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March 23, 1980 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 1980-03-23
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Page 4-Sunday, March 23,1980-The Michigan Daily

The Michigan Daily-Sunday, A

Girl Scout Promise
On my honor I will try to serve God, my country, and
mankind, and to live by the Girl Scout law.
A.differentjamboree:

These

Girl Scouts are no girls

Daily Photo by PAUL ENGSTROM
Emily Goldsworthy reads from a songbook during the bi-monthly meeting.

By Howard Witt
HEY DON'T wear uniforms. They
can't sell cookies. And they're not
the least bit interested in flirting
with Boy Scouts.
But they do go on camp-outs, earn merit
badges, and dutifully recite the Girl Scout
Pledlge.
They are members of Girl Scout Troop
No. 777. And most of them are over 80 years
old.
Twice a month, nineteen elderly women at
the Chelsea United Methodist Retirement
Home enter the world of Girl Scouting
commonly reserved for the adolescent and
pre-teen set. It is not a world in which the
National Girl Scout Council thinks oc-
togenarians belong-these "Senior Citizen
Scouts" are not officially recognized by the
national organization. Yet Troop No. 777 has
proven that the traditional Girl Scout
program can be specially adapted to meet
the intellectual and recreational needs of
aged women.
To attend a meeting of Troop No. 777 (the
women chose "777" for its lucky qualties
and they smile as they assure you it has
nothing to do with their ages) is to glimpse
elderly people overcoming the often for-
midable obstacles of age and infirmity.
Though the living situation in retirement
homes is popularly conceived as suffocating,
depressing, and moribund, it is actually

surprisingly difficult to grow depressed in
the basement recreation room where
meetings are held.
As the women start gathering in the rec
room twenty minutes before the scheduled
meeting time, the first, very physical ob-
stacle the troop encounters becomes evident.
Old people quite often have trouble walking.
Some of the women move carefully with the
aid of walkers, and some walk methodically
with canes. "People now wait longer to
come live in the Home; they live with their
families longer. They're not quite in as good
shape (as the healthier 65-year-olds who
sometimes move into homes directly upon
retirement)," reflects Connie Amick, the
middle-aged Ann Arbor Girl Scout leader
who started Troop No. 777.
The soft-spoken Amick has not been
afraid to face the realties of working with
the elderly, and this -resolve certainly ac-
counts for much of the troop's success.
"When we first started the program, we
talked with the women to see what they
wanted to do. We all decided that if we
were only going to do things everyone could
participate in, we would end up doing
nothing," she said.

senior troops in the country: the others are
in Toledo, Grand Rapids, and Great Palls,
Montana.
Amick soon discovered that many
problems unique to the elderly demand an
understanding of, and sensitivity to, the
aging process itself. Much more is required
of the prospective senior citizen Girl Scout
leader, she learned, than the mere token
courtesies often shown the elderly. The
discoveries ranged from the slightly
humorous-"making announcements about
the troop in the dining room doesn't work
because not everyone hears them"-to the
painfully empathic-"If you walk with a
walker, you think twice before you'll walk
all the way down the hall to see a movie or
attend a meeting."
Outside activities in the winter months
present another problem that is not im-
mediately obvious-there is always the real
danger of someone slipping and falling. A
broken leg or hip for an elderly person often
means permanent incapacitation. For this
reason, this February meeting of the troop
was indoors.
The women carefully tie on their bright
yellow neckerchiefs-these substitute for
the full Girl Scout uniform that many cannot
afford-and talk with one another eagerly
about the afternoon's program, which is to
include a presentation of the troop's Color
Guard. Although a few of the women have
been Girl Scout leaders, most of Troop No.
777 had never had any contact with scouting
until Amick came along. "But we're not
playing house," Amick is accustomed to ex-
plaining. "We're not trying to relive our
childhoods. It's supposed to be a mind-
stretching type of thing."
The Color Guard ceremony is just formal

enough to have required some practice.
When everyone seems ready, Amick,
suggests the seven ceremony leaders come
to the front of the room and begin. Everyone
salutes the flag and recites the Pledge of
Allegiance that is so indelibly marked in
their minds; these women, one must
remember, went to school at a time when
every day started with the Pledge. Then
comes the Girl Scout Pledge, printed in
large letters on a sign near the flag: "On my
honor, I will try to serve God, my country,
and mankind, and to live by the Girl Scout
law." Finally, a patriotic poem is read, and
faltering, high-pitched voices join a halting
piano rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the
Republic."
AT FIRST, it seems this rather
mawkish ritual is one childish Girl
Scout ceremony these women could
do without. After all, adults do not normally
display such patriotic mummery. But in
fact, this ceremony and everything else the
troop does is decided by the women them-
selves, who seem to enjoy every moment of
it. The women are sensitive to condescen-
sion; several especially praise Amick for
never treating them like children, as many
people tend to treat the elderly. It must be,
then, that the wisdom of age frees these
women from worrying about how they
might appear. They do what they want.
. There were, of course, -residents of the
Home who thought an elderly Girl Scout
troop was silly and were too embarrassed to
join at first. Yet the troop grew steadily, and
as more residents learned of the Scouts' ac-
tivities, they came to join.
Several men in the Home even expressed
interest in the troop, but no one has yet at-

