By JAMES BESSETTE
WEST KINGSTON — Early Saturday morning, just as the sun was about to peak over the trees near the flag meadow at Camp Hoffman, hundreds of Girl Scouts – both young and old – from three area communities gathered around to see the American flag get hoisted up the flag pole by the color guard consisting of members of East Greenwich Girl Scout Troop 609.
From there, the scouts recited the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as the Girl Scout Promise, pledging to both serve the country and help others in need as scouts.
It was a ceremony and event that was both eight months in the making and the perfect tribute to an organization that has influenced many prominent women over the last century.
Scouts from East Greenwich, North Kingstown and Jamestown came together to spend a part of their weekend celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of America by ‘Scouting Through Time,’ learning the tricks of the trade when it comes to camping, as well as honoring scouts from the past and building toward a brighter future.
“This is amazing,” said Kitty Opishinski, leader of Troop 609. “This is really neat.”
The process of bringing three communities together started in August when Judy Leonardo, a former service manager for the Girl Scouts in East Greenwich, got together with the service manager of the Scouts in neighboring North Kingstown, Karen King, to try to put together a deserved celebration for the centennial of female scouting.
“I had the first meeting in August to ask people if there was any interest in the idea (of a celebration) and if they were willing to work,” Leonardo said. “That was the first group and everyone there said ‘yes.’”
From there, each local organization – East Greenwich and North Kingstown/Jamestown – presented the idea at their respective leader meetings and were told that they needed to ask troops to put $50 down on the camp trip and, if they reached a minimum number of people to rent space at Camp Hoffman, the event would become a reality.
In only a month’s time, the original core of 10 people consisting of trainers and volunteers managed to invite 40 different troops and a total of 350 scouts to spend a Saturday celebrating life as a Girl Scout.
Saturday’s event consisted of a number of activities for the scouts to participate in, such as learning songs – some that were written at Camp Hoffman – along Gypsy’s Rest overlooking the clear water of Larkin Pond, walking through the Sarah Hazard Nomer Museum to learn certain aspects one wouldn’t know about within Girl Scouts of Rhode Island and participate in a game called ‘Basketball in Bloomers,’ where girls “traveled back in time” to 1912 to the first troop formed by Juliette Gordon Low by putting on long skirts and bloomers to race in a basketball relay and shooting in old wicker baskets.
Other events that the scouts took part in at Camp Hoffman were interviews with three women, asking questions to them about their past experiences within the Girl Scouts. Then, they moved over to a station where the young girls designed ‘history panels’ that relate to the stories they heard in the interviews and the panels will be made into quilts that will be on display at the Girl Scouts of Rhode Island 100th anniversary Waterfire celebration in Providence this coming September.
But the most critical part of the ‘Scouting Through Time’ celebration featured scouts learning what it was like to camp 50, 70, or 100 years ago. The girls learneddifferent ways to make a bedroll and how to prepare meals out in the wilderness.
“It’s a place where girls get to try things that they just don’t normally get to try anymore in this society,” Opishinski said. “Girls want that. If we don’t teach them about how to use a knife or light a match, it doesn’t put them at an advantage. It puts them at a disadvantage. So I think this is great to give girls life skills.”
Opishinski – who has a plethora of experience backpacking with her troop – added that in the past, she had at least one girl in her troop who was willing to try certain new things in a camp setting, such as handling a knife or flip pancakes in a pan, because she wasn’t allowed to do it at home.
She also said that women feel a bit intimidated to go camping nowadays and a good chunk of scouts haven’t been to Camp Hoffman in the past. With Saturday’s event, Opishinski hopes that gap is bridged and more girls and women get outdoors and experience nature at its purest.
“We’re hoping that they come out and see the facilities,” Opishinski said, “and once the kids get a taste of it, they won’t feel so scared.”