Threatened with their closure due to lack of volunteers, Fergus and Elora have rallied to save local Girl Guides units.
With 15 girls registered for the program and “absolutely no leaders,” community guider Marlene Skerritt said she was feeling “a little desperate” when Girl Guides Canada informed her it would have to close its Fergus unit. The Elora group was in a similarly dangerous position, with only one parent assistant.
As a community guider, Skerritt assists Girl Guides organizations in Elora, Fergus, Mount Forest, Drayton and her hometown of Alma where she’s been a volunteer leader for 36 years.
Girl Guides groups have been facing challenges with declining volunteer numbers for years, but “COVID has taken a big toll on a lot of our leaders this year,” Skerritt said. Organizing virtual and outdoor meetings was frustrating for some. Others have limited the amount of activities their children are involved in during the pandemic and left guiding.
Girl Guides Canada told Skerritt those registered in Fergus would have to join units in Elora or drive to Alma or Guelph. But Skerritt knew this wasn’t ideal as Elora was also in danger of shutting down due to lack of volunteers and seven of around 25 guide units in Guelph had recently closed for the same reasons.
She put out a call on Facebook.
“I said ‘okay if we don’t get leaders in Fergus or Elora, these kids are not going to have any Girl Guides anymore,’” Skerritt explained.
She was amazed by the response.
Fifteen people stepped forward. Some were young women Skerritt had met as a leader when they were Girl Guides themselves.
“That just gave me goosebumps,” she said.
Two full-time leaders and one part-time leader were quickly recruited to bring the Elora program back from the brink. Plus Skerrit now has a pool of interested volunteers to draw from for Fergus. She hopes to get three leaders in place in that town as well to serve 20 more girls.
Skerritt said she hopes guide programming in Elora and Fergus will be able to start by the first week of October. Meanwhile she encouraged anyone interested in volunteering to check out Girl Guides of Canada website.
“We’re always looking for help, the more the merrier,” she said. “If we can make less work for two leaders by having three or four leaders, that would be awesome.”