Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Poet, Activist, Girl Scout Maya Angelou dies at 86

It is with great sadness that we come to find that American poet and Girl Scout, Maya Angelou has passed after a long illness.

If there has ever been an embodiment of courage, confidence and character, Maya Angelou was it. Born in St. Louis in 1928, after a childhood of adversity, she became one of the most prominent poets of our time. She is known for her extensive body of work but her most well-known piece was the memoir "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."

During the Girl Scouts' 100th year celebration, she spoke:

"Imagine a time when women could not vote. And in some cases they could not even own property. Imagine a time when women's maiden names were lost the minute they married. Imagine a climate  in which a girl student, in the United States, even as in other countries less developed, did not have the same value as boy student. And the two words "women" and "rights" were never mentioned together[...] Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the girl Scouts of the United States of America, decided that in order to have an upbeat and productive society, women and girls should be addressed and girls should be addressed first[...] Much to her surprise, the Girl Scouts of America became larger than anything Mrs. Low could have dreamed. In fact, today most female leaders, will state proudly that they encountered authority and discipline in the 20th century as members of the Girl Scouts organization.

They proudly wear the badge and they proudly support the organization which intends and intended to bring the girls out of the kitchen to the office and from the sewing room into America's great hiking trails. These women have decided that are they are more than just old f-e-m-a-l-e-s. They proudly say that they are w-o-m-e-n.Women. 

Girl Scouts of America, I salute you. Congratulations. Celebrations for your 100th year. I can say that because I, too, was a Girl Scout..."

She led a rich life and gave a voice to many who didn't have one. Throughout her life she showed strength and grit, overcoming and becoming one of the most renowned poets of our time.

"You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise."

-Maya Angelou

Rest in peace, Ms. Angelou. You will be dearly missed.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ahoy! Jena Recer aka Ladybug

"Hi! My formal camp name is Ladybird aka, Ladybug.  I was an active Girl Scout from first grade through high school graduation. My Silver Award focused on adaptive camping and I gained experience working with physically challenged campers at a Muscular Dystrophy Association camp. There, I gained experience working with intellectually challenged campers at a camp sponsored by the Austin Regional Clinic.  I also served as a CIT and I worked as a counselor at the GS Camp, Peach Creek. 

There are many reasons that I stay involved in the organization.   I believe Girl Scouts empowers girls and helps to build good citizens.  I believe that without Girl Scouts we wouldn't have as many women on corporate boards,  serving in Congress,  etc.. Girl Scouts are changing the world but that isn't the only reason I’m a Girl Scout.   I believe that the Girl Scout laws provide a reliable ethical matrix for all of decisions.  I also love being part of the Girl Scout community and working with others striving to live those laws and pass them on to the next generation.  I love all of those things about Girl Scouts. But the reason I keep coming back is that I am happy to have the opportunity to pass on what was given to me as a young Girl Scout.  This is why I owe Girl Scouts so much and why I plan to always be a part of the program trying to give back all of what was given to me.

When I was 9, my mom passed away after a very long battle with breast cancer.  The next morning the doorbell rang. It was Carol Mireles, my Girl Scout leader.  She had come on her own initiative to get the house ready for all of the company heading our way for the funeral.  Together we vacuumed, dusted, swept and mopped.  At my mom’s memorial service, Mrs. Mireles showed me a flower arrangement that was from the troop.  I was really glad she was there at the service. She had 6 kids, two of whom were my age.  A year after my mom passed, her husband did, too.  I felt closer to her kids knowing we shared the experience of grieving for a parent. Over the years, Mrs. Mireles and other Girl Scout volunteers helped me learn all of the things that most girls learn from their mothers and more.  Many of the Girl Scout volunteers, including Mrs. Mireles, knew my mom and helped make sure I remembered her. I know my teenage years would have been incredibly rough without Girl Scouts. The Girl Scout laws were my guide and continue to be. By the time we were in High School most of our troop members were living with only one parent.  We became an extra family for one another.  In the Spring of 1987, our troop had our final campfire before we went off to college. There, we all committed to give back to Girl Scouts what we had been given.  In the following years, Carol, as we now call her, kept in touch with most of us. In fact, she made wedding dresses with matching cumber buns and bow ties for most of our weddings and of course she attended them.

A couple of years ago Mrs. Mireles turned 70 and her kids threw her a party.  Several members of our troop  were there to wish her a happy birthday. It was a wonderful reunion and it turns out we have all kept our promise to give back to Girl Scouts.   Everyone who was in our troop in HS has gone on to be a Girl Scout leader and most of us have worked or continue to work with Girl Scout camps in some fashion.

This April, I met Carol’s kids for lunch and they brought me the best birthday present I have ever received: a quilt hand-made by my scout leader for use on my bed at camp.

In short I give back to Girl Scouts because the Girl Scout program gave me so much. I made friends that continue to last after all of these years. In fact, a few weeks ago I had the honor of helping one of my troop sister's daughter's Junior Troop work through the requirements for the Backyard Chicken Badge.

I rejoined Girl Scouts three years ago and began working with the Mariner Program. I am a co-leader of the Mariner Cadette troop and this is my 16th year as a registered GS.  Two summers ago I served as the Arts and Crafts Director at Camp Kachina and loved working with all of the girls and seeing their amazing creations!

This year I will be serving as the Program Manager at Camp Kachina. I’m very excited about our summer program.  Each week we have wonderful things planned and I hope to see you there!"

We can't say it enough-- Girl Scouts isn't just about cookies or camp. It becomes another support network and source of confidence for all girls who join. As Jena saw, Girl Scouts became a second family. Volunteers like Jena are irreplaceable and make our organization great.

We can't wait to see you this summer, Jena! 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Now that's a bright girl!

