You might recognize Kelly Bogda if you’ve spent any time in the Bear Necessities Shop on WashU’s South 40 Campus; she joined the WashU community as manager there in July 2021. Bogda has spent the last two decades volunteering with youth and specifically with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri (GSEM) for the past 15 years.
When her youngest daughter was a Brownie in the process of joining the Jr. Girl Scouts, their troop leader stepped down, leaving an opening in leadership. Bogda was already volunteering with other organizations but stepped up to be the troop leader so the girls would be able to continue on their scouting journey. A similar scenario happened a few years later when the girls were in middle school; another troop was going to disband due to a lack of adult leadership and asked to join forces. Kelly’s troop was happy to incorporate the girls and grow their troop.
Bogda credits the other parent volunteers as being instrumental in keeping the troop going for so long. As a full-time working mother who traveled for her job, Kelly knew she couldn’t do it all on her own and asked the other parents for help. “I had a charmed life with this. All supportive parents and intelligent kids. That support can make a big difference. We knew that Girl Scout events could provide the kids with a safe environment to experience new things, like camping, volunteering, and meeting new groups of kids outside of their comfort zones.”
Being a troop leader also took Kelly out of her comfort zone. Laughing, she relayed that she could teach the girls to hail a cab and tip a bellhop, but camping was not in her skillset. Her idea of a vacation was at a resort, not in a tent. However, needs must, and she (somewhat reluctantly) completed the camping certification so she could take the girls camping and allow them to learn a whole new set of skills. They went camping every year since.
Kelly reminisces about watching the girls develop their confidence and leadership skills over the years. When they were elementary school age, the kids would take a turn with their moms to lead a meeting and teach others a skill to earn a badge. As they got older, they worked on “journeys” and would lead a “take action project”, the GSA equivalent of an Eagle Scout project. The goal was to progress the girls to the point where meetings and projects are girl-led; a troop leader is still there for support but the girls would lead the badge. This allowed them to explore their individuality and passions while learning fundamental skills.
The troop was also committed to acts of service for the community. They adopted families for the holidays and collected & distributed personal care items for the annual April Showers drive. There is a huge need for supplies like toilet paper, diapers, shampoo, soap, and feminine hygiene products since food stamps and WIC cards cannot be used for these types of items. Bogda explains that it can be really difficult to apply for a job if you can’t wash your hair, and donating a bar of soap can make a huge difference in a person’s life. The GSEM collects over 1 million items each year that are then distributed to local food pantries.
Six members of the troop stayed with it through high school graduation, and this cohort just graduated from college in May. Kelly spoke fondly of the girls and how rewarding it’s been to watch them grow from little girls who did so many things together, to high school scouts leading programs, and now to college graduates exploring very different career paths.
There are a million ways you can make a difference for someone else and also for yourself – volunteering can be a boost to your own soul. It’s worth your time; worth the effort. Not only will the organization benefit from you being there, but you’ll benefit too.
Message to WU employees: Get involved
A lot of these troops, especially ones near the university, face a challenge in finding adult volunteers to help lead. The girls want to be there but don’t always have troop leaders. Bogda explains that volunteers don’t need to commit to a ton of hours; if you’re willing to sit in on a meeting or be present at an event, that can make all the difference by allowing kids to participate. You also don’t have to be a parent to get involved. When Kelly was volunteering as a Neighborhood Manager, she worked with a young professional who simply wanted to volunteer and served as Neighborhood Treasurer for several years.
The United Way is a proud partner of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri. Women and men over the age of 17 can volunteer as adult members and help girls develop qualities that will serve them all their lives – like strong values, social conscience, and conviction about their own potential and self-worth.
WashU encourages you to give back to St. Louis organizations you support through giving and/or service opportunities. To support Kelly’s efforts and the St. Louis community, consider donating your time, money, or other resources to the United Way of Greater St. Louis and the more than 160 agencies in our region with whom they partner. If you’d like to learn more about the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, visit their website.