Thursday, December 27, 2012

Widgets

The Frontier Girls: Raising Women of Honor

Every leader wants to be remembered for something, and I'm certainly not immune to the vanity of leaving legacies.  I'm convinced that my recent deployment to Afghanistan was just such an opportunity, and that my legacy among my fellow warriors is secure.

I was the Care Package King.

I received them from all over:  friends, family, church and community groups, and concerned citizens who found my name on a web site.  But no organization was as prolific in this regard as the Frontier Girls.  As the goodies flooded in and the pictures went up on the walls, the first question was usually, "So what loot did you shake those little girls down for today?"  But it was generally followed closely by another ...

"Who exactly are the Frontier Girls?"

Afghanistan, June 2012:
Three happy new fans of the Frontier Girls
Of course, you may have never heard of this organization.  I have a feeling that's going to change.  Since Kerry Cordy launched Troop 101 in 2007 near her home in Redding, California, interest in the program has soared.  Despite almost no advertising or national media attention, word-of-mouth has spread rapidly, so that there are now over 1,500 girls participating in 94 troops covering 38 states, with new groups being launched monthly.  The girls range in age from 3-18, with exceptions made for certain slightly older girls whose special needs dictate special consideration.

But why?  What have people found in the Frontier Girls that isn't being served by the massive, world-famous Girl Scouts organization?

Ask Kerry, who was herself a lifelong Girl Scout and Gold Award winner (their highest honor).  Now the mother of two girls, her first inclination was to get them involved in scouting as she knew it.  But when she began to take a fresh look at the organization she'd devoted so much of her life to, she was disturbed at what she saw.  For one thing, it was getting really expensive!  More importantly, she observed a level of political advocacy she found very inappropriate.  In short, it seemed to her they'd lost sight of the objective:
I have been passionate about scouting most of my life, and believe every child should have the opportunity to participate in a quality scouting program.  By the end of 2005, I had come to the conclusion that the new Girl Scout programming was no longer scouting as I knew it, and the more I learned about the National Girl Scout Council and their advocacy movement, the more I realized that this was no longer an organization I could support.  
Kerry searched about for alternatives, but the best groups tended to require explicitly Christian statements of faith.  While she respected this, her vision for a more outward-reaching focus--while retaining her solidly Christian values--led to her decision to launch the first Frontier Girls troop:
I am a Christian, and as such I have tried to design a program based on Biblical principles and teachings--but I also wanted a scouting program where all girls were welcome.  While we do require a belief in God, and will not alter the Frontier Girls promise, we are open to all girls and volunteers who are willing to live by our promise and creed.  We do not specifically ask which religion a girl belongs to upon registration, but from correspondence I do know we currently have many Christians as well as Jews, Muslims and Hindus participating.  
Kerry chose to capture the vision this way:  Raising women of honor to be the mothers and leaders of the future, through life skills, leadership, character building, teamwork, and service to others.  

