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December Volunteer of the Month: Ursula Olender

Volunteer Banner - Ursula Olender

College career advisor sees Girl Scouts as another way to help girls achieve their goals

NEW HAVEN, VT – Ursula Olender has dedicated her life to helping others be the best they can be, not just through her career as an advisor to college students on their own career paths, but also to dozens of Girl Scouts as their troop leader and to adult Girl Scout volunteers just learning their way through the Girl Scout experience. Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains has named Olender as the Volunteer of the Month for December in recognition of all she does.

Olender, who moved to New Haven in 2016, is the internship and career advisor at Middlebury College, and has done similar work for Champlain College, Dartmouth College, Colgate University, and Amherst College. Working with middle-school and high-school girls and those who are economically disadvantaged is where she feels most energized. She does what she can to make sure that the Girl Scout program is available to every girl who wants to participate.

“I’d love to see more people who don’t have kids, or whose kids have grown up” do this, she said. “You don’t have to be a mom to be a Girl Scout leader.”

“She’s been a great asset to the Addison County community,” said Sarah Reilly, lead community and member support specialist for Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains, noting that Olender has been a volunteer support coordinator for less than a year. “Girl Scouting is near and dear to her heart and her dedication to the girls and adults in her community is inspiring.”

Amanda Powell, also a troop support specialist for GSGWM, agrees. “She’s been working hard to bring Girl Scouts back to her service unit by increasing their visibility and the leaders’ connections with each other. She really goes the extra mile,” Powell said, and “provides one-on-one support and guidance for leaders.”

Having grown up as a Girl Scout in Indiana, beginning with Brownies, Olender is familiar with the Girl Scout philosophy and traditions. “I had really amazing leaders, some I’m still in touch with,” she said. Her Senior troop traveled to Europe and visited Our Chalet in Switzerland, one of the five world centers run by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. After college, she discovered that a couple of her goddaughters had been waiting for a long time for someone to step up and lead a troop. “I called the council, and they said they had no volunteers. I thought I’d lead a troop one day after having kids, but my goddaughters needed me then, so I said, ‘I guess I’m a leader now!’” She has also directed camp for a few years, and was a co-leader in the Central and Western Massachusetts council. When she moved back to Vermont in 2016, a coworker had a daughter starting kindergarten. “I said: ‘It’s time to get her in Daisies!’” Olender now has a troop of girls who are Daisies and Brownies in their third year.

Olender has also just been named the camp director for Green Mountain Day Camp, which is a one-week day camp run by Girl Scout volunteers at Branbury State Park in Salisbury. The camp will run for one week in August this coming summer. Camp was a big part of Olender’s own Girl Scout experience, where she was a program aide. She was involved with Friendly Trails camp in Brookfield at Allis State Park there, and the people who had been directing for a while were ready to hand over the reins. “I was happy to step up and did that for a few years,” she said. She said Green Mountain Day Camp will be a very traditional Girl Scout experience.

“Ursula is very professional and considerate,” said Karyn Martin, the assistant director for outdoor programs at GSGWM, “with a true passion for Girl Scouting and following the Girl Scout Law.”

Her Girl Scouts and college paths intersect at a special event she helps run at Middlebury College, called Girl Sports. The college students lead the younger girls through a rotation of clinics in various sports, like swimming, soccer and basketball, and arrange for a snack for the kids. “The girls hang on their every word!” Olender said about the Girl Scouts and the college students. She’s now thinking of doing something similar with STEM activities.

After so many years of involvement with Girl Scouts, Olender said, “I think the thing that’s been most important for me is understanding it’s a team effort. I don’t do any of it by myself.” She encourages any girl or adult to volunteer and become involved with Girl Scouts, to find out what your strengths are and how others can complement those skills. “You don’t have to be the traditional ‘rah-rah’ person,” she said. “We have roles for everyone – even quiet leaders like me.”

Girl Scouts unleashes the G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ in every girl, preparing her for a lifetime of leadership. The inclusive, all-female environment of a Girl Scout troop creates a safe space where girls can try new things, develop a range of skills, take on leadership roles, and just be themselves. Ursula Olender embodies the G.I.R.L. spirit and helps to instill it in others. Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains is proud to name her Volunteer of the Month.