The members of American Heritage Girls Troop NC0512 are enjoying the great outdoors.
Nature is often regarded as one big classroom. It’s boundlessly educational for those who truly appreciate it.
And that’s just what these young ladies are doing, according to spokeswoman Judy Billings of Troop NC0512, which meets at the First Presbyterian Church of Stanley. Billings is the troop’s treasurer.
“Outdoors,” she said, “one of our favorite places to be! Nature reveals to us God’s beauty, glory, power, wisdom, presence, creativity and, most of all, His loving care. Girls are encouraged to participate in outdoor activities, such as hiking or camping, several times a year. High adventure activities are great times for team-building, leadership, physical activity and strengthening relationships with friends. The outdoors will educate girls about their natural world and the beauty God has bestowed upon them. Our troop goes camping three to four times per year. We also engage in high adventure activities, such as whitewater rafting, rock-climbing, canoeing and kayaking.”
The troop’s Pioneer and Patriot-level outdoor adventures have taken the girls to the Nantahala Wilderness in western North Carolina, Mt. Mitchell, bicycling down the Virginia Creeper Trail and skiing and snowboarding at the Appalachian Ski Mountain. Outdoor events for the younger girls generally include an overnight camping trip or a day hike to a local hiking trail or perhaps horseback riding lessons at a boarding facility, as Billings informed.
“Citizenship encompasses many things as an American Heritage Girl,” she said. “The AHG Program provides girls with a deeper understanding of their country and heritage. Girls cultivate honor for their country by participating in patriotic events, flag ceremonies, serving in their community and through badge work. Serving others and being active citizens with their troop help to foster a lifelong love for their country.
“Troop NC0512 always does some type of project to honor veterans in our community each year,” she continued. “In years past, this included a program for veterans residing at the Stanley Total Living Center. Last year’s pandemic limited our hands-on approach to living veterans, and we prepared veteran’s day cards for currently-serving and retired military personnel through Operation Gratitude.”
And as Billings revealed, the troop was able to honor local deceased veterans in a whole new way last year. The girls worked in partnership with the Stanley Cemetery Ancestral Fund and Christ’s Lutheran, Springfield Memorial Baptist and Mt. Pleasant United Methodist churches to bring the annual observance of “Wreaths Across America” to Stanley. This program engages the community in sponsoring balsam wreaths to be placed on veterans’ graves on the third Saturday of each December.
“Our troop specifically focused on the fallen heroes in Stanley,” said Billings, “because this is our community. The troop was able to sponsor wreaths to be placed at graves in the Stanley, Springfield Baptist and Mt. Pleasant cemeteries and at the veterans’ memorial sites at the U.S. Post Office and Harper Park. That’s a total of 210 wreaths! While our wreath-laying ceremony was closed to the community, our troop and members of the aforementioned facilities made it a special day, honoring all of those who have served before us. Our troop will once again bring ‘Wreaths Across America’ to Stanley this year.”
Want to participate or sponsor a wreath? Be sure to check out the Website at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/NC0400P.
Life skills for a lifetime
What about those life skills? What are they exactly? And how does one go about learning them?
As Billings explained, earning badges provides girls the opportunity to learn a wide array of life skills, inspiring them to become lifelong learners and doers of deeds. The AHG’s six badge frontiers (or categories) include heritage, family living, the arts, outdoor skills, personal well-being and science and technology.
“So what does that look like on a daily basis?” Billings rhetorically asked. “Girls have approximately 100 badges they can choose from. Girls work on badges at troop meetings in unit time and on their own. During troop meetings, depending on the unit level, girls can earn up to five badges during the troop year. Younger girls, such as the Tenderhearts and Explorers, can earn more badges, because they have fewer and simpler requirements. Pioneers and Patriots work at the same badge level, with badge work requiring much more effort. Sometimes it takes a year or more to earn a badge at this level based on the amount of work required to master a skill, such as camping, building a fire without matches or a lighter, outdoor cooking or hiking. Girls can learn to decorate cakes and use that skill to bake a cake for a special event or as a means to raise money for a service project.”
The troop’s Pioneers and Patriots worked on earning their Native American Badges in the heritage frontier this year. As part of learning about this hemisphere’s indigenous peoples, they hosted a Native American festival for the younger girls to teach them about five tribes across America.
“They learned about these incredible people, their cultures and history and respect for the natural world through fun activities to complete badge requirements,” Billings informed. “We also took a field trip to the Schiele Museum to visit the Henry Hall of the American Indian.”
This was especially meaningful for the troop’s members, since two of them are part-Amerindian.
“At each level,” Billings continued, “girls are encouraged to complete a level award. This is not required to move to the next unit level, but it is a special recognition earned due to dedication to the program. Level awards showcase the many skills girls have developed along the way. Extra work and planning are required to earn the level award at each unit level. The Abigail Adams Level Award for Patriots is the highest earned award for American Heritage Girls. It is a pre-requisite for a girl to be a Stars and Stripes Candidate. The Stars and Stripes is the highest award achievable for American Heritage Girls. The purpose of the award is to challenge a girl to utilize all the skills she has acquired in the AHG while demonstrating servant-leadership in her community. It requires earning the Abigail Adams Level Award, a minimum of 16 badges at the Pioneer/Patriot level, including nine required badges, a series of document proposals and revisions, continually serving in a leadership position within the troop, plus a service project of at least 100 hours that the candidate plans, prepares and implements.
“She must then write a spiritual walk essay,” she added, “along with a résumé, and receive at least three letters of reference. The candidate must pass a board of review held by our troop before her 18th birthday, and then a binder with every bit of paperwork and photos must be sent to the AHG at the national level for review and final approval. Troop NC0512 has the privileged distinction of being home to three Stars and Stripes recipients. Our recipients have built a playground, a horse shelter and a community garden. The Mustard Patch Community Garden at the First Methodist Church of Stanley Common Ground was the project of our 569th Stars and Stripes Recipient. A fourth candidate was approved this year.”
A Christ-centered life
So how does all of this come together for a girl?
“Girls are engaged in every aspect centered on a Christ-filled life,” said Billings. “They are taught that by becoming servant-leaders in their community, they will naturally follow in Christ’s footsteps. The core of the program is the AHG Oath and Creed.”
The AHG Oath is: “I promise to love God, cherish my family, honor my country and serve in my community.”
And the AHG Creed is: “As an American Heritage Girl, I promise to be compassionate, helpful, honest, loyal, perseverant, pure, resourceful, respectful, responsible and reverent.”
“Learning to incorporate these words into everyday action is what the AHG is all about,” said Billings. “Mentorial guidance for young girls––making them into confident young ladies, willing to take chances, make mistakes and unabashedly love Christ––will help them to grow into women of integrity.”
Billings’s fellow board members are troop co-ordinator Manetta Treat, vice co-ordinator Amber Seaman, charter representative Sherry Teague and troop shepherd Penny Ervin. Handling social media is unit leader Sharon Deegan.
Want to know more? Billings encourages you to check out the Website at www.americanheritagegirls.org. And for more information about Troop NC0512, contact Treat through the AHG Website, using the locate-a-troop feature. And you may e-mail Troop NC0512 directly at email@example.com.