tempted to start an elderly Boy Scout troop.
Troop No. 777's activities are open to all
residents of the Chelsea home, in keeping
with one of the group's original purposes.
The troop was organized at a low-activity
ebb in the history of the Chelsea home.
Aside froman occasional crafts class; there
was not much for the residents to do.
That has changed in recent years, with the
creation of several new crafts classes, an
exercise program, Washtenaw Community
College extension courses, discussion
groups, and field trips. Now troop members
find their time taken up with so many ac-
tivities that the formerly weekly meetings
have been reduced to twice a month.
The troop's activities center around the
earning of merit badges, just as do the,
programs of younger Girl Scouts. "Most of
the time we're learning, going new places,
meeting people; hanging it on badges works
very well," Amick observes.
F THE (YOUNG) Girl Scouts are any-
thing like Boy Scouts, their merit
badges are usually valued as much
for their display and status value as for the
achievements and completed projects they
represent. For the women of Troop No. 777,
however, the circular cloth patches are ac-
tually rather incidental. Instead, the women
emphasize enjoyment of the activities
associated with earning the badges.
It takes about three months to earn a
badge. Recently members of the troop have
-earned the animal kingdom badge for the
study of ornithology; the plants and herbs
badge for learning about edible wild plants;
and the weather badge for creating an
operating outdoor weather station. Curren-
tly the troop is working toward completion

of the musician's badge: The women will
learn about unusual instruments and create
several of them; study the libretto of a
Gilbert and Sullivan production and then at-
tend its performance; visit the University's-
Stearns rare instrument collection; and
hear a performance of the Ann Arbor Sym-
phony Orchestra.
The badges they have earned seem to in-
dicate a group preference for outdoor,
natural experiences, and this is in fact the
case. Despite the physical disabilities of
some, the women have been on hayrides,
visits to farms and nature preserves, and
short camp-outs. Last fall the troop held a
cookout at a Girl Scout camp south of Ann
Arbor with members of the Toledo senior
citizen troop. The women in that all-black
troop have formed close ties with the all-
white Chelsea group; last Christmas Troop
No. 777 travelled to Toledo for a special
program.
On this gray February afternoon,
however, there is no opportunity for outdoor
activities, and progress toward the
musician's badge has been suspended for a
special showing of several Girl Scout film-
strips.
It is during the showing of these filmstrips
that the atmosphere of the meeting comes
closest to depressing. There is an irony in 80-
year-old women spellbound by a 1950s film-
strip entitled "Girl Scouts Around the
World." It is almost painful to watch these
elderly women-who will most probably
live out the rest of their lives in this
Home-as they hear about "girls just like
you travelling around the world." And it is
sobering to consider that these women were
already senior citizens when the
humorously dated fashions and automobiles
in the filmstrip were in vogue.
BUT ALMOST as quickly as one
begins to grow saddened by the
human mortality and vulnerability
filling the room, the women begin to emerge
as individuals. They are thinking none of the
melancholy thoughts of a pitying observer.
Indeed, they are enjoying the films and
reminiscing about trips they have taken in
their own lives.
One particularly outgoing woman-
curiously: named Loy 'Love-happily -
recounts her adventures on a trip to
Mexico she once took. She laughs warmly as
she recreates the Christmas Eve play she
saw in a crowded mountain village: "The
houses were stacked together so closely that'
the angels had to be in the next backyard to
be 'on high."'
Love is as full of life as any of these
women could be. She wants anxiously to get
off of her walker, "so I can go play bumper
pool-there's some pretty stiff competition
here." She only recently had to stop her
summer volunteer work at a 'muscular
dystrophy camp. When she returned for a
visit last summer, she received a standing
ovation from campers and staff.

Daily P
Mildred Grams and Emily Finch look on as Lou Love open
patriotic poem.

Clearly the residents of this retirement
home are not unhappy. One troop member
just returned from a birthday dinner with
her family the day of the meeting, and
judging from her smile, it was anything but
an unpleasant experience. Another three-
year veteran of the troop, Emily Finch, ex-
plains rather surprisingly, "people come
here (to the Home) because they want to be
independent from their families."
Even without many of the common trap-
pings of the conventional Girl Scouts-the
sale of cookies, that Girl Scout staple, is for-
bidden by Home rules-Troop No. 777 has
captured the essence of Girl Scouting:
comradeship. "Because of the troop, there
is much more mutual support," Amick ob-
serves. "They build each other up. That's a
reason for having the troop even if it doesn't
do anything else."
HE FINAL order of business at the
meeting is a discussion of a special
program at Briarwood Mall. The

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