation?" I left the marriage and have never looked back. I completed my education and received my degree.   To this day, the girls don't know how much they helped me! I am in awe when we go somewhere and the girls immediately pick up or clean an area because they learned a Girl Scout always leaves a place better than it was before. I see the confidence these girls have when they speak in public and how they try different things because change is good. I see the girls following the Girl Scout law on a daily basis. Girl Scouting is not an activity they do once a week but instead a standard of how the live their lives.

I am the mother of three children; Devon is 18 years old, Olivia is 13 years old, and Shiloh is 1. My son has had cancer twice in his lifetime and I admire his zest for life. I never hear him complain and whenever I feel like complaining, I think of everything he has faced or is facing on a daily basis. I am engaged to be married this month and look forward to the day. I received my Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Texas Women's University. I am actively involved with the Special Olympics as a volunteer and am also a proud parent of an athlete. I am a board member of Killeen Sister Cities Osan Korea, Killeen Chamber of Commerce Public Education Committee, and Friends of the Killeen Library, Keep Killeen Beautiful, and Relay for Life. I have been a Girl Scout Troop Leader for 7 years, and this is my fifth year on the Service Team. I have held several positions with the service team: Event Coordinator, Area Delegate, Secretary, FOGS Chairperson, and Media Communications Chair. I work full time with the City of Killeen and I will hit the twenty year mark in October. I enjoy my job tremendously and love coming to work and love the spirit of Team Killeen.

Sensory Mural Station: Helping Children with Severe Disabilities

Gold Scouts

The following entry was written by Elizabeth Geisinger, and covers her Gold Award Project "Sensory Mural Station." Learn all about why she chose this project, the challenges she faces and the satisfaction she gained from it! Amazing work, Elizabeth!

A thousand words could not describe the Gold Award and the journey it takes to get to it. I recently received my Gold Award for a Sensory Mural Station I created for Rosedale School, which helps students with severe disabilities.  I began my journey towards the Gold a little over 2 years ago. When I first came up with my idea, to paint murals on the portables at Rosedale, I was elated.  I got my proposal approved and immediately began planning and researching what to do. By the end of year though, I had to change my project because it was expected the portables would be removed so I decided to build a mobile sensory station. I was still excited and researched Adaptive Learning and eventually built the station.  However the school year came and I began procrastinating my project. I lost motivation to finish my project and couldn't convince myself to do it. However this past year, with the encouragement of leaders in my Service Unit, I pushed myself to complete my project. I painted the various mural scenes and attached the sensory objects. I finished it and turned my paperwork in by the end of September. While the journey will have bumps in the road, it is all worth it to finish your project and feel an overwhelming amount of joy when the letter comes and says “congratulations”.