Matt Barnes is a busy guy. He’s a firefighter, EMT instructor, UNT grad student, youth basketball coach, marathoner, “Dance Dad”, and has an affinity for smoking food. But the day he took on the title of Troop Leader is a story most Girl Scout volunteers know all too well.
“She [Troop Leader] asked for a Co-Leader and of course, there were crickets,” he said. “So I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it.'”
The Gary, Indiana native is no stranger to the volunteer lifestyle, having been active in his community since age 8. Growing up, his mother was an employee with Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana and his little sister was a Brownie. As he got older, he volunteered in a number of ways including with Big Brother, Big Sister for 4 years.
In Matt’s case, the journey from Co-Leader to Troop Leader is even more admirable considering the fact he assumed the role during the middle of Girl Scout Cookie season. Weeks into his new role, the original Troop Leader dropped and Matt suddenly became head honcho.
Again, most Girl Scout volunteers can attest to the special kind of chaos that comes with using your car and home as storage facility, braving unpredictable weather at cookie booths, and keeping girls on their A-game. Not surprisingly, it was all a whirlwind for Matt.
“The thought of being able to give back to my daughter and her peers and help them leave their mark on the world is nothing short of amazing.”
However, he wasn’t the only one who had to make adjustments. His new Girl Scout family, Troop 8421, was also in for a big change – particularly having a man as a troop leader.
“At first they kept asking about the previous leader. I expected this, but not every girl asking every five minutes”, he said with a laugh. “But I kept things the same for them to make the transition easier. By my second or third meeting, they were used to me.”
Together they grew as a family: as Girl Scouts and as leaders. Girls who started out as shy, are now more creative, outspoken and confident. Matt, who admitted he was “thrown in” to his new role, also grew, and so did his relationships with other volunteers, who stuck by him offering resources and moral support to get him through his first year.
As the saying, ‘There’s a first time for everything’ goes, creating first-time memories with his new troop is no exception. In one instance, they took over an elementary school’s garden and planted flowers. Believing he would have to remind his troop that the garden would need consistent care, to his surprise, he found the girls picking weeds and harvesting before he arrived! Another time, his troop lent a hand to a fellow Girl Scout who was being bullied at school.
“When she got to the meeting she started crying out of the blue”,
he said. “The girls stopped what they were doing and attended to her, giving her support and words of encouragement.”
But he says that some of his favorite memories are when the girls come in just before the start of their troop meeting to tell him about their day, and how they apply Girl Scout principles in their daily lives. For Matt, sharing these experiences with his troop and being influenced by them, has affected him in ways he wasn’t prepared for.
“If you actively show them you support them then they’ll know the sky is the limit for them.”
He opened up about becoming more aware of the inequalities affecting today’s girls.
“Our troop is made up of seven girls and at least once in their lifetime they will unfortunately encounter barriers that exist because of their gender.”
Knowing this, Matt says that stepping into the role of troop leader has allowed him to see their point of view, and be effective in tearing down the barriers they’ll inevitably encounter.
“The thought of being able to give back to my daughter and her peers and help them leave their mark on the world is nothing short of amazing,” he said. “Being committed to being their troop leader until they graduate high school is one way for me to fulfill that commitment to them.”
Now in his third year of being a leader, he has strong feelings about there being no better time for men to be involved in Girl Scouts than right now.
“Girl Scouts means a lot to these girls. It gives them something to look forward to, express themselves and become productive and influential girls, then young women, in society.” He added, “The world can get crazy for girls. But as a dad, if you actively show them you support them then they’ll know the sky is the limit for them.”
So, if you’re wondering how you can give back to girls through Girl Scouts, he says there’s room for everyone to leave their mark.
“It’s a ton of fun, but it can be challenging. You’re dealing with several girls, with several different personalities,” he said. “Tap into those resources that are made available to you that makes handling those personalities easier. The joy you get out of seeing these girls grow and learn is nothing short of amazing.”