When Ann Makosinski found out that her friend in the Philippines was having trouble in school because she had insufficient light in the evening, she set her mind to the task and didn't just find a solution, but invented it.

16-year-old Ann designed a "hollow flashlight", as she has dubbed it, which transforms the heat emanated from a hand into a source of energy.

"I'm really interested in harvesting energy[...]that surrounds but we never really use," Ann said.

The flashlight is made with Peltier tiles--a device that produces energy when once side is heated while the other cools. The duration of the light is about 20 minutes.

Ann is one of 15 students headed to the Google Science Fair finals in September. The winner of the fair will take home a $50,000  scholarship and a trip to the Galapagos Islands.

This bright girl's interest in engineering was spotted early on by her parents. They didn't just let her but encouraged her to take apart her toys and tinker with them.

Good luck at the Google Science Fair, Ann!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Kyndal and Samantha Miethke: Helping Kids Keep a Colorful Outlook

Sometimes, the simplest gestures are the ones that make the biggest difference. This is something Kyndal Miethke and her twin sister Samantha learned when Kyndal was in the hospital facing her own health issues --brain surgery and now thyroid surgery.

Kyndal's Girl Scout troop presented her with a cut-and-tie blanket while she was hospitalized, a simple token to keep  her warm and cheer her up. What it did for her though went beyond it's initial purpose--the blanket ignited an idea: making colorful blankets for other kids in the hospital.

"The rooms in the hospital are actually not as colorful... they’re pale and pastel colors, so most of the blankets we make are bright and colorful. Whenever you put them in the room and you actually look at it and your eye meets the wall, it is a complete difference, " she said.

Kyndal knows what a difference it made to have that bright blanket with her while she was in a drab room.

"She told us that she thinks her cancer is a gift from God so that she can understand how other kids feel, so she can go on to help them,” says mother, Sonja Miethke.

The sisters have organized parties where girls get together to cut and tie the ends of the blankets they'll later distribute at the hospital. Together, they've assembled over 200 blankets!

Kyndal has her off days for sure, but no matter the challenge she is facing, she always shows courage. And it's always better when her sister, Samantha to provide her with the strength, love and companionship she needs.

Kyndal and Samantha Miethke are examples of courage, confidence and character and we couldn't be more proud of them.

Getting "Orch"-anized: A Girl Scout's love of music drives her Gold Award project

Gold Award Girls

The following entry was written by Mackinsey Anne Smith, a Gold Award recipient whose passion for music helped her identify the need for a restored  music collection. She then decided to focus her efforts in the music library at Austin High School. Read all about her project, challenges and her very sage advice to aspiring Gold Award girls.


My Gold Award project, “Orchanization,” was designed to restore order to a crucial part of an orchestra, the music collection.  I chose this project because I love music and I wanted to give back to a music director and organization that has given so much to me. 

My project took place mostly in the orchestra room at Austin High School where an extensive music library is housed in 50 file drawers. The goal was to update the music database by listing the location and key details of each piece of music (ex: title, composer, arranger), as well as re-file the music in score order. Being able to quickly find music, including which parts may need to be borrowed or purchased, improves efficiency and reduces costs. This is how my Gold Award project evolved. The first part of my project was to accomplish or facilitate the steps noted above. This was done by going through over 1,600 music folders one by one to be sure they were properly filed and matched the database; over 325 folders were also put into score order. The second part of my project was to create a system that would make it easier to maintain the library over time. To do this, I created a website that details how to create and maintain a well-organized library. I also trained the Austin High Orchestra Board on how to maintain the newly organized library. The third part of my project was to expand the scope of the library to benefit more people. This was accomplished by reformatting the music database and uploading it to a cloud-based organization, management, and communication tool used by nearly 7,000 orchestra and band programs nationwide. 

I encountered several obstacles during my Gold Award project. The most apparent was that aspects of my project took much longer than expected, so I had to make adjustments. For example, my original intention was to put all of the pieces in score order, but after spending 125 hours on 325 folders, my project advisor and I agreed that this would have to be a longer-term goal as it would have required over 600 volunteer hours just to finish this one portion of the project. I also had to add a second database checking team, something I did not want to do initially because it increased chance of error. I learned that I need to keep the end goal in mind, but be flexible in how to get there. I had to be willing to make adjustments if something wasn't working out or was taking too long, and I had to recognize that good ideas can come from anywhere, even someone who was less knowledgeable than me, while also establishing myself as team leader. I had to train people in how to do each task and I had to check in frequently at the beginning when they were learning. Because of the nature of my project, my volunteers had to have some musical knowledge. This limited the people I could ask for assistance, but improved my communication skills by forcing me to ask people I didn't know well for help. 

In addition to maintaining good humor, patience, and flexibility, I would advise Girl Scouts beginning their Gold Award to download and carefully read the final report paperwork before beginning your project. It will tell you exactly what you need to track and document throughout your project so you can format your data in a way that the final report is easier to write. Lastly, chose a subject and organization you feel passionate about. This is likely to be the biggest, most time-consuming, and at times, the most tedious, never-ending project you have ever worked on, so it is important that it be something near and dear to your heart. And it will be worth it! You will grow as a person and as a leader, and see the change that a dedicated group of volunteers with a united vision can achieve. I know I have.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


It's a sad time around council once cookie season ends and we realize we have to wait ANOTHER year to indulge in those awesome treats we all love. Fortunately, there are people like Megan Myers who has managed to deliver a double-whammy of goodness by creating the perfect marriage-- Samoas Donuts.

If ever there was a dessert we would LOVE for someone to make for us at council (HINT HINT, WINK WINK) it's this.

Chocolate, caramel, coconut and fluffy bread-- where do we sign up? Hop on over to her blog and give them a try.