These local Girl Scouts are celebrating more than a decade of dedication together.
They’ve sold hundreds of boxes of Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties while earning countless pins and badges. But over the last decade-plus, the Girl Scouts in Longwood Troop 1015 discovered even more than leadership and service to the community: they found friendships that will last a lifetime.
Erin Hertlein, a senior at Lake Brantley High School, is one of four original members who has been with the troop for all 12 of its years. When the group formed in 2006, Erin was in kindergarten at Sabal Point Elementary.
“I have known most of these girls for more than half my life,” says Erin. “I’ve gained lifelong friendships. Plus, I never knew I had a talent for selling until I went behind a cookie booth!”
When Erin’s mother, Karen, volunteered to be the troop’s leader just for the inaugural year, she never imagined that it would turn into a 12-year commitment.
“As each year went by, I agreed to do one more,” Karen says. “Then my goal was to stick with the girls through elementary school, when someone else would take over. Somehow, 12 years went by, and I am still here! It has been a special journey.”
Today, the troop consists of nine high-school seniors who, despite moving to different schools over the years, have remained close through their shared Scouting experiences.
“I enjoyed earning the cooking badge, because I love cooking food with my friends and spending time with them,” says Rachel Steinke, who also attends Lake Brantley High. “I also learned how important it is to include everyone and how to be a true friend.”
Favorite community service projects over the years include volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House and harvesting crops on local farms to provide food for the elderly.
“Every year, we also made Valentine’s Day cards to send to members of the military,” says Paige Anderson, also a student at Lake Brantley High.
During their senior year as Ambassador Scouts, some of the girls uncovered their passions for service while earning a Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouts. Rachel worked with the police department at the University of Central Florida to create a safety video aimed toward college-bound girls who are leaving home for the first time. Holly Gates completed her Gold Award project by establishing a memorial at a local animal hospital to provide comfort for those who’ve lost pets. Holly attends Lake Mary High.
“I have gained treasured memories,” says Lyman High student McKenzie LaPierre, who is another one of the original troop members. “I have also grown as a leader by being around my friends.”
The teens in Troop 1015 all agree that they have become more confident and have acquired many life skills, as well as some unusual talents.
“Thanks to Girl Scouts, I know about 20 different campfire songs,” says Bethanie Mendel, a Lake Mary High student who joined the group when she was in the third grade.
“I learned that I can start a fire with literally anything,” Holly says.
“And we all know a bunch of inside jokes that we can laugh at without anyone else knowing why,” grins Charlotte Ussery, who attends Lake Brantley High.
Other memorable experiences include a visit to the nation’s capital and travel to Savannah, Georgia, where the troop toured the homes of Girl Scout founders during the organization’s 100-year anniversary.
“Very often, teenage girls go their separate ways – especially when they are so involved in sports, academics, and extracurricular activities – but this group is different,” Karen says. “They are dedicated to each other.”
As the Scouts prepare to graduate from high school and head off to college, their badge-filled khaki sashes tucked away for safekeeping, there is no need for promises to stay in touch. The girls are already making plans for a Troop 1015 spring break reunion next year.
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