By FRED KRONER
Scouting helps its participants build confidence and self-esteem while also learning values that will be beneficial later in life.
Sometimes what is built can be seen in real time.
Five teenagers in Mahomet’s Girl Scout Troop 2066 finished a hands-on project last weekend that completed requirements for their Silver Award, which is the highest one that a cadette Girl Scout can earn.
“The process of earning the award gives girls the chance to identify a need in their community and then work to fill that need by making a change for the better,” said Meg Loven, the troop’s co-leader. “The award includes a series of steps which culminate in a Silver Award Project.”
The girls started formulating their idea two years ago, in September 2016.
“A few years ago, there was talk that Camp Kiwanis (the Girl Scout camp in Mahomet) was not as popular as it once was and it might have a chance of being shut down,” said Jeramie Truax, the troop’s other co-leader. “At the time, the girls were looking for a project and they decided they wanted to do something to enrich the property of the Mahomet camp.
“They tossed around many ideas, but after visiting the Homer playscape, they decided this was the project they wanted to do.”
The girls in Troop 2066 are all freshmen at Mahomet-Seymour High School: Madeline Almaroad, Abby Loven, Kami Parker, Penny Sheridan and Chloe Truax.
In a collaborative writing, the group put their mission in words.
“Our project was to create a 30-foot by 40-foot Nature Playscape at Camp Kiwanis. We searched online for ideas, then took a field trip to Homer Lake Playscape. Each girl in the troop drew individual plans and then we compiled the ideas into one project idea. We had to edit depending on budget and supplies that we would have available. We thought about the age groups that would use the playscape and talked to the Girl Scout council about their requirements.
“The final project included five separate play elements (discussion squares, balance beam, stilt climbers, tic tac toe board and stepping log rounds) surrounded by a perimeter walkway.
“The playscape is designed for children to interact and invent games with each other, while having fun in the outdoors and helping them remember their fun at Camp Kiwanis. The project benefits everyone who comes to camp — of all ages. Our hope is that more troops will want to camp at Camp Kiwanis and return more often.”
For the troop members, it was a learning experience.
“Before this project, I had never used a power drill, so that was a new skill for me,” Chloe Truax said. “The whole process of planning and coming up with the idea was really interesting.
“I was surprised at how long it took to put the whole project together, but really happy that we did so much planning because the day of the project went really smoothly.“
Kami Parker’s enrichment encompassed a number of areas.
“I learned how to saw, screw, level and build squares during our work day,” Parker said. “I also learned a lot about voting and making decisions as a group.
“I learned some professional speaking skills in presenting our project. I also learned how to use a power saw and paint gun, and work with my team on planning and communication.”
Meg Loven said the majority of the lessons were big-picture ones.
“I think the most powerful thing the girls learned from their experience is that they have the power to create something amazing,” Meg Loven said. “Throughout our work day, the girls would pause to look at what they were creating and remark about how amazed they were that this project turned from a fun discussion around a table at a Girl Scout meeting into an impressive real-life structure.
“And the girls made that happen. All the planning and research that went into the project development really made the building process smooth. The girls have developed their leadership skills in impressive ways, and I can’t wait to see what they dream up next.”
Many of the girls in Troop 2066 have been together since kindergarten.
They devoted about 20 hours to the creation, development and tweaking of their project.
“Skills I used in this project included making speeches, using tools like power drills and screwdrivers, and doing hard work like shoveling dirt and gravel,” Abby Loven said. “We also did lots of painting to finish the detailed parts of the project like signs and giant tic tac toe pieces.
“I learned a lot about planning projects and talking to adults about the projects.”
Jeramie Truax was impressed that the teenagers stayed true to their convictions as they pursued the project.
“They stuck to their plan,” she said. “Even as others suggested new things on the workday, they kept to the original vision.
“I hope what they learn most out of this project is that if you set your mind to doing something, anything is possible.”
The group didn’t need to wait long for others to enjoy what they had created.
“The day after we finished, the troop stayed and camped to finish up paperwork,” Jeramie Truax said. “We found out that a younger troop (from Champaign) was staying at the second cabin on the property.
“The girls couldn’t wait to invite the younger troop over to try out their playscape. The troop loved it and within minutes of playing, were inventing games. They even came again to play first thing in the morning.”
Saturday’s workday lasted six hours and went off without any hitches.
“You could see on the girls’ faces how they really had accomplished a vision,” Jeramie Truax said. “The work day went very smoothly because of all the pre-planning that they had done.”
It was mission accomplished and mission successful.
“The girls in our troop have always loved Camp Kiwanis and felt that they could add to the camp so that other Girl Scouts would be even more excited to camp there with their troops,” Meg Loven said. “After online research and a field trip to Homer Lake Forest Preserve, they decided to build a Nature Playscape at Camp Kiwanis.
“The goal of the playscape was to provide a special area at camp where Girl Scouts could interact creatively with the outdoors. The playscape incorporates natural materials into structures that encourage kids to come up with their own games.”
Meg Loven believes the area will be well-used.
“The Playscape will give girls a fun place to congregate and play,” she said. “The area is available to troops at camp for group games and exploration, or troops can gather and use parts of the Playscape as seating for discussions or badge work.
“The elements encourage kids to dream up their own games and activities.”
Materials for the playscape were supplied by several families.
The Champaign County Forest Preserve had some large logs that they donated to the project.
Rob Parker (whose daughter, Kami, is in the troop) from ParkLawn Services, donated his time, equipment and expertise to the project, including many materials.
In addition to the troop’s co-leaders, several parents — including Erick Loven (who did the lion’s share of the chain saw work) and Kris Parker — donated time and advice. Two younger brothers also participated on construction day.
The final detail to finish is the wood chips, but those are waiting on delivery from the supplier.
“I hope their hard work inspires other girls to think big, too,” Jeramie Truax said. “It was a pleasure seeing the girls learn tools they have never used and to problem-solve, but mostly to see the project come to life.
“I am beyond excited about the girls making their vision a reality.”
The girls have one more joint venture on their to-do list.
They plan to make it happen during the summer of 2019.
“The girls have been saving cookie money and will travel to Orlando for a week to volunteer at the Give Kids the World village (a non-profit resort that takes referrals from services such as Make-A-Wish) as well as going to Disneyworld,” Meg Loven said.