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80 years of guiding

AMHERST – Three generations, more than a century of collective involvement with the Girl Guides scouting movement.

“This year is my 80th year in Girl Guides,” said Amherst resident Catherine McKay.

McKay joined the Sixth Moncton Girl Guide Company when she was 12. A long list written on paper shows, to the layperson at least, she’s held just about every position possible within the organization since. She’s currently a member of the Trefoil Guild for retired leaders.

McKay, her daughter Cora Nelson and her granddaughter Sara Nelson, who live in Montana, all reached the highest level of achievement as Guides/Scouts – the equivalent of the American Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout designation. All three women sat in a living room in an Amherst home to talk about what girl guides has given them.

“Everything,” said McKay succinctly.

It developed her sense of responsibility, and empathy for others, and provided the only-child with companionship. It was fun, too.

“Camping…and going on hikes,” she said.

Her adult daughter, Cora, talked about her experience as well. The woman said she liked being part of a group, and pursuing and achieving a goal, only to have another ahead of her. She can still remember two of the three projects she completed to get her gold cord designation: one was the inauguration of a bicycle safety clinic, and another was co-organizing an orienteering exercise. The family passion for scouting has one source, according to Cora.

“That’s all coming from mom,” she said.

Cora’s daughters, Emma and Sara, were Girl Scouts and Guides, respectively (In the U.S., they’re referred to as Scouts). Sara, who attends university in Nova Scotia, isn’t currently active with the movement but has her lifetime membership.

“We always had goals that we set,” she said.

The young woman started when she was five and stayed in until 17. Whatever peer pressure she may have felt about being in the group as an aging adolescent doesn’t warrant much comment today. Instead, she mentions a trip to Europe she had a chance to take, as well as the opportunities it gave her to meet people and learn life skills.

A key skill she feels being in the group develops is, perhaps no surprise, working in groups to develop a compromise that everyone is content with. It’s a skill young people today may not be developing, according to her.

“That’s definitely being lost…,” she said.

Catherine said she thinks guiding appears to be in some danger of not surviving but she hopes it does. The Sixth Moncton Company she belonged to has been dissolved. Her daughter, Cora, said the movement is struggling to find its niche – a relevant role for today’s teen girls – but thinks that place exists. She said the movement isn’t stuck in time. She claimed it teaches core values such as working together and leadership, skills development and critical thinking.

esparling@amherstdaily.com

Twitter: @ADNsparling

Organizations: Sixth Moncton Girl Guide Company

Geographic location: AMHERST, Montana, U.S. Nova Scotia Europe

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