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Belfair Girl Scouts Plan Trek Around Europe

Wednesday, February 09, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: jennifer punch
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By Rodika Tollefson


BELFAIR — Tricia Ventresca has been fond of traveling for a long time. One of the biggest things on her list was Europe.

"I don’t know how many times I’ve had my bags packed to go to Europe,” she said. "I’ve always wanted to go.”

Ventresca finally got her wish in 2005 — as part of a Girl Scout trip to Southern England for eight days.

A troop leader for 21 years, she has used her own passions and talents to inspire young girls. Her troops have been all over the United States and this year she will take a group of girls from Troop 41711 on her second visit to Europe.

"I never envisioned I’d join the Girl Scouts to see the world,” said Ventresca, a scout herself when she was in third through 10th grade.

The Girl Scouts are well known for their community service, camping trips, activities that teach them various skills — and, of course, for those to-die-for cookies. But in recent years, traveling has also been a big part of the troops’ endeavors. One popular place is Savanah, Ga., the birthplace of the Girl Scouts of the USA, an organization of 2.3 million girls and 880,000 adults nationwide.

Ventresca’s troop has been to New York City, Yellowstone National Park, Washington, D.C., the Oregon Coast and Savanah in the past 10 years, and in a way pioneered the idea of travel among local troops. It has been, in fact, one of the attractions for girls joining the organization and remaining on board.

This year’s 25-day trip to Europe has been three years in the making. The eight girls and four adults will stop in several cities in Italy and England plus Paris and Barcelona, visiting landmarks, museums and other sites they selected.

"They decided where they want to go. Each girl is studying one city to tell us what’s available, give us the history of the city and act as a semi-tour guide,” Ventresca said.

The girls have to pay $1,500 themselves and the troop is collectively raising money to pay another $1,300 per girl, while adults are self-financing the entire trip. "We still have more to earn, and if we don’t earn enough, something will have to give in our itinerary,” Ventresca said.

Still, the group is being quite thrifty about the affair. Ventresca says her motto when it comes to travel is "cheap, cheap, cheap.” In London, for example, they’ll stay at the international Girl Scout lodge and other accommodations are at hostels. They’ll travel by train between destinations.

"I want the girls to understand they can travel cheaply. It doesn’t mean you have to break the bank,” she said.

From Travel to Audubon
The troop has been coming up with various creative ways to raise money. Ventresca says there’s not a craft activity they do that she doesn’t consider as a potential way to earn money.

One of those activities took a life of its own — authentic-looking birds made of beads.
It started with one of the girls’ mother, Maggie Cutler, who wanted to do a project with the troop more than two years ago. At Ventresca’s suggestion to do beading, she found some bird patterns and bought eight kits. The task turned out a bit too tedious for the youngsters, so the two women finished the kits. Although it was her first time beading, Ventresca said with so many kits to finish, she mastered it in no time.

"I looked through my bird book and I said, ‘This one would be cool to make, this one would be cool,’” she said.

Since then, she has come up with about 20 varieties of the birds, which she makes only from beads without using wire. The girls learned the facts about each bird (12 of which are native to North America) and have been doing all the packaging and selling. Ventresca estimates they’ve sold more than 250 so far, and she likes to keep about 100 on hand, so she’s continuously making more.

Recently, the group presented at the Kitsap Audubon Society in Poulsbo and sold 21 birds. Now, Ventresca, who is a bird watcher, is planning to join the group so she can get the girls involved in bird watching as well.

Serving the Community, Having Fun
While Girl Scouting is all about having fun and learning skills, community service is a major highlight. Ventresca’s troop does the Relay for Life luminaries every year, along with the holiday food drive, cards for Faith in Action and other things. Her group is one of 18 troops in Mason County. Collectively, the 103 girls and 67 adults involved in those troops are a big part of many community endeavors.

"The goal is to teach the girls they can empower themselves, and for us, that’s doing things for the community,” said Melody Pruett-Hopfensper, adviser for Troop 40271. Her troop is small, with only six girls active at the current time, but they have pulled off quite a few impressive projects. One of them is decorating a tree for the past several years for the Harrison Medical Center’s annual Festival of Trees.

"The girls vote on a main project. They pick the charity or organization they want to work with and they all work together for that goal,” Pruett-Hopfensper said.

With the Festival of Trees as their main event, they start making ornaments in July. The troop has helped with the North Mason Coalition of Churches’ fair trade bazaar, Easter Basket for the domestic violence shelter in Shelton and toy and food drives.

Pruett-Hopfenser’s troop also took several troops to Europe and did everything from collecting aluminum cans to mowing lawns to come up with the funds.

Like many adults who are devoted to the organization, Pruett-Hopfensper is a Girl Scout veteran: Her involvement spans 40 years. Her mother was her troop leader, and she, in turn, became the leader for her daughter’s troop, which was started in 1999.

Her involvement, in a way, is like having continuous education since she learns new things alongside the youth. Besides the hands-on activities like crocheting and embroidering, the troop has learned what to do in a disaster, how to cook over a fire and even how to assist with baby delivery as part of first aid training.

"Watching the girls’ faces light up is fantastic,” she said. "…The most fun part is having the girls think of me when they do something and remember, they learned it in Girl Scouts.”

In addition to nurturing personal growth, the organization has provided many girls a safe and creative outlet.

"Everybody’s there for you. You feel so welcome,” said Mariah Ballew, a Grapeview eighth-grader who has been a scout since first grade and is part of Belfair’s Troop 41711.

For Ventresca, the organization has been like an extended family. She’s in charge of three troops, which means three separate sets of meetings, activities and projects.

"I’m having fun, and I know the girls are having fun,” she said.
And then, of course, there’s that longtime dream coming true, of trekking across Europe.

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