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Column: Inclusion programming makes Girl Scouting more accessible

3:09 PM, Mar. 18, 2013  |  Comments
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It is a key goal of the Girl Scout organization to make every girl feel welcome, no matter her personal background, beliefs, or abilities. Moving forward in that direction, Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes, or GSNWGL, has begun the important work of developing inclusion programming so that girls of all abilities can participate in Girl Scouts.

"Inclusion is more than supporting girls with special needs," said Gwen Taylor, GSNWGL's director of Innovation and Program. "While that's important, it's also about educating our members about integration so we aren't setting girls with special needs apart, but rather bringing everyone together. Those who don't have disabilities often gain more from this program because they're able to see how their actions can positively affect others."

This initiative has several aspects to it, including training and resources for volunteers, a patch program for girls, and kits that volunteers can check out from the Girl Scout office.

The patch program is a no-experience-required curriculum for girls of all ages. Through engaging hands-on activities, girls learn about the various ways people are different from one another and the importance of inclusion.

Girls can also check out an all-terrain wheelchair and wheelchair ramps from the Girl Scout office. With this wheelchair, girls who use mobility devices can maneuver snowdrifts while selling cookies and hit the hiking trails at Girl Scout camp, making even more aspects of Girl Scouting accessible.

Aside from mobility, the inclusion initiative helps girls with attention problems, communication disorders, social deficits, hearing and visual impairments, and more. The inclusion kits contain items like balance balls and fidget toys for girls who have trouble sitting still, visual stimulants that help girls focus and stay on task, adaptive art supplies for girls who have trouble with manipulating tools, and picture exchange communication devices which help girls who don't learn best through audible instruction.

"It's not our job to label or diagnose," noted Carrie Andringa, GSNWGL Reaching Out manager who specializes in inclusion programming. "Rather, we address behaviors and provide resources so our girls and volunteers can have a more fun and productive time together."

Taylor added, "We hope that by developing these programs and resources, our girls will take what they learn home and into the classroom, and these lessons about inclusion trickle out to their peers and family members; that's exactly how Girl Scouts builds leaders."

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