Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes is committed to promoting mental health as a critical part of overall wellness. Youth mental health is worsening and evidence from past disease outbreaks indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a specifically disproportionate impact on women and girls. Considering this, our primary concern is the safety and well-being of our members and the community.
In many ways, mental health is just like physical health: everybody has it and we need to take care of it. Good mental health means being generally able to think, feel and react in the ways that you need and want to live your life. But if you go through a period of poor mental health you might find the ways you are frequently thinking, feeling or reacting become difficult, or even impossible, to cope with. This can feel just as bad as a physical illness, or even worse.
In these stressful times, our girls and families look to Girl Scouts for guidance and support. In order to be there when needed, we have utilized technology to keep Girl Scout staff members active and connected with each other, our volunteers and families. We have provided ideas and activities to help girls cope and learn to be resilient through honest discussion, providing space and support for difficult feelings, connection with others and support for people and causes in their community.
We are pivoting our program delivery model to support virtual instruction and engagement including virtual sessions with badge related activities for all girls and families using materials in their home, downloadable digital program content including videos, activity resources, and expert guidance for families and volunteers on leading girls through this difficult time, and virtual service projects including identifying ways for girls to flex their service muscle with a national service project.
Due to the shift in mission delivery approaches, our online presence has been ramped up, requiring additional skill sets and/or training of staff, as well as volunteers. We are creating education opportunities, personal check ins, and support for our adult troop leaders, and providing resources to reduce stress related to childcare or homeschooling.
Our Council’s investment in virtual programmatic delivery, commitment to supporting our adult volunteers, and adaptability in providing resources to our most vulnerable girls will assist with the social and emotional growth needed to personally overcome the traumatic experience that is COVID-19. By encouraging virtual social interconnectedness and the importance and impact of having a community mindset, our girl and adult members will be given the tools to thrive and assist with the recovery of our community.
To Girl Scouts, vulnerable includes more than just socioeconomics. When we think of our girls, we are thinking about those that fall within the Alice population, but we are also thinking about those who have significant stress factors in their home. Girls that have a parent in jail or struggling with addiction, those whose parents are essential workers and they are now pseudo childcare providers for their siblings. Girl Scout families that always got by but are suddenly finding themselves with food shortages. We believe that girls are quickly moving into a mental health need category because of the additional stress that is being placed on individuals and families because of COVID-19. Our membership engagement managers are calling every leader from our traditional troop settings to do wellness checks, they are noting if there are specific girl/family needs that we can help them with.
Many of our Girl Scouts are burdened by home lives that are not conducive for home learning, they may be hungry, or even alone. We may have girls that will be facing hardships and new realities that may include family financial burdens, high stress home, and sadly, the potential loss of a loved one. Even before this pandemic Girl Scouts were facing these challenging environments and we expect this to increase substantially as we get through and come out of this pandemic. Our concern is how Girl Scouts can continue to be that safe place for all our girls and our goal is to meet their basic needs around physiological, safety, belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization.
Additionally, our Council’s outreach team is connecting our members to local resources for support and are working on piloting porch drop-offs and mail deliveries to families that do not have access to our virtual resources or the support and supplies that are needed right now. Our team is exploring how we can most effectively deliver hygiene kits, basic crafting materials, positive affirmation curriculum pieces that girls can explore individually, as well as books and snacks.
This includes girls that we have been serving through our Reaching Out programs and our membership engagement managers are also calling every leader from our traditional troop settings to do wellness checks, they are noting if there are specific girl/family needs that we can help them with. We would classify this as a vulnerable group of girls who are not getting access to the resources they need in traditional settings. This group of girls is also increasing daily.
Our community, including Girl Scouts, go to great lengths to ensure that children are connected with positive adult role models, with safe spaces to learn and grow, with access to meals and mental health resources, and so much more. With prolonged inaccessible outlets, our youth will have increased exposure to trauma. Victims of trauma often brandish cries for help through regressive behaviors, mood shifts, withdrawal, trouble focusing, headaches, stomachaches, sleep issues, and much more. These mental health stipulations will make a lasting impact on our area youth, and our Girl Scout experts expect that challenging behaviors and trauma disclosure will increase at our outreach programs and Girl Scout Camp once the immediate national emergency ends.
Girl Scouts is one of the only activities in a girl’s life that can continue with virtual interactions with her troop. A Girl Scout can continue reaching her goals, earning badges and completing service projects to support those most negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, we can continue to build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.