Heather Merenda is the leader of Troop 65101 in Fillmore, California. She noticed a lack of programs for the youth in her city, pointing out that besides athletics, dance, or cheerleading, the options for extracurricular activities were slim. With only a few active Girl Scout troops between Santa Paula and Fillmore, Heather wanted to create a welcoming place for girls to make new friends, challenge themselves, and become active members of their community.
“If a girl needs a troop, our troop needs a girl.” – Heather Merenda
Troop 65101 formed as a Daisy troop, with Heather’s daughter, Rosetta, included. After the troop’s near-collapse and only a few parents remaining, Heather realized how much girls need a safe place to discover their interests and potential. “I didn’t realize at first that troops could be ‘closed,’ which seemed kind of counter to the whole concept of Girl Scouts,” she said. “I knew if we didn’t keep on, girls who wanted to be a Girl Scout would not get a spot in this area. So with the support of a couple of parents, we kept going.”
Rosetta is now in sixth grade, and one of two members of the original troop. When Heather stepped up to be the troop’s leader, she decided that they would remain an open troop since “every troop should be a representation of their community.”
“Each person in a community has something to share, something to offer, some strength to contribute,” she said. “So I feel our troop becomes stronger the more willing girls come into it.”
The process of weaving the troop together hasn’t always been easy, as the multi-level troop of 18 now ranges from first-year Daisies to second-year Cadettes. “Having topics that can appeal and grab the attention of both a reading-challenged kindergartener, a seventh-grader who is more interested in their phone chats, and everyone in between was tough,” she said. While many troops form from pre-existing friendships, most girls in Troop 65101 don’t know one another until they join. However, Heather has still managed to create an atmosphere that celebrates each girl’s passions and goals.
“I didn’t realize how much girls need a space to be themselves until I really got into Girl Scouts,” she said. “I forgot how hard it was to just be who you are without needing to have a certain look at such a young age. I focused my belief that girls need support to have the courage to be themselves. The truth is that many sectors of society don’t support women and girls being who they are. I have girls that have pursued Our Faith pins, girls who want to learn self-defense, girls who want to go to Mars, girls who sit and watch TikTok during meetings, and girls who are introverted but brilliant and need to know that’s OK, too.”
The troop has had their fair share of struggles and adjustments since the quarantine began. Due to a lack of safe, affordable, and available community spaces, they are currently working to find a new space for storage and meetings for when the troop can meet in-person again. Heather credits the support of troop parents to get them through these times. “We got some financial support from the community this year which was really nice,” she said. “It allowed us to renew everyone on the troop’s funds. It helps because I tend to support the troop financially for crafts and troop activities to get everyone what they need, so I was glad for the support.”
Heather has said that the experience has opened her eyes to the work that still needs to be done within their neighborhoods. While their plans for outdoor adventure, summer camp, and community restoration projects have been put on hold, she hopes to host a backyard campout that the troop can join via Zoom. “The girls in our troop have a variety of personalities and strengths,” she said. “Each of them needs to know they have a place to build the community. That’s what Girl Scouts promises I think, but it’s harder and harder to deliver on those promises.”
Personally, Heather feels an obligation to get the next generation of girls further down the road than previous ones. Through the emotional turmoil of COVID-19, troop turnover, and the difficulty that comes with planning across a wide variety of age levels, she has remained a pillar of strength for the girls of Troop 65101.
“I think Girl Scouts is important mostly because it helps girls figure out who they are first and gives them a possible path forward in that realization,” she said. “Without that concept of being true to yourself, many girls feel that they have to fit into a wider but still narrow band of acceptable for women.”
On her experience and the growth of their Girl Scout family, Heather said, “I don’t regret it. Girls need a place where they are welcome. I am far from a perfect leader, but I also learn a lot about myself and my community with everyone involved. Our troop is part of a community that needs a lot of support and I want our girls to know that they are part of the solution to make this world a better place and to believe it. I just hope that I can evolve to be the kind of leader who can make sure they are getting what they need from Girl Scouts.”
We are so incredibly grateful for the tireless efforts of volunteers like Heather, who continuously work to inspire, encourage, and uplift girls to be the best versions of themselves that they can be. If you or someone you know are interested in beginning your journey with Girl Scouts, visit here.