Environmental law attorney Maggie Witherup pulls double duty as leader for both her daughter's Girl Scout Troop and sonís Cub Scout Den. (Photo courtesy of Maggie Witherup)
When Maggie Witherup’s daughter brought home a flyer from school soliciting interest in the Girl Scouts, Witherup recalled her own childhood experience as a Scout.
“I have a lot of fond memories of my time as a Girl Scout – the camping trips and canoeing trips,” notes Witherup, an environmental law attorney with the Baltimore firm of Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander, LLC. “So, I thought, ‘It will be fun for her to do it, too.’ So, we sent the form back.”
But Witherup never suspected she’d wind up running the show.
“We showed up at this informational meeting,” she explains. “It was probably 20 moms sitting around a table with some Girl Scout representatives, [who] told us, ‘We don’t provide you the troop leaders – really, it’s up to you parents to be involved and decide what your troops want to do. And the first thing you have to do is decide when you want to meet.’ So, the three of us who preferred an evening meeting, we looked at ourselves and said, ‘Okay, I guess we’ll be the troop leaders.’”
Five years of biweekly meetings, cookie sales and camping trips later, both Witherup and her daughter – now in fifth-grade – are still going strong with the Scouts.
“We really have encouraged the girls to assume more responsibility as they’ve gotten older,” Witherup explains of her 10-girl troop. “As our girls have progressed, we’ve had them take turns leading the meetings. They’ll each be assigned a month – two meetings – and they are responsible for deciding what the topic is, coming up with a gathering activity, and a business part of the meeting, which could sometimes be working for a [merit] badge that interests them, or working on a service project.”
Indeed, having found the Scouting experience so rewarding for her daughter, Witherup wasted no time signing up her son for Cub Scouts once he reached the first-grade introductory threshold last fall.
“I had been dragging my son to the Girl Scout meetings for five years, and so he had essentially been kind of an ‘honorary Girl Scout,’” Witherup laughs. “They call them ‘tag-alongs’ in the Girl Scouts – which is also the name of one of their cookie flavors. So, he knew that he wanted to be a Scout, too, so he was really looking forward to being able to do some of that stuff with the boys.”
"ONE OF THE
things that I really like about scouting programs is that they’re designed to really help the kids develop their own independence and instill values in them"
“I went to an organizational meeting, and having done the Girl Scouts I was prepared for the pitch for parental involvement,” Witherup continues. “I was actually trying to encourage my son’s dad to take a leadership role, as I think it would be a really good bonding experience for the boys and their fathers to do. But he was not willing to make the commitment.
“I really want to be involved in my kids’ lives and activities, and I’ve had so much fun with the Girl Scouts, I thought, I want to do that for my son, too. So, when my son’s dad didn’t want to do it, I said, ‘I’ll do it.’”
So, Witherup took the required leadership training, just as she had with the Girl Scouts, and added a den of seven boys to her list of charges. “It’s a lot of work,” she concedes, “but it’s a lot of fun, too – very rewarding, watching the kids grow and mature and develop.”
“One of the things that I really like about scouting programs – both Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting – is that they’re designed to really help the kids develop their own independence and instill values in them,” she adds. “I don’t want them to grow up being completely self-centered, thinking that the world revolves around them. I want them to appreciate that we have a responsibility to help other people and to help make our communities better. It’s in both the Boy Scout Promise and the Girl Scout Promise – it’s their job to help other people.”
Witherup herself, of course, leads by example. In addition to her Scouting activities, she also teaches Sunday school at her church and sits on the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake (www.habitatchesapeake.org), with the latter sometimes drawing upon her legal experience. “We’re actually going to be helping the city of Baltimore to foreclose on properties that were acquired by tax sales,” she says, “and the city is then going to donate those properties to Habitat for Humanity to renovate and then sell to needy people who could not otherwise afford a home.”
But Witherup’s kids remain her primary focus. “Both [Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts] encourage the leaders to stay with their troop as they advance in age and rank and level,” she explains. And finding the time – indeed, making the time – remains the greatest challenge.
“I don’t get enough sleep – that’s the secret,” Witherup laughs. “There needs to be more hours in the day.”