Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : June 2006

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Cookies, Badges & the World Beyond

When the 15 third- and fourth-grade girls of Girl Scout Troop 31-6 in Silver Spring, Maryland, needed to fulfill their camera badge requirements earlier this spring, troop leader Mary Ellen Flynn found just the thing right outside her office window.

I think by
having a leader
who has her
own business
and is a litigator,
it makes the
girls realize
that that can
be them, too.

Mary Ellen Flynn

Namely, the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, which stands directly across the street from Andalman & Flynn, P.C., of which the family law litigator serves as managing partner.

"I was told the projection room was off-limits to the public," Flynn explains of the theatre, whose website declares its purpose of "advancing and preserving the art of film, television, digital media and other forms of the moving image." "Well, they always make exceptions – someone's in there," she adds. "[So] I just said [to myself], ‘Why not go to the top and contact the director of education?'"

So Flynn, a former member of the MSBA Board of Governors, did precisely that. "He said, ‘I'll do it myself,'" she explains in the undiminished patois of her native Queens, New York. "And he loved it!"

♦♦♦

A former Girl Scout herself, Flynn began volunteering her time a few years ago when her youngest daughter, Elizabeth Cardinale (then a second-grader), joined a local troop. "Girl Scouts are broken down into Brownies, Juniors [and] Cadets," Flynn explains, noting that the Scouts' calendar mirrors the school year. "When [Elizabeth] became a Junior, lo and behold, the people that said they would be [troop] leaders decided to go to a different school and be leaders."

Flynn's troop meets every other Friday night, in addition to their various camping trips and community service projects. "Friday night is the only night I could do meetings," Flynn says. "That was a condition of me taking over [the troop], because I never have to worry about a trial or a settlement conference on a Saturday."

"Before I said yes to being a leader, I talked to my husband [John Cardinale] about it," she continues. "Every year, we come up with an activity [to do] together – one year we took dance lessons together, one year we took golf lessons – and I [said], ‘Do you want to run a Girl Scout troop together?'"

Cardinale agreed, himself taking an active supporting role as the troop's "badge coordinator". "I think that's a title I came up with," Flynn chuckles. "We do a lot of work on badges. You have to earn so many requirements, and badges are broken down into categories or subjects. [John] pretty much does the majority of the badge work in that he comes up with what requirements the girls are going to work on and how to put it together."

But Cardinale is hardly the odd man out. "We have just about as many fathers as mothers involved," she explains. "And I think my husband's involvement encourages other dads."

Flynn's 13-year-old daughter, Bridget Cardinale, also volunteers her time to help out with "the family project," both directly and indirectly. "She gets a lot of babysitting business out of it," Flynn says. "If the parents want to go on our event or they want to help volunteer at a meeting, they call my older one."

Although Bridget was not herself a Scout, Flynn notes that she was a major influence in her mother's decision to take charge of the troop. "There wasn't a good Scouting opportunity for her when she was [Elizabeth's] age, and if you don't grab them at a young age, by the time they're teenagers…" she laments. "I realized how fast I become irrelevant in her activities. So I said, ‘I've got my nine-year-old; I only have her for maybe three or four years where she wants me involved.'"

To effectively manage the troop on top of a busy law practice, Flynn also delegates certain tasks to other parents – everything from coordinating transportation to first-aid. "I have about three or four parents I can call up at any time and ask, ‘Could you do this?', and they do."

"In my troop, all the parents correspond by e-mail," she adds. "I do everything by e-mail – announcements, activities. I'll do e-mails after midnight. I'm encouraging the girls to get e-mail accounts themselves because…you know, some troops are very much into arts and crafts and going to visit nursing homes – and all that is great – but I'm really into teaching the girls public speaking. I'm really into teaching them to be confident, and I want them to take responsibility for themselves. So I let them decide, ‘Alright, what badges do you want to work on? Who's going to take the lead? Do you want to do the camping trip or not – and if you do, then this is what's involved.' I'm really encouraging the parents to make the girls pack their own bags. They just need to learn how to do that."

"You're really given a lot of freedom and latitude [as a troop leader]," Flynn notes of the Girl Scouts of America, which provides troop leaders with training and general guidance. "That's what I enjoy about the Girl Scouts – you can make the troop be whatever you want it to be."

And for Flynn, who was recently elected to serve as the 2006-2007 President-Elect of the Bar Association of Montgomery County, it's all about preparing the girls for the future. "They're learning new things," she says. "I just want them to know that the world is totally open to them. I think by having a leader who has her own business and is a litigator and involved politically…it makes the girls realize that that can be them, too, rather than just someone on TV. It just makes it more of a reality for them."

"They all want to know, ‘When did you know you were going to be a lawyer?'" adds Flynn, who had made the decision herself by age 12. "I tell them and they get the shock of fear, because they have no idea what they want to do. And [I tell them], ‘You don't have to know what you want to do; the world is wide-open to you. Check it all out.'"

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: June 2006

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