Last Friday, November 16 was Sleep Out America night. After reading about the opening of a Covenant House in Grand Rapids, leader Amber Fonner decided sleeping outside one night with her troop would be a good learning opportunity.
A Focus on Those without a Home
Fonner, a Girl Scout herself when she was younger, has found herself in a leadership role in order to help girls have a safe place to learn, grow, and be silly. “I loved that I had a safe place to be around all girls where I wasn’t afraid to try something new and fail or succeed with support from my friends and leaders.” she comments. Her love of service projects and willingness to mentor led her to oversee a troop which is made primarily of 5th grade students from Alto Elementary.
A Covenant House location in Grand Rapids will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony today and will be open for residents by the end of the month. This homeless shelter provides beds and support to those who are 18-24 years of age. The new Grand Rapids location is one of two in Michigan. The other is located in Detroit. As a way to raise money and awareness for the Covenant House organization, a nation-wide sleep out occurred last week. Fonner and her group has so far raised $325 to help Covenant House. Donations are being accepted through the end of the year and can be made online.
Fonner says she is always on the lookout for ways to provide experiences to excite and encourage her girls to be service-minded. Three girls from her troop spent last Friday night in her lawn. Prior to the Sleep Out, the group talked about things which might be taken for granted by those who have a home compared to those who do not. They discussed hardships that are associated with being homeless such as not having easy access to a bathroom, being able to make food, where to sleep, and not having a private spot to keep belongings. Fonner says, “It’s easy to think about being outside but when you ACTUALLY do it… there are so many small things that we take for granted that we would never consider without walking in the steps of someone without a domicile.”
Spending the Night Outside
The official Sleep Out took place the night of November 16. Fonner and three girls from her troop spent the night outside. Participants couldn’t go back inside except to use the bathroom. Cold, more winter-like conditions made it even more of a challenge.
The night was a cold one, with snow on the ground. As the night went on Fonner and the girls thought about not having easy access to water, protection from animals, bugs or other people, and the where to put their belongings so the wouldn’t get wet from the snow. “It was still really cold – we got to look forward to going inside at 7 am, where do the homeless go during the day?” wondered 10-year-old Lorelei Fonner. The hope is those who participated will have a better appreciation for comforts often taken for granted when there are many who do not have a home and numerous personal possessions.
The holiday season is typically a time when groups do service projects. Troop #4574 recently packed Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse. These boxes will be shipped to kids around the world. The troop covered shipping (at $9/box) for and packed 17 boxes. The group has also volunteered at Kid’s Food Basket, caroled around Alto, and picked up trash to commemorate Earth Day this past April.
While serving the community is an important aspect for the troop, they also spend time having fun and building relationships within their group. Recently they have visited the corn maze at Heidi’s Farmstand, visited the Girl Scout Camp Anna Behrens, and toured ArtPrize as a group to name a few activities. And like all Girl Scout troops, the girls work at earning badges which highlight skills and information all of which help with individual and group growth.
Calling Alto Home
Girl Scout Troop #4574 meets at the Faith Bible Church in Alto. With access to a full kitchen, the girls like to make their own snacks for the evening and if any is left over it is donated. Fonner will continue to do what she can to provide a safe place for her girls to connect, grow, and not be afraid to try something new (and even fail) with peers and mentors.
The group’s next big outing will be November 27 when they’ll head to Frederik Meijer Gardens. There they will take in Holiday Traditions Around the World and work on their digital photography badge.
Photos courtesy of Amber Fonner and used with permission.