Passionate Pursuits: A journey from a Girl Scouts brownie to troop leader

The purpose of Excelsior Life’s Passionate Pursuits is to shine a light on faculty and staff successfully balancing work, home and family – just like our students.

During the day, Renee Kelly is the alumni affairs manager at Excelsior College. Outside of work, Kelly is a Girl Scouts Troop leader for a local chapter in Northeastern New York. She shares her passionate pursuit with Excelsior Life.

Q: How did you first become involved in Girl Scouts?

A: I first became involved in the second grade when I joined Brownies! Despite only staying with Girl Scouts until about sixth grade, it had a positive impact on me. I was re-introduced to Girl Scouts four years ago, when my daughter was about to enter kindergarten. I wanted to influence her world with positive role models, so I called the Girl Scouts of Northeastern New York (GSNENY) and asked about getting her into a troop in our area. I was told, “Great! There’s a waiting list in your area…would you like to be a leader?” I wanted to shout “yes!” but as a working mom with a young family and PTATroop 2420 responsibilities at my children’s schools, I didn’t think I was the best fit for this kind of commitment. A couple of weeks later, I was approached by a fellow mom who had also been told about the waiting list. Although we had never met, she said to me, “I’m starting a troop, but I don’t want to do it alone. Someone at Girl Scouts said you might be interested in doing this together.” She’s now one of my closest friends. How fortunate am I that the person who answered our phone calls connected us?

Q: What’s the mission of your Girl Scouts Troop and in what ways does your group uphold these values?

A: The mission of Girl Scouts is to grow girls of courage, confidence, and character. It’s a mission that I strongly believe in. I feel privileged that, in addition to having a wonderful son and daughter, I get to help “grow” seven other young women. As leaders, we do this by providing opportunities and experiences that are girl-led.

Q: What is your most memorable experience being involved with your Girl Scout Troop?

A: It isn’t one experience; it’s so many, especially those first time experiences. The girls learned how to ice skate together; they tried geocaching and loved it; they tried boating and hated it. Their memories of these things will always involve one other. To hear them talk about things they want to do together years from now, when they’re in high school, really shows how strong the bond of sisterhood is.

PB&JQ: What service work is your Girl Scout Troop involved in?

A: They’ve done various things like caroling at the nursing home, planting flowers at their school, and making cat mats for the animal shelter. Most recently, they held a PB&J Drive at their school where they collected nearly 80 jars of peanut butter and jelly for the local backpack program.

Q: What do you think you have learned being a Troop leader? What do you think you have learned from the scouts?

A: Through this organization, I belong to a community of like-minded women and I’ve learned that you don’t have to be perfect to step up and make a difference. Like me, most of the leaders in our service unit are career professionals who volunteer for other organizations in addition to Girl Scouts. We demonstrate to the girls that work-life balance is important (but not always easily achieved). We also show them that communities are comprised of people who are willing to fill a need. Coaches, homeroom parents, Sunday school teachers – if someone doesn’t volunteer to operate the concession stand, then there won’t be any freeze pops after the soccer game. That’s volunteerism at the most basic level.

I think I learn from them just as much as they learn from me. We have a mixed troop comprised of ages 8-11 (Brownies, Juniors, and Cadettes). They are unfiltered and I love it! Right now, they are painting a mural together. They are not in agreement as to what the finished product will look like, but they have a lot of strong feelings about it! As a leader, it’s hard not to step in and facilitate every conversation, but I have no doubt that they will figure it out to everyone’s satisfaction. It’s so inspiring from year to year, to watch them emerge as leaders, to see them find their voices and to hear them speak up for themselves and each other.

Q: Are there any upcoming volunteer events or fund-raisers and how can the community support your organization?

A: Everyone knows you can support Girl Scouts by buying cookies, but you can also be the person who provides experiences for troops.  For example, two volunteers from the Peace Corps came to speak to our troop for World Thinking Day; an EMT in our town brought them onboard an ambulance and showed them around; they’ve toured the animal shelter, a nursery, and a police station all because someone was willing to spend an hour talking to a Girl Scout troop.