Michelle Elefson of Rochester named Volunteer of the Month for July
ROCHESTER, NH – Making sure girls have opportunities to travel, camp, and become entrepreneurs is part of most Girl Scout leaders’ goals, but one local leader has gone even further, taking training on youth mental health and sharing that with her community. Michelle Elefson has been recognized for that work by Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains, the council serving New Hampshire and Vermont, as its Volunteer of the Month for July.
Elefson, 58, of Rochester, leads Girl Scout Troop 10366, a group of nine Girl Scout Ambassadors in grades 11 and 12.
“Michelle supports the community as new leader mentor and shares valuable information at monthly meetings specifically for the new leaders,” said Amanda Powell, volunteer support specialist for the council serving girls across New Hampshire and Vermont. “The community primarily utilizes the club house where Michelle resides to hold their monthly meetings, which Michelle coordinates for the community. She has also been a great support in getting specialized training out to the community, including partnering with council to offer Youth Mental Health First Aid training in 2020.”
“As our girls are growing up and entering high school, we became aware of a huge need in our community for mental health supports and services,” said Elefson. “Kids are facing things we weren’t prepared for - there’s so much turmoil in their world these days. I needed to do something to support them.”
Every week for a year, she and her co-leaders, Beth and Charlee, brought to their Girl Scouts at least two new ideas they could use if feeling stressed or overwhelmed. That included concepts like mindfulness, journaling, drawing, aromatherapy, taking a shower or bath, and more. Girls were urged to keep the list of what works for them. She also made sure the girls had her phone number and each other’s, making it clear they could call her anytime of the day or night.
One time, a girl called Elefson asking for help, and when she responded the girl had clearly been crying and was in crisis. They talked about different things she could do with her situation.
“We set things up so she was in a better position. She was more prepared to go home and move forward. We made a few phone calls, put a few things in place.”
Elefson will often send a text to someone she sees having a hard time, just making sure they’re OK.
“I’m grateful that these Scouts feel comfortable coming to myself or my co-leaders,” she said. Girl Scouts has to be a safe place. As they get older, they need that no-judgment zone.”
Some of these girls began their Girl Scout experience more than 10 years ago, when Elefson started her own troop. More joined as the years went by. She makes sure she listens to what they want to do, which in this group means a lot of camping and traveling. She was focused on teaching the kids every kind of camping there is, organizing wilderness trainings so she could take them more than 30 minutes from emergency services.
They are also active in community service, eager to volunteer to gather toys for Toys for Tots, help the Salvation Army with its angel tree, and do cleanup work at Wild Willies, where they are allowed to host Girl Scout Cookie booths in the winter. They also serve and contribute food to Straight Street Outreach.
“Usually we do the cleanup for Rochester Day,” she said. “We clean and rake and whatnot downtown.”
One of the goals these girls aimed for was to travel on an airplane, something that the majority of them had never done. Plans originally called for a trip to Universal Studios in Florida, but with the pandemic they had to reassess, and ultimately traveled to Six Flags in New Jersey.
“They saved cookie profits for two years and they worked hard,” she said. “We went to New Jersey for a week, went to Carlo’s Bakery - the “Cake Boss,” went to Six Flags, the drive-through safari, an escape room, and more, we had a great time. They definitely learned how to adjust when things don’t go your way the first time. They learned how to roll with plan B. We had to do quite a bit of that with COVID. The whole world’s a little different … it really threw us into a tailspin. They learned to ‘make it work.’”
Elefson said she’s happy she could offer her daughter, Abby, so many more opportunities than she otherwise would without Girl Scouts. They have gone horseback riding, zip-lining, whitewater rafting and more. Plus, she’s been able to instill a love of community in her girls.
She encourages others to consider volunteering for Girl Scouts. “Girl Scouts opens a lot of doors and provides a lot of opportunity,” she said. “It helps our kids be well rounded. It gives them supports and services.”
She said her Girl Scouts have developed friendships that will stay with them and made so many memories.
“I’m grateful for Girl Scouts, for the opportunities it has provided me,” she said. “And my daughter.”
Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains appreciates all that Michelle Elefson has done and is proud to call her Volunteer of the Month. If you’d like to find out more about joining Girl Scouts, visit www.girlscoutsgwm.org.
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Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains serves girls throughout New Hampshire and Vermont through volunteer-run troops, events, and virtual programs. Visit www.girlscoutsgwm.org to learn more.