Michele Stoddard, left, Laura and Montoya look through the scrapbook as they recall some of their favorite moments leading the troop over the last few years. L&T photos/Robert Pierce
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Works by two local Girl Scout leaders have garnered attention, not just by those in the area, but across the state as well.
The notice got so big, in fact, that the two were recognized by the Wichita Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland office for working with local youth.
Michele Stoddard of Liberal and Laura Montoya of Tyrone, Okla., both leaders with local Girl Scout Troop No. 60005, were among this year’s group of 41 recipients of the Volunteer of Excellence Award given to Girl Scout volunteers who display “excellent service in delivering the Girl Scout mission as they work directly with girls in a troop, camp or other activity.”
Stoddard herself nominated Montoya for the award, and she said that her nomination stated that she could not accomplish near as much as she does without the help of Montoya.
“She stepped up when we needed a second adult to say they’ll help,” Stoddard said. “She stepped up and said, ‘I’ll be there. I’ll help.’ Because of that, we’ve done a lot of amazing things with the girls this year. Without her, we wouldn’t have this troop.”
Stoddard was nominated by volunteer coordinator Tina Kindle from the Garden City Girl Scout office.
“She nominated me for all the stuff that I do,” Stoddard said. “She said, ‘You’re one of those that if I need something in Liberal, I can call, and pretty much, you’ll take care of it.’”
To say Montoya was surprised when she heard the news of her nomination might be a bit of an understatement.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I had no idea.”
Stoddard said she let Montoya know about the nomination after getting a confirmation e-mail about the acceptance of the nomination.
“I was very thrilled to have her as my partner this last year and helping out,” Stoddard said.
Stoddard, who has been working with local Girl Scouts for a little less than a decade, said she became involved with the organization after she saw a need for adult leadership for the local troop. She discovered this after attending one of the meetings of the Liberal group.
“I came in and looked and said, ‘She’s got a lot of girls around here, and I don’t see a whole lotta help,’” she said of a fellow leader at the time. “It’s only an hour meeting, so I just kind of stayed in the back. Before I knew it, she’d say ‘You want to help with snacks.’ I started helping with snacks. I helped for a year without even being listed as a volunteer. I just showed up to help. The next year, they looked at me and said, ‘Will you be the co-leader?’ I took it on and been with the girls ever since.”
Stoddard said it is appropriate that both her and Montoya were nominated for the award because what the two do with Liberal Girl Scouts is all part of a team effort.
“I couldn’t do the things I do with the girls without her,” Stoddard said. “This year, the girls have put 35 and a half hours of community service in. That’s saying quite a bit, but it takes two of us to step up and say ‘Hey we can do this’ to make it work.”
Stoddard said Montoya tries to assist her in any way she can.
“She will step up and help me do whatever I need to get done,” she said. “She’ll make sure everything’s done with me so that we can accomplish the goals that we have set.”
Some state Girl Scout officials are surprised at what Troop 60005 has accomplished compared to other groups around Kansas. Stoddard said there is a simple explanation for how the local youth are able to do so much.
“Our community runs different than Wichita,” she said. “Our community works together, and the more we work together, the more we accomplish.”
Stoddard said the girls in her troop, as well as the leaders, have made many connections within Liberal, and this, she said, makes for a better community, as do a few other factors.
“It’s growing connections,” she said. “It’s showing these girls they can make a difference even if they’re a third or fourth grader. That shows these girls how much more leadership skills they’re picking up. They’re becoming such stronger leaders, and it’s just fun to watch.”
Stoddard currently works as the activity director at the Liberal Senior Center, and Montoya works as a paraeducator for USD No. 480. Despite holding down full-time jobs, both leaders said work does not limit what they would like to accomplish with the troop.
“We just work it around our time off from work,” Stoddard said. “Sometimes, it’s giving up weekends. We pretty much give up Monday evenings on a regular basis. We’re all Girl Scouting. We’ll take care of that. We’ll make sure the cabin’s clean before we leave, and I don’t think either one of us would change it. We’ve watched these girls grow in a lot of different directions.”
Both leaders have daughters who are members of the troop, and while Stoddard didn’t say for sure, Montoya admitted having a child in Girl Scouts does motivate her to be a better leader.
“I think it does,” she said. “In this case, I live in Tyrone. I bring my girls. Why leave when I’m going to have to turn around and come right back? I just stay and help out with whatever needs to be done.”
Stoddard said some people do not understand why she does what she does for Girl Scouts.
“People look at me and say, ‘How can you go through that?’” she said. “I said ‘Really, it works pretty well.’ There’s some different things that we have to adjust, and journey books is one of them.”
Montoya, however, did admit that if it were not for her daughters, who still have a few years left with the organization, being in the troop, she likely would not be involved with the Girl Scout organization.
Stoddard has one daughter, Alyssa, who has one more year to go with Girl Scouts and another, McKenzie, who has a few more years to go with the troop. Even though her children will soon not be a part of Troop 60005, the mother said there will be no time soon that she will not play a role in the lives of the young ladies that come through the local group.
“I would sit there and want to continue as long as these girls were involved,” she said. “Some of these girls that I’ve been with are actually five-year Girl Scouts. I’d probably still sit there and say, ‘I’ll volunteer. I’ll come out and still be a part of the troop even after mine graduate.’ You get relationships with them. You get to the point sometimes, you feel like a second mom to them.”