Girl Scouts grow with troop

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 Messenger photo by Cindy Kazalia
 Girl Scout troop founder Sandy Murdock (center) playfully clowns with Girl Scouts Bethany Bauman (left) and Jessica Conley (right). Co-leader Mary Ellen Hassett-Elam (back) provides visual entertainment. 

The Girl Scout meeting at Holt Crossing Intermediate School appeared fairly typical. The girls huddled around a table as their guest speaker explained photography. The fifth – 12th grade students answered the questions necessary to earn their badge.  

The group includes 11 children and three leaders, Sandy Murdock, Alison Werden, and Mary Ellen Hassett-Elam They meet twice a month to craft, socialize, and earn badges.

Seems like your average troop but they are far from it.

The troop is comprised of teens and pre-teens with special physical as well as developmental needs. Established over six years ago, the group formed when educators were unable to find an appropriate group for the children. Hassett-Elam, a special needs teacher at Holt Crossing, explained the importance.  

"Most kids benefit from groups like the Girl Scouts," she said. "Girl Scouts promotes acceptance of self, leadership, friendship, and new experiences in the form of badge work. Our girls need and enjoy the same opportunities as others."

Murdock, one of the group’s founding forces and an assessment aide at the school, agreed,

"It’s like any other Girl Scout troop except it takes a little longer to complete activities and the activities sometimes have to be modified."

She credits Werden, a fifth grade teacher and a former Girl Scout, and Hassett-Elam for the insight and leadership that they also bring to the troop. The three woman combine their expertise to help each Scout recognize her own inner strength.

"Since the majority of girls have special needs," said Hassett-Elam, "understanding, accepting, and adapting are keys to their enjoyment and success within the group."

She and the other leaders have seen the members blossom as they evolve and change. The students formed a second family through their Girl Scout relationships, often attending each others’ outside functions such as plays and concerts.  

Murdock said her students’ needs could not always be fully met by traditional summer camps. She took on the task of creating the troops’ own day camp, filling it with specially designed outings, challenges and experiences.

Parents like Pam and Charlie Lippert recognize the benefit of Murdock’s work – especially for their daughter, Katie, 17. According to Pam, when her daughter initially brought the information home about a new troop, she was skeptical.

"Katie is mentally challenged. She can’t read or write," Pam explained. "I didn’t originally send the paperwork back because I thought it was a regular troop. We want our kids involved but we don’t want them alienated."

Now over six years later, the Lipperts don’t regret their decision to encourage Katie’s participation.

"Sandy headed it up and it’s just been great. She puts her heart in it."

She added, "This is an opportunity I didn’t even dream was out there."

Twinkle French supports her daughter’s involvement for similar reasons.

"Kayle fits in here. It’s a great opportunity to be with age appropriate peers. They have fun and it’s based on her interests."

Kayle said, "I like coming to Girl Scouts and seeing friends."

Murdock, who is often contacted by the Girl Scout Council for consult, stated that a special needs Girl Scout troop can be a very positive experience.

"I highly recommend it – if it’s the right situation," she said. "You must have the full cooperation of the teachers, councils, and a child advocate – a parent who knows the ins and outs."

For more information on volunteering or joining Girl Scouts, contact the Seal of Ohio Council at (800) 621-7042.

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