July 25, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A group of sixth-grade girls sit around a table in the St. James/Seton Parish Hall. They are all members of Girl Scout Troop No. 44138.  Most of them have been friends and Girl Scout members for seven years, and together they have gone camping, sold cookies, and earned patches ranging from jewelry making to geocaching. Last May they determined to do something that showed the essence of Girl Scouting.

“We were trying to figure out what we were going to do for our bronze award,” says troop leader Bev Fritz. “We originally wanted to do something with animals, but that didn’t work out well.”

Many animal projects would have involved work state-wide, so they deemed it too broad for their goals and timeframe.

The bronze award is the highest level award for Girl Scouts of junior rank. It is an award where the girls have to go on a journey in which they discover who they are and what they value. As a team, the girls created a project they cared about, and worked together to take action and help a group of people.

It’s an honor to earn the bronze award. This year, 359 girls out of 5000 junior girl scouts in Nebraska, or 15 percent, earned the bronze award.

“Each of these award projects impacts communities and the people who live there in a positive, and oftentimes significant, way,” says Fran Marshall, chief executive officer for Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska. “They are visible and tangible examples of how girls, through their Girl Scouting experience, develop the courage, confidence, and character to take action and make the world a better place.”

As the girls thought through their project, Bev’s friend Donna Hodges suggested Boys & Girls Club in Omaha, a nonprofit serving nearly 6000 at-risk children and youth in the area.

The troop contacted Boys & Girls Club Westside and discovered that they need several things, from school supplies to food. One project in particular ignited the girls’ fire.

Boys & Girls Club Westside has reading benches. These are seats made from milk crates and topped with mobile cushions. The crates contain books for kids to read at the Boys & Girls Club.

The ones they currently owned needed repairs, and they needed more reading benches.

It was a project meant for this team. Mention books, and everyone’s eyes light up. Several series, including Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Inheritance Cycle, were mentioned in unison as favorites.

They couldn’t imagine a life without books.

With the idea in mind, the girls planned a project over two or three sessions. They budgeted that it would take $120.00 for the project. Each girl either babysat or helped with yardwork, along with other duties such as running errands for mom or helping with a community cleanup.

“I enjoyed taking responsibility to make the money,” Riley Fritz, 12, says. “I found the business part of it interesting.”

The business part included creating a plan, which needed to be approved by the Girl
Scout council before the work, or even fundraising, began.

“It’s hard to get these approved,” said Bev. “You have to lay out what you’re going to do, how to prepare it, how much it’s going to cost.”

The stamp of approval came back from the Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska Council, who loved this idea. The girls learned about budgeting and shopping smartly through trips to the fabric store and lumberyard for supplies. They learned about woodworking as they lined crates with plywood to make them sturdy, and they created padding and seats for the benches.

“I enjoyed making the benches, because I know the kids will enjoy them,” says Anna Krupka, 13.

Shelli Henry, unit director at Boys and Girls Club, did not realize how many benches the club would receive until they were delivered.

“They exceeded my expectations,” Henry says. “I thought we would get three or four. They just kept coming.”

The girls not only made 13 new book benches, they donated books to fill the crates. Each girl cleaned out her own bookshelves at home and also asked for donations of books from their neighborhood.  When they delivered the crates to the Boys and Girls Club, they also gifted the club with about 75 books they collected.

“My favorite part was delivering them, because you got to see how they would be put to use and that they would enjoy them,” says Sam Kluthe, 12.

The girls learned the value of money, of making things, and they also learned the joy of
helping others.

“We weren’t going to buy stuff for us and break it right away,” says Emily Kriener, 12. “We were (doing) this for other people.”

It was a lesson in teamwork, and a lesson in craftsmanship. Most importantly, the project was a lesson in humanity.

“I loved it all,” says Jenny Perry, 12.

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