At the Girl Scouts of Western Ohio’s 4th annual Believe in Girls Event Expo Saturday, 7-year-old Areli Darrow's first stop was the AAA Northwest Ohio booth. With her Brownie beanie and patch-covered vest, she learned to change a tire in no time.
But the Findlay girl — a Juliette Girl Scout, which means she's not a member of a particular troop — wasn't all lug nuts and wrenches. She dashed off to pet an alpaca — “He's so fluffy!” — and also got to touch the wing of an owl.
On her itinerary for the afternoon: a yoga session that her younger sister chose and a cupcake decorating workshop that she picked.
“I really want to eat a cupcake!” Areli said, her eyes getting bigger.
The B.I.G. Event, which was held at the downtown SeaGate Convention Centre, attracted some 800 Girl Scouts from all over northwest Ohio. While each could design their own day — choosing from the varied workshops, exhibits, and hands-on activities — the idea, organizers said, was to give the scouts the opportunity to design their own year of learning and achieving.
“The Believe in Girls event is the kickoff to the Girl Scout year,” explained Christy Gustin, director of regional services for Girl Scouts of Western Ohio. “It links the girls with our community partners so they can determine what badges they want to earn, what action projects they want to complete.”
Russ Burke, a retired Toledo police officer who works as assistant head instructor for the American Academy of Martial Arts, rallied a roomful of girls into action, teaching them basic self-defense strategies.
“The idea is to make them aware that unfortunately there are bad people out there who can hurt them, but that there are things they can do, and the first thing is to get away,” he said.
Cherrie Luersman, a troop leader from Fort Jennings, Ohio, brought 11 scouts to the B.I.G. Event, several of whom were learning what to do if a stranger tries to get them to get into their car or if that stranger grabs them in a parking lot.
She said it wasn't scary for the girls, but “gives them a sense of empowerment.”
There was ballet, painting, money management, and power of positive self talk workshops. There were more than 50 booths that gave the girls a taste of the programming available to them, many of which were math- and science-oriented.
Natalie Vorst, program and partnership manager for Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, said the organization is always involving new partners that can expose the girls to different areas of interest — from organ donation to local history to robot design.
“We are very girl-led. That's why the girls are here,” Ms. Vorst said. “The girls are taking the lead and planning their year. That's really the goal.”
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