Special needs Girl Scouts need a new leader

HOUSTON For 34 years, Girl Scout Troop 21 has been there for girls who may have felt like they didn't belong or that they were too different.

When we talk about Girl Scouts, most of us picture cute 10-year-olds selling us Thin Mints and Caramel Delights. The troop you're about to meet is different, but they are banded together with the same kind of spirit.

"As far as we know, this is the only troop that has all special needs," Troop 21 leader Charlotte Sewell said.

Members are women between ages 40 and 50, but their brains function as though they are just five to 10 years old.

Sewell created the group in 1976.

"And I'm still here," she laughed.

She started with a handful of special needs girls, including her own daughter, Kathy.

"Learning things, doing crafts, learning to be social -- that is very important," Sewell said.

Now, Sewell's own health issues are forcing her to step aside and find a replacement.

"I want someone who can love them as much as I do," she said. "Unless there is someone who steps up, it will be hard to keep on going. We need help."

Kathleen Fenninger with Bending Bayou Service Unit is leