By Jaime Estes
Carrying everything they needed for the week (clothes, food, stoves, and sleeping bags) on their backs, ten Girl Scouts, one volunteer, and one Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida staff member boarded a plane to Baltimore. A week later they came back with stories, experiences, and new friendships they could have made no other way. Thank you to Outward Bound of Baltimore Chesapeake Bay for providing this platform for our girls to serve the Baltimore community, achieve their potential, and develop the leadership skills needed to care for the world around them.
Urban backpacking, by definition, if a form of travel focusing on flexibility and low cost, usually sleeping in hostels and other budget accommodations. Talk about expanding your comfort zone! From budgeting to mapping out directions, this was a true girl-led adventure. Jeanni C. of Troop 600 was the morning hair-braider. Not having access to showers meant the girls had to adapt their hygiene habits. Braided hair and extra socks were practically mandatory to stay comfortable.
The adventure began by enjoying a delicious outdoor lunch at Leakin Park. Meal-prep duty was rotated between the girls, each girl depending on one another. The crew’s first sleep site was at the Maryland Zoo; each night the girls slept in a different indoor community location. The girls would wake up to work on their first service project together. With shovels, pick axes, gloves, and lot of energy the girls set forth on removing a dead tree and replanting new, healthy trees and bushes at the zoo. Even stubborn tree roots couldn’t stop these girls.
The group was led by Joey and Becs, professional Outward Bound instructors. Throughout the trip they instructed team-building exercises and taught the girls urban survival skills, such as preparing food outdoors, cleaning their bowls without soap, navigating with a map and compass, and using public transportation. They also crafted a series of challenges for the girls to complete as they navigated Baltimore. Some of the challenges were finding places, like the Baltimore Museum of Art or hunting for an Old Bay Seasoning sign.
The third night the group settled in to sleep at the Clifton Park Mansion House. For a breathtaking view, the girls climbed 177 steps to the top of the tower to watch the sunrise. Each night the girls were responsible for redistributing supplies (based on weight) for the following day. Trekking miles and miles with a 40-pound pack is no easy task. Volunteer Kim Poinsett couldn’t have said it any better, “On to the next adventure…feet and hearts are the transportation.”
Determined to make the Baltimore community a better place, the girls tackled service project number two – renovating and beautifying Darley Park to make it a safe and welcoming place for local families. The girls built a tether ball court from the ground up, mowed the lawn, whacked weeds, watered the plants, and picked up trash. The final result was incredible. This service project was organized by the 6th Branch, an organization of veterans whose focus is community service.
Journaling was an important part of the girls’ experience. Writing down thoughts, actions, and emotions each day is the act of reflection. While the girls can’t stay in Baltimore forever, they can keep their journals forever, which serves as a constant reminder of the leadership and compassion they showed on their journey. It always feels good to give back, something these girls hold near and dear to their hearts. At Our Daily Bread, a housing and homeless shelter, the girls prepared and served lunch to their patrons, and washed all the dishes, pots, and pans.
One of the group’s favorite resting spots was The Boathouse, overlooking the Middle Branch Patapsco River. The girls had the opportunity to canoe on the river, an activity Girl Scouts were born to do.
As if the girls hadn’t already had the experience of a lifetime, they also got to meet Mayor Catherine Pugh at Baltimore City Hall. Mayor Pugh went well over her allotted time to answer each of the girl’s questions about leadership and explained how each city has its own unique challenges and advantages. Mayor Pugh summed up the girls’ experience when asked her definition of leadership: “I am a servant to the citizens of Baltimore city and then to the state of Maryland. Leadership is serving others.” It was in that moment that everything clicked. Everything that the girls had done that week – planting trees at the zoo, improving a local park, and feeding the homeless – was serving others, the purest act of true leadership.
To top off the adventure, the girls faced a final challenge to plan a trip to Washington, D.C. The girls visited the Washington Monument, National Mall, Memorial Park, Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. But the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was, by far, the most moving. The girls spoke openly about how with more female go-getters, innovators, risk-takers, and leaders, tragedies like the Holocaust could have been prevented.
It’s hard to believe all of these experiences, service projects, outdoor meals, team-bonding moments, visits to historical landmarks, activities, moments of realization, and laughter could all fit into one week. But if anyone could do it, of course, it would be our Girl Scouts.