BLUFFTON — In summer 2013, Tanya Augsburger began to wonder if there was a better scouting option for her then 8-year-old daughter, Ivy. Augsburger participated in one year of Girl Scouts herself, but she had concerns about the current messages being taught. That’s when she and her friend, Randa Kinn started looking into alternatives.
“I had concerns,” said Augsburger. “We both had heard all the stuff about the direction the organization was going. We were concerned about what they were teaching our girls. So, we asked ourselves if there was something better that better aligned with our beliefs.”
Turns out there was: American Heritage Girls. However, there was a catch.
“We began to seriously look into American Heritage Girls,” said Augsburger, “but there were no troops nearby, so we decided to start one here.”
American Heritage Girls was started in 1995 by Patti Garibay, with the help of a small group of fellow moms. Garibay had been heavily involved in Girl Scouts, but she became concerned about how she was asked to handle some matters of faith, as well as, the organization’s teachings on sexual ethics which went against Garibay’s personal religious beliefs.
After trying to deal with some of these issues from within the organization, Garibay came to the conclusion she would have to start her own scouting organization. American Heritage Girls was the result. It is a non-profit scouting organization for girls ages 5 to 18 whose mission, according to their website, is, “Building women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country.”
This focus on faith is what drew Augsburger and Kinn to the program. “We wanted to teach our girls life skills they would not necessarily learn at school,” she said, “and to tie those skills to our faith in Christ and service to others within an organization that recognizes the value of all life and service in our community.”
The first step for Augsburger was to gage interest in the community. “American Heritage Girls recommends 12 girls to start a troop, so we put feelers out into the community,” she said.
Augsburger also had to find a charter organization to back the troop. “Bluffton Baptist Church is our charter organization,” she explained. “The charter organizations are often churches. They pay our annual fee for having a troop. We don’t always meet there, but we know they have our backs.”
She also had to get a five-person board together in order to start a troop. For Augsburger, the biggest challenge was the amount of paperwork she had to fill out.
“We began the process in the summer,” she said. “There were a lot of things. It was overwhelming at times. When we started doing the paperwork, the organization was switching over from paper to digital. So, that was sometimes confusing.”
Augsburger and the other volunteers also had to have training in CPR and first aid, and they had to have background checks, as well. Overall, it took Augsburger and Kinn almost six months before they were ready for their first meeting. By this time, it was mid-November and too late to start the troop. So the women decided to do a half year and started in February 2014 to give it a trial run, which was a success.
They finished their first full year in May. The scouting year begins with registration and leadership training in September. Meetings start in October and go through to May.
Currently, American Heritage Girls Troop OH2505 has 11 girls in grades first through seventh, and Augsburger is expecting at least four more this fall. The troop meets twice a month, or about every other week, for two hours during the school year.
American Heritage Girls earn badges like other scouting troops, but the focus if very faith-based. “We had about four service projects,” said Augsburger. “We started out planting flowers for our charter church, Bluffton Baptist. We also serve meals at Bluffton Senior Citizens Center, sort food at the food pantry and help out on delivery day.”
Augsburger was happy the girls in her troop started seeing the needs of others through these scouting activities. “We also did a ‘Step into My Shoes’ through Compassion International,” she said. “It’s great that they get to see people who have far less than they do and are still happy.”
While Augsburger is excited about the success of their first full year, she said their biggest need at the moment is more leaders, as they need two leaders per age group.
“That will be definitely be our focus this year — leaders and leadership training,” she said. “We want to work on getting the word out for registration in the fall.”
Despite the work it took to form the troop, Augsburger has found it all worthwhile. “When I started, I really didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “The girls are learning less materialism and to reach out to those in need.”