Unable To Find Girl Scout Troop For Kids With Special Needs, These Moms Started One
HILLSBOROUGH, N.J. — Six years ago, a parent reached out to Karen Briegs to see if she could place her daughter with severe autism into a Girl Scout troop. At the time, there wasn’t a troop that could accommodate her needs.
“I had been thinking about starting a troop for girls with special needs ever since then. My own girls have gone through scouts and are now older,” Briegs said. “I just have felt there is not enough attention paid to this need in the community.”
Now Hillsborough Troop #60561 is filling that need.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
The parent who was trying to sign her daughter up was Kathy Kafka, who is now the co-troop leader. The two reconnected recently and teamed up to create a troop for girls with cognitive needs.
“I loved being a Girl Scout, and when Maya was in first grade I wanted her to socialize as much as possible and so I thought of signing her up,” Kafka said. “And although it didn’t work out at first I think everything has worked out in the long run.”
The troop currently has three members — a number Briegs and Kafka say they hope will grow to about five or eight to start. Because each girl has specific needs, they are still working on creating a program that will best serve everyone.
Two of the girls in the troop are nonverbal, which means Briegs and Kafka have had to get creative when teaching the girls how to sing traditional songs. Since the girls cannot sing along they play musical instruments to the beat of the song.
“We’re trying to give them as traditional a Girl Scout experience as we can. Some of it is going to work for them, some of its not,” Briegs said.
The troop holds its meeting at GiGi’s Playhouse, a nonprofit that works with children with Down syndrome. The girls spend their meeting time doing as many traditional scouting activities as they can, learning the Girl Scout promise and law, making s’mores, doing arts and crafts and working on service projects.
The girls just finished making animal beds for a local shelter. They will be visiting the shelter to drop off their donations and learning more about how to take care of animals.
The troop will also be participating in one of the Girl Scouts’ most iconic traditions, selling Girl Scout cookies. The girls will be sharing a cookie booth with a neighboring troop in the upcoming weeks, to learn about money management and interacting with their communities.
Briegs and Kafka want to join in with other troops as much as possible so that their girls and girls who are neurotypical can learn from each other.
“The other girls can really be an example to our girls and can help them interact with the public. I think it is good for both sets of girls to show them not to be afraid or nervous,” Kafka said.
It has been a learning process for the troop leaders and for the girls to figure out what their Girl Scout experience is going to look like. Briegs and Kafka said over the past few months they have started to get into a steady rhythm of how their troop operates, and they are looking forward to more adventures with the girls.
“We don’t care what you’re coming with. We’re going to make it work and have fun and I think I’m really proud,” Briegs said.
© 2020 NJ Advance Media Group
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC