Community-Focused American Heritage Girls Fosters Leadership Skills
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Fred Richardson’s daughter was in second grade when she expressed an interest in joining some sort of troop organization. Richardson, who has a background in family ministry, substitute teaching and community involvement, took his daughter to visit various troops in and around the Indianapolis area and found they liked the mission of the American Heritage Girls (AHG), which states, “Building women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country.”
They emphasize life skill enhancement, social, spiritual and character development, teamwork & confidence and female leadership. Speaking of leadership, at the time of Richardson’s inquiry, there was no troop assembled that served the area despite a list of parents who were interested in having one. Given that Richardson, himself, had a scouting background since his son had served in Boy Scouts, he decided to step up to the plate and get the ball rolling. Two years ago, he started a chapter of AHG in Brownsburg at Hope Community Church, the troop’s sponsor. Though they have gained momentum over the last couple of years, they are looking to grow even more.
“We hope to have a strong recruitment this year,” says Richardson, noting that they’re hosting an open house in August when school starts to give families a chance to come see what they’re all about. The AHG, a faith-based program predominantly sponsored by area churches, welcomes girls ages 5-18 and is similar in design to Girl Scouts.
“All scouting type programs share a similar DNA,” Richardson says. “They focus on leadership and citizenship. In our case, our girls earn badges for six different frontiers. These include everything from personal wellbeing to outdoor activities, arts and crafts, science and technology and camping and hiking.”
Though Richardson is responsible for delegating responsibilities, he’s quick to point out that the ultimate goal — and a quality that is distinctive about the AHG — is that, over time, the troop becomes girl-led as they progress through five program levels: Pathfinder (grade K and a parent/child experience), Tenderheart (grades 1-3), Explorer (grades 4-6), Pioneer (grades 7-8) and Patriot (grades 9-12).
“As girls come up through the program, they accept more and more responsibility for running the troop,” says Richardson, noting that this past year they had a sixth-grader who led their opening ceremonies, which included the flag, the creed and the pledge of allegiance.
“Her AHG leadership experience has profoundly affected her self-confidence, particularly as it relates to schoolwork and public speaking,” Richardson says. “Just standing up in front of people has helped her grow tremendously this year.”
Though adults provide logistical support, the girls take ownership of the troop as they plan and implement various themes and activities.
“AHG is a great opportunity for girls to learn various types of leadership —for instance, how to put on a special event like the Daddy/Daughter dance they did this year,” Richardson says. “They selected the decorations and worked with adults to provide the snacks. This was the girls beginning to take ownership of such events.”
The other key aspect of AHG is their service projects. For instance, in the past, they have worked with the American Legion in Brownsburg to help them place flags at veterans’ grave sites on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. They have also assisted Avon with the Avon Day celebration and have marched in the Brownsburg Fourth of July parade.
Though they love to be out and about, mingling with members of the community, this year the girls wanted to tackle a more ambitious project so they are participating in a program called HUGS (Heritage Girls United Giving Service) designed to help foster children acclimate by providing them with duffle bags filled with personal and comfort items. Throughout the spring and summer, AHG girls have sold Crew Car Wash tickets to purchase 100 duffle bags. They then partnered with local churches to fill the bags with items such as notebooks, blankets, games and stuffed animals.
“When kids are removed from unsafe situations and enter the foster care system, they typically leave with the clothes on their backs and maybe one toy or keepsake,” Richardson says. “It’s always a traumatic experience for them as they get dropped off at a stranger’s home so our AHG girls are trying to help make the transition a little less scary.”
Typically, the first placement in foster care is a temporary one until the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) can find a long-term placement for the children. That means that after a week or two, they’re often picking up and moving again to another new home. Now they can take this duffel bag with their very own items with them.
“It doesn’t completely take away the sting, but we hope it reminds these children that the community cares about them,” Richardson says.
Thus far, the troop has filled a quarter of the bags, but they plan to continue to partner with local churches to fill the remainder. According to a local DCS coordinator, those bags will be used in Hendricks, Putnam and Morgan Counties. In the future, Richardson’s AHG troop might implement a similar program but pack the bags with school supplies instead.
Jennifer Perry has been pleased not only with the service projects her 9-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, has participated in but also with how AHG has enabled Elizabeth to grow.
“AHG has allowed our daughter to honor Christ while participating in community projects with her unit,” Perry says. “She’s come out of her shell and looks forward to AHG meetings and activities each week.”
For more information about AHG, visit americanheritagegirls.org.