American Heritage Girls troops are growing

Kelly Dean learned more about God's creation in the most direct way possible — she spent a couple of nights camping under the stars.

Not a bad deal for the sixth-grader, who was working on the Daughter of the King badge as part of her American Heritage Girls troop.

"We had an hour of praise one night and got to walk around and draw pictures of examples of God's grace," said Kelly, a member of Troop MO1125 at St. Clare of Assisi in Ellisville. "We read passages from the Bible and shared what they meant to us." They also painted a mural of examples of God's creation.

St. Clare is one of the newest American Heritage Girls troops in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Next month, four St. Louis troops will host information nights on how get involved in the organization. (See related box.) Additionally, American Heritage Girls' national office has announced a grant to cover some of the cost of start-up fees for archdiocesan parishes that wish to form a troop.

Founded in 1995 by a group of parents in Cincinnati, Ohio, who were seeking a wholesome program for their daughters, American Heritage Girls describes itself as a "Christ-centered character development program" for girls ages 5-18.

The Catholic Church is the largest and fastest-growing religious denomination among the national program, making up 25 percent of troops nationwide. In 2012, a National Catholic Committee formed to support growth and spiritual development of its Catholic troops. There are more than 230 Catholic troops in 88 U.S. dioceses, said National Catholic Relations Specialist Julie Goodwin. In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, six parishes have AHG troops.

Since American Heritage Girls was founded 20 years ago, the organization has focused its program on encouraging girls in faith formation, said founder and executive director Patti Garibay.

"Our focus is about getting souls to heaven and to undergird and encourage girls in their faith formation," she said.

A key component of the program is creating an atmosphere that's supportive of the family. Troops plan activities that encourage parents to participate with their daughters. The troop structure also allows for all units (age groups) to participate in activities together.

Kim Slane, who coordinates troop MO2013 at St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood, said parent involvement is encouraged through quarterly parent meetings and involving them at troop-wide activities. "There is a real value of family involvement," she said. "The little ones also get to be with the older girls and learn from them."

Troops also are required to have a charter organization — meaning a church, school or other organized entity to which the troop must be attached. American Heritage Girls encourages troops to give back to their charter organizations. The St. Peter troop participates in parish activities, rather than creating new service opportunities, said Slane, which is part of helping the girls to become more integrated into the life of the parish community.

In the last several years, the National Catholic Committee has developed patches and other program elements that delve into specific Catholic teachings and values. This year, the committee announced a Jubilee Year of Mercy patch, which teaches lessons on God's mercy and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The committee also is working on a program that connects the organization's creed words with the saints.

Acknowledging Archbishop Robert Carlson's February letter addressing concerns with Girl Scouts, executive director Garibay said she read a clear message that the archbishop "cares about the girls and their faith formation and leadership. It was such a loving gesture. I often think about (young women) as they go off to college, are they well armed? They need something that is well-aligned with what their family and their faith is encouraging them to do." 

Information sessions

Several American Heritage Girls troops will host information sessions in April to answer questions about the organization. They include:

• Saturday, April 2, at 9 a.m. (in the Fr. Pezold Room) at St. Joseph, 1355 Motherhead Road in Cottleville;

• Monday, April 4, at 7 p.m. (in the school cafeteria) at St. Peter, 215 N. Clay Ave. in Kirkwood;

• Tuesday, April 12, at 7 p.m. at the Cardinal Rigali Center, 20 Archbishop May Drive in Shrewsbury (hosted by the AHG troop at Immacolata);

• Thursday, April 21, at 7 p.m. at St. Clare of Assisi, 15642 Clayton Road in Ellisville; 

Grant money available

Several donors have pledged grants to help start Catholic troops in the St. Louis Archdiocese. For more information on starting a troop, visit American Heritage Girls' website at www.americanheritagegirls.org/get-involved/start-troop/ or call (513) 771-2025. When contacting AHG either by phone or through the website, mention the grant money available to troops in the archdiocese. 

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)