Valerie Blakely, Jennifer Garland, Ashlyn Jackson, Kaylie Richard, Kate Silvey, Emily Smith and Sarah Tanner are all members of Ambassador-level Girl Scout Troop 280, which began at Washington Elementary School and continues today as the girls prepare for college after their final semester at D-B.
The girls find each others’ company to be more than an outlet for socialization. Instead, they see it as an encouraging support system and safe place for them to create lasting change in their community.
“I think that having a really long-term friendship is a big thing, especially going into high school,” said Smith. “It’s easy to grow apart from friends you have when you’re little. Learning how to navigate long-term friendships is nice.”
Throughout the years, having this added support system has been a constant in their ever-changing world.
“It’s been a really good support system. Even though we don’t always see each other in our extracurricular activities, we have Girl Scouts together, so it’s an organized place. Even if we aren’t getting together in our free time, we still have this consistent time together,” Valerie Blakely said.
Troop leader Liz Blakely described the girls, who are all involved in multiple extracurricular activities, as active, smart and driven in all areas of their lives.
“Girl Scouts taught me how to be involved,” said Smith. “It’s taught us how to find our role in the community and be an active participant. We know how to do paperwork and the logistical things to make a project happen. We’re able to do tangible things in other areas in our lives.”
Liz Blakely said the girls will carry the inspiration and experiences of being courageous and confident with them in everything they do to achieve all of their future goals. Throughout the 12 years, the troop experienced successful service projects, accomplished leadership roles, received high awards, and learned cultural awareness through traveling.
Four of the members – Blakely, Garland, Richard and Jackson – have earned Girl Scouts’ highest award: the Gold Award. The awards are earned by those who complete special service leadership projects in their communities.
“In January this year, I said our troop has volunteered to run the Girl Scout cookie rally for Kingsport this year as the rally hosts. None of them questioned it. If they were able to come, they came. Together with other service area Girl Scout teens, we taught 100 younger Girl Scouts about business and marketing skills to help them with the 2016 Cookie Sale. None of them questioned their roles. They just jumped in and gave back to their community,” Liz Blakely explained.
“Same thing happened when United Way asked us to help with their Stuff the Bus kickoff by painting collection barrels. So, it’s a group that not only has their friendships and learning to navigate their place, it’s also a group that gives back to the community.”
With college soon to come for the girls, Liz Blakely found a way to support them through the application and financial aid process by reimbursing a portion of their fundraising money. After spending years selling cookies in all types of weather in front of grocery stores, they all agreed they got more out of that process than just the Cookie Cash.
“Female friendships, especially in high school, are hard to navigate,” said Tanner. “Especially in our culture. We’re made to feel like we have to compete with our friends. I have a completely different view through Girl Scouts. We don’t compete against each other. We work together toward a common goal.”