Our Girl Scout Bronze Award Party

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The Bronze Award is a special honor Girl Scout Juniors (grades 4-5) can earn by completing a larger-scale project. Later on, in middle school, they can earn the Silver Award (individually, or as a small group), and, in high school, they can earn the Gold Award, which is a multi-faceted, long-term individual project, similar to being an Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts.

Our fifth grade troop of 18 girls has been together since kindergarten. A few girls have moved away, and a few girls have joined throughout the years, but the bulk of the girls have been a part of our troop since they were five. They are a happy, active group of girls, and they have just as happy and active (and helpful!) parents (thank goodness!)!

The spark for our troop’s Bronze Award event started a few years ago when I contacted local places where families could volunteer while I was researching my blog “Helping Kids to Give Back: Part 2” in Jan 2017. I got in touch with people at Family Promise of Morris County. They explained to me that they help families and individuals who are currently without housing. The families spend the day (after work and school) at the day facility, and spend the night at a different congregation in the area each week. They also continue to help the families once they find permanent housing as part of their Community Support Program. This organization particularly stuck with me since it helped families with kids. When many people think of homelessness, they picture dirty homeless beggars in city streets, when, in reality, many people without homes are families with children. Over the next few years, an idea started brewing in my mind.

Like most fifth grade girls, my daughter and her friends love to plan and have parties. Ask any girl about this age what she will do for her birthday party and she will have a plan, even if it is months away! At this age, they can really start to plan and run the parties themselves, too. They know what they like. They know what is fun. They are also starting to understand how much things cost, and that a family without a home would not be able to throw a birthday party like they themselves have when they are worried about where they will sleep and if they will have enough food.

So, we decided to throw a birthday party style party for the families of Family Promise of Morris County, and called it a “Happy Home” party. Ideas flowed out as the girls started planning—cake! pizza! fruit salad! games! presents! They were really excited! And what I especially loved is that they were excited to plan it for these kids! They knew they would be running the games and crafts, not doing them. They knew that would be giving the presents, not receiving them. They knew they would be serving the food and cake, not getting the first slice (though there were extras for them to have after the families were all served). They were excited to help and to give, and they were very capable of doing it!

After consulting with Family Promise, we decided to gather donations of homewares (sheets, towels, baking pans, etc.) to help the families set up their homes when they secured permanent places to live. We did this in several ways. Some girls’ families donated new items that they no longer needed, including homewares and unused birthday party goody bag prizes. We also set up a donation bin at the Madison Area YMCA, requesting new homewares. We got lots of great new items, and many like-new ones, too. (I won’t mention the ones that were clearly very used.) Girls also put bins at their congregations. The best way we asked, though, was through Student Wish List Project, a Madison-based non-profit that helps kids set up Amazon wish lists and then send the lists out to friends and family members to donate. Tania Lee, founder of Student Wish List Project, came to our troop meeting to explain how it works and helped the girls set up their donation pages.

We soon realized that we needed to divide and conquer in order to have each girl feel she contributed. So my coleaders (and a super helpful troop mom/friend) and I divided up the tasks and each took a group of 4-5 girls for a committee: donations, crafts, food, decorations. Also each group would make and run a game.

The Donation Committee gathered all the donations we received, categorizing them so the Family Promise volunteer could more easily compile a stack of donations for each family to receive at the end of the party. They also divided up donations that could be used as prizes for the kids when they played games at the party.

The Crafts Committee decided on some crafts the families could make at the party. They thought hard about what crafts could be useful to families as they got their homes, making sure they were not ones that were junky. They decided on decorating photo frames (and took photos of each family with a Polaroid as they came in), making beaded key chains, decorating pillow cases with fabric markers, making an art display using ribbon and clothes pins, and decorating reusable canvas bags that they could use to hold their prizes.

The Food Committee visited many local restaurants asking for food donations for the party. They wrote and practiced a script explaining who they were, who they were throwing the party for, why they were throwing the party, when it was, and what they were asking for. Madison restaurants were so welcoming and giving! We received pizzas from Nicky’s Firehouse Restaurant, a sandwich platter from CJ’s Deli, pasta and meatballs from Puelo’s Brick Oven (Florham Park), cookies and fruit from Whole Foods, and juices from Stop & Shop. McCool’s also gave highly discounted ice cream, and Madison Pharmacy gave highly discounted balloons. The committee also gave thank you notes to these places after the party.

The Decoration Committee determined the theme of the party, set a decorations budget, and bought all the decorations. They decided on “rainbow” as the color scheme to make it cheery and bright, and had various colored table cloths and streamers that really brightened up the party room!

St. Vincent Martyr, which is one of the congregations that hosts the families several weeks a year, graciously hosted the party. The girls worked together to put up the decorations, set up the crafts and games, put out the prize table and donations, and lay out the food. We had a group meeting before the families started, reminding them to greet the families, try to engage the kids in the activities, and be courteous. We had 17 adults and 21 kids come to the party. Some were currently in the Family Promise Emergency Shelter Program, and others who were no longer in need of emergency shelter and were now in the Community Support Program.

Our troop of girls rocked it all! We were so proud of them! They were friendly to everyone, greeted families as they signed in, invited the kids to join in the games and crafts, handed out food, ran their games, and awarded the prizes at the prize table. My fellow leaders, parents, and I barely did anything! The night ran so smoothly and all the effort we all put into the party was so worth it when we saw how much the families appreciated it! As they left, we passed out their homewares and a box of Girl Scout cookies! Everyone left with a huge smile, full bellies, and, hopefully, wonderful memories of the evening.

After all the families left, we had a brief circle time with the girls to see what their thoughts were about the night. Many of them commented on how much they loved being able to bring smiles to the kids’ faces. They talked about how some of the children who had special needs, in particular, difficulty communicating, looked so happy and enjoyed playing the games and getting prizes. They also talked about how, if these kids were in their classes with them at school, they would not even know the kids lived in shelters. “They were kids, just like us, who liked to play games and have fun!”

Exactly!