Georgia, VT | You could say that Jennifer Bonneville’s blood runs green. She’s been a Girl Scout most of her life, as both a girl and a leader, and her enthusiasm for mentoring girls is inspiring to all who know her. She has been chosen as the Volunteer of the Month for May by Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains.
Bonneville, 38, moved to Vermont a few years ago from California. Georgia is a small town of just over 4,500 people on the shores of Lake Champlain, north of Burlington. But it didn’t take long for her to find her purpose in her new town, becoming a troop leader, then a volunteer service coordinator who helps other troops.
“Jennifer is the kind of Girl Scout who moves into a new town from California and contacts the office and finds out who is in the service unit and attends the first meeting she can,” said Cheryl Heneveld, volunteer service coordinator for Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains. She added that Bonneville has done a lot in the world of Girl Scouting, including running summer camp in Rhode Island for several years.
Her co-leader, Jenny Parent, counts on Bonneville’s experience. “Jenn’s thoughtful and cheerful demeanor is always welcomed at any Girl Scout event, whether it is a service unit meeting, a troop meeting, or a weekend activity. As a volunteer service coordinator, she works hard to see that everyone has the opportunity to deepen their own troop’s experiences with fresh ideas and solid support.”
Bonneville’s mother started the troop that she began with as a girl, and stayed in Girl Scouts through high school. “My high school was camping and earning badges,” she said. “I was an 800-box Girl Scout Cookie seller. I did that four or five years, so I did the backpacking programs with Girl Scouts of the San Francisco Bay. We liked going to the old places and exploring the history of the area.”
When she was 17, she started working at Girl Scout camp, where her mother was a director. While working as a program specialist, she met a woman who got her involved with Camp Hoffman in Rhode Island. She directed that summer camp for three years, and spent a total of seven years there.
When her husband got a job offer that required the move to Vermont, she asked herself how she was going to meet people and make friends, and there was “no question” that contacting the local Girl Scout council was the way to go. “There was a large troop out here in Georgia that had a waiting list. I didn’t have girls – I have two boys – I wanted to join the troop and see how it goes.” There were 28 girls at that time, Brownies, Juniors and Cadettes, who formed a multi-level troop.
“It’s more for me!” said Bonneville. “I had been a Girl Scout since I was 7. I needed to make a connection. I didn’t want to do mommy groups. I wanted to make friends and have girl time.”
Once she was involved, Heneveld contacted her and asked what else she could bring to the table, and her background in education and long experience with Girl Scouts came to the fore. “I have hands-on experience with kids,” she said. “I did direct Girl Scout camp for several years. I was a substitute (teacher) for a long time. My mother is a teacher. All my mom’s co-leaders were educators. You just absorb from what’s around you.” She was able to help other troop leaders with the dynamics of how to run a troop, from friendship circles and songs, down to how to have an hour and a half with Daisies and Brownies (girls in kindergarten through third grade) not seem like “an hour and a half of chaos.” She offers her own help, finds others who can step up, and shows new leaders how they can adapt the program to their needs.
Co-leader Parent is also from California, and they both love to take their Girl Scouts traveling and expose them to the wider world. “Many of our girls haven’t gone past New Hampshire - or Burlington!” said Bonneville. They took a trip to Philadelphia in April, and are planning a whitewater rafting trip in June. “We ran up the ‘Rocky’ steps, walked to Love Park, went to the Franklin Institute of Science, had lunch at the Reading Terminal Market” and much more, she said. “We got to experience a city. They had so much fun!”
She sees the growth girls experience with Girl Scouts. One girl, Maddie, “was very competent in general, but hesitant to go on overnight camping trips.” So Bonneville let her come for just the day at a weekend trip, and she wanted to try the overnight next time. She was also unsure about horseback riding, but wanted to earn the riding badge. “We were lucky enough to be at a horse barn where the owner had a pony. She’s like, ‘This is Sunflower. She’s for the kids who are unsure. Do you want to walk her?’ Next thing I know, Maddie’s riding Sunflower!” Now she’s riding horses at age 11.
Bonneville looks at her time with Girl Scouts as giving back. “Someone took time for me,” she said. “My mom was my troop leader, yes, but I went on overnights and there were people like the horse instructor, or getting into water where I couldn’t see the bottom. Someone said to me ‘The worst thing you could do is not have an experience, and you’ll wish you did.’ Be that person – take that bigger step. Instead of saying ‘I wish,’ DO! If you can find time to shop for two hours, you can take an hour and be a volunteer. You don’t have to have a troop, you don’t even have to have a daughter.”
Thanks to volunteers like Jennifer Bonneville, Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains is proud to call her our Volunteer of the Month for May. Girl Scouts unleashes the G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ in every girl, preparing her for a lifetime of leadership.
About Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains: Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains is recognized throughout New Hampshire and Vermont as a leading expert on girls. Our Girl Scout Leadership Experience is a one-of-a-kind leadership development program for girls, with proven results. It is based on time-tested methods and research-backed programming that helps girls take the lead—in their own lives and in the world. Through our exciting and challenging programs, Girl Scouts not only participate but also take the lead in a range of activities—from kayaking, archery, and camping, to coding, robotics, financial literacy training, and beyond! Serving more than 10,000 girls throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, girls discover the fun, friendship, and power of girls together. Visit www.girlscoutsgwm.org.