Macedonia, Ohio - Girl Scouts is a network of 60 million girls and women redefining leadership and showing the world their inner G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader) ™. Guided by supportive adults, Girl Scouts practice leadership with grit like a go-getter, problem solve like an innovator, embrace new challenges like a risk-taker, and show empathy like a leader. Troop 70578 of Strongsville has turned out alumnae who embody the leadership experience Girl Scout nurtures in its members, including an attorney, an occupational therapist, a corporate trainer for Chase Bank, a couple of teachers and even a tall ship sailor. These outcomes are of little surprise to the troop’s longtime leader Nancy Kachmarik, a financial analyst in the treasury department at PolyOne Corp in Avon Lake.
“As 9- and 10-year olds, they were getting in front of people talking and holding their own,” says Kachmarik, referring to her Girl Scouts’ countless service projects and programs over which they took the reins with Kachmarik’s support from the sidelines. “I pushed them out of their comfort zones enough that they tried things I don’t know they would have tried on their own.”
This spring, Girl Scout Troop 70578’s four final members graduated from Strongsville High School. The celebratory event came with bitter sweetness, leaving Girl Scout Troop 70578 with a long and rich history, but now without members. Its tireless 17-year leader will gladly stick around if other small troops decide to merge as Troop 70578 this coming fall. If the need calls, Kachmarik says she will continue with the troop just as 11 of its original 18 members did from their grade school through high school years. She’ll remain just as she did to see some 70 more Girl Scouts join her troop after her own daughter, Kaitlyn, now an attorney, graduated from Girl Scout Troop 70578 in 2009.
For Kachmarik, Girl Scouts is both a passion and a pleasure. When she adopted the troop in 2000, the timing was perfect, she says. The girls, who had just bridged from Brownie to Junior level, were advancing to a new stage of Girl Scouting, one abundant with camping and other outdoor activities and also music to Kachmarik’s ears.
“I grew up hiking, building fires and camping outside in a tent,” says Kachmarik, referring to her childhood spent at her parents’ trailer park in Brunswick. “Getting outside, this is the stuff I love.”
Kachmarik molded Girl Scout Troop 70578 into one with achievement and outdoor spirit as its hallmarks. From trekking to Savannah, Gettysburg, Washington, D.C. and other points around the country to whitewater rafting in North Carolina to their last campout at Camp Crowell/Hilaka in Richfield, the troop’s original 11 members took to the outdoors and beyond as they banded as a team and developed individually as leaders.
“The major influence the troop had on me was the sheer number of experiences that I wouldn't have had without this troop,” says alumna Bethany Pelzer. “Between camping, service projects for the community and younger Girl Scouts, and other events and trips we went on, I got to see so many new places and try new things that I wouldn't have gotten to do otherwise.”
“They were all so different and yet they worked well together. Every one of them played a part in each others’ lives,” says Kachmarik, pointing to their ritualistic camp outings the third weekend of every month. They set aside boyfriends, jobs and extracurricular activities during their busy teen years, abandoning flat irons and makeup, just to be themselves and with each other during those much-anticipated unions.
“When you can get away for the weekend with your friends and talk about nothing or talk about everything … Life becomes more manageable when, at a very young age, you discover how strong you are, and how independent you can be and how you really can make a difference, even if it is only to one person,” says Kaitlyn Kachmarik.
As the Girl Scouts graduated from the troop over the years – 17 with Girl Scouts’ highest honor, the Gold Award, most as Silver Award recipients and 11 as Lifetime Members– their departures have merely been temporary. The troop’s original members have returned to Girl Scout Troop 70578 over the years, bringing their professional expertise in politics, music and other fields to their successors as they worked on earning various badges. Others have come back to chaperone troop and service unit events and another, alumna Pelzer, a certified zip line instructor and archery instructor, is now Kachmarik’s co-leader.
“I got so much out of Girl Scouts and the troop specifically that I knew I wanted to help wherever and whenever I could to give that same experience to other girls,” Pelzer says. “Even when I've been off at school, or out of the country, seeing the girls who have come through the troop grow and become more confident in themselves and knowing that I played even a small part in that is what it's about for me.”
Since their Girl Scouting days, the alumnae of Girl Scout Troop 70578 have maintained a bond, sharing and celebrating news of engagements, newborn babies, passed bar exams and career achievements.
“There is something very comforting in being around people who have known you your entire life and truly understand who you are,” says Kaitlyn Kachmarik. “I feel like we grew up together, and that bond has allowed us to remain friends even as life changes.”
Kaitlyn Kachmarik adds that her experiences as a Girl Scout affected her life greatly and says they “are still having a positive impact on me today.”
Some traditions become legacies. Others have staying power. Only an exceptional few like Girl Scout Troop 70578 and its leader Nancy Kachmarik can claim both. Only time will tell what the future holds for Kachmarik and the troop, though history does have a way of repeating itself.