The Girl Scouts organization encourages girls to dream big dreams. So two years ago, seven local Girl Scouts were eager to make a splash with their first service project. They were new Junior Girl Scouts, members of St. Mary’s Troop 10476, and also students at the school. They had learned that one of the country’s few Braille printers is located here in Memphis. Since they had just read about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan at school, the fact had more than passing meaning. They couldn’t stop talking about it.
Starting with that seed, the troop carried out a project that is drawing cheers from visually impaired folks who enjoy dining out.
“We wanted to help vision-impaired and blind people,” says 11-year-old Lauren Ledger, now a sixth-grader at St. Mary’s Episcopal School. “We heard about Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We decided to use our Girl Scout cookie money to buy Braille menus for seven local restaurants.”
The troop also provided large-type menus to the restaurants. The restaurants include Sekisui Pacific Rim, The Half Shell, Mosa, Bronte, Brother Juniper’s, La Baguette, and Patrick’s.
“Clovernook Center gave us glasses that have dots and circles, so that we could see what people who have glaucoma and cataracts see. A restaurant manager told us that visually impaired people like window seats, where they can feel the sunshine or smell something good through an open window.” For their work, the seven troop members earned the Bronze Award in spring 2011, the highest award available to a Junior Girl Scout. The team included Lauren Ledger, Maryanna Couloubaritsis, Nayla Nassif, Rebecca Price, Alexis Jamison, Assata Smith, and Sophie Curras.
Since then, homework and other activities have pulled away several members. “And now we’re down to four girls,” says Lauren. Maryanna, Lauren, Nayla, and Rebecca are enjoying new freedoms as members of their Cadet Troop 10476. “As Cadets, we get to do more advanced badges and are more independent and take charge.”
Lauren has loved every craft and service project, going back to her Brownie days. Her favorite line of the Girl Scout law is, “Make the world a better place, and be a sister to
every Girl Scout.” She says, “We give each other hugs after we say that.”
Next year, the Girl Scouts organization will celebrate its centennial anniversary. “The kids get something in Girl Scouts that they don’t get in other places. It is girl-led and develops leaders,” says Cindi Ledger, the troop’s leader and Lauren’s mom.
The energetic troop is on the move. When climber Kate Phillips spoke to them about her experience hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, the girls were inspired. They asked Kate, an employee of Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, how they could help Shelby Farms. The troop plans to laminate educational materials showing photos of plant life and post the materials at Shelby Farms. The project ties in with environmental conservation and provides a focus for the troop’s Silver Award project.
The girls will also be planting trees to spruce up grounds for area schools. And the Cadets recently had fun making a scarecrow for a competition at Lichterman Nature Center. The Girl Scout Can scarecrow, sporting a uniform sash made from soda cans and can tabs, won the ‘Greenest’ category.
On weekends, troop members enjoy spending time outdoors. While camping, they have listened to coyotes howl, tumbled in a mud pit, and whipped up meals over a campfire. “We learned how to pack backpacks so that we can carry everything, including our tent,” says Lauren. It was a damp night, made more memorable when “five spiders, two daddy longlegs, and eight crickets” showed up in their tent. At one campground, Troop 10476 left behind laminated pictures of poison ivy for other campers to carry in backpacks while hiking. They’ve learned to plan ahead and be prepared, valuable life skills.
With some of the profits from cookie sales, the girls helped pay for a mother-daughter trip to Chicago. Of course, they planned ahead. “We made reservations at two hotels, in case one had electricity outage problems,” says Lauren with a wide grin.