But little did she know she wasn't the only one, and her little California spark was about to start an unexpected wildfire:
When I started Frontier Girls, it was supposed to be just for my private troop, but I had 30 parents show up at my first meeting in the fall of 2006 and realized that there was obviously a need for an alternative scouting program.  In January 2007 I officially began Frontier Girls and spent the next year writing programming and working out the bugs.  We opened our first out-of-state troop in 2008, but did not really start promoting until 2010.
What is remarkable about the Frontier Girls is what they have been able to accomplish with extremely low overhead and no paid staff.  This is volunteer power at its best:
Frontier Girls is very much a grassroots organization.  I could not run this program the way I do without the help of all of our members.  Girls, parents, and leaders from around the country pitch in by submitting badge ideas and requirements, helping to write programming and training materials, monitoring our Facebook page and Yahoo group to support and advise new members, etc.  I have had members from across the country help me with everything from programming advice for our website, to proofreading handbooks, to uniform and award ideas.  They know I listen, and if they have a good idea, it is added to the program.  We are all in this together, and they know it.
Social networking plus the grassroots spirit create a heartwarming community feel.  Even in places where troops have yet to be organized, girls can sign up as individuals, and can thus find a surprising level of support!
Over and over our members have shown support and compassion for one and other regardless where they are located.  Most recently was the outpouring of support for an individual member in Arizona.  Beth is 10 years old and autistic, but her mother keeps her very active Frontier Girls, Girl Scouts, Awana, Special Olympics and more.  Since Beth does not belong to any troops, her mom decided to have a special court of awards for her to honor her for all her achievements in the last year (of which there were many.)  They rented a hall and invited more than 300 people, but no one showed up.  Beth was devastated.   When I mentioned the incident to a few of the other leaders, word spread and soon Beth was inundated with mail from around the country.  For several weeks so many cards and letters of congratulations arrived that they would not fit in her mom's PO Box each day.   
Her mom sent me a letter afterwards describing the outcome:
"She would open every piece, ask me to read it to her, and smile and hug each one. So many people--whom we had never even met--took the time to step outside of their own lives and do something kind for my little girl. I was stunned, delighted, and absolutely touched by the generosity of the Frontier Girls national sisterhood." 
When I asked Kerry what made the Frontier Girls stand out, she had no trouble rattling off a quick list for me:
1.  We offer more badges than any other program--currently more than 1,200--and have made a commitment to writing a badge for any subject a girl wishes to learn about as long as it is not a controversial topic we feel is better addressed by parents or religious leaders.  The Girl Scouts in contrast have discontinued the majority of their badges in order to focus on their leadership Journeys.  Badges are an integral part of any scouting program as it is through earning badges that the girls learn new skills , acquire new knowledge and learn to explore new ideas.  The flexibility this gives allows troops to pursue limitless interests.  In Frontier Girls there is literally something for everyone from beekeeping and astronomy to hot air balloons and wildlife. 
2.  Unlike most programs, Frontier Girls is designed so that all age groups can work together.  Each badge is offered at every age level from preschool through high school, with the requirements gradually getting more difficult and comprehensive as the girls age.  While some Frontier Girls troops are age specific, most cover several different age levels in a single troop.  This allows older girls to act in leadership roles to teach and mentor younger members, while providing younger girls with role models closer to their own age. 
3.  As an online-only program with no printed materials, we are able to keep the costs for our members very low, which is increasingly important in today's poor economy.  As long as their membership is in good standing, our members never need to buy extra handbooks, badge books, etc., as these materials are kept up-to-date on our website at all times.  We also do not believe in  charging adults to volunteer their time, so all volunteers can be registered for free under a single troop membership. 
4.  While Frontier Girls is not religion-specific, we support the religious beliefs of our members and welcome them in our meetings.   Troops are allowed to be run by local churches or places of worship as part of their youth programming, and may teach specific doctrine as long as parents of girls in that troop are notified that this is a religion-specific troop.  
5.  Unlike Girl Scouts and the required cookie sales, each Frontier Girls troop is individually owned and operated and 100% of any fundraising they do goes directly to the troop.  Frontier Girls does not have any national fundraisers and only receives money from membership fees and purchases of our badges, awards, uniforms, etc.  Each troop can decide what type of fundraisers they wish to pursue based on their particular goals with no interference from Frontier Girls as long as the products sold do not disparage the name and reputation of Frontier Girls.  
6.  Frontier Girls honors the badge requirements of the Boy Scouts so that families who wish to work on badges together can use the Boy Scout requirements and the girls can still earn a badge through Frontier Girls.  This has also created the opportunity for Boy Scouts troops to add a female component if they wish and there are several Frontier Girls troops now partnered with local Boy Scout troops.
Obviously, as a recipient of Frontier Girl largess, I was particularly interested in their Patriot Program, which flows naturally from Kerry's heartfelt concern for the military:
The military has always played an important role within my family, and I was  taught to respect the men and women who served, as well as their families, for the sacrifices they make so that the rest of us can live in a free country.  My grandfather served in WWII, my dad in the Korean War, my uncle in Vietnam, and my brother continues to serve in the Army Special Forces after nearly 20 years in the military.  The girls in the Patriot Program should be recognized for the sacrifice they make, just as much as their parents should.  Military families move often, meaning friends left behind, new schools to adjust to, and sometimes even new languages and countries to adapt to.  Many times these girls do not see a parent for months, or even a year or more at a time.  They wear a special ribbon and pin on their uniform to remind others that the sacrifices these girls make benefit us all.  Without our military, many of the rights and privileges we enjoy as Americans would not exist.
Hear hear!  Oh, sorry ... lost my head there.  But really, I never pretended to be a dispassionate, objective journalist--or a journalist at all.  What I am is an unapologetic fan of these young ladies doing something new and bold, and living out their motto:  If you see a need, take the lead!

For information about the program (and especially if you'd like to get involved), contact Kerry Cordy.  Her contact information is here.

September 2010:  Troop 101 meets the USAF Honor Guard Drill Team in Sacramento

* Disclosure:  Kerry Cordy and I (as well as her Army brother) were friends and classmates throughout high school in the 1980s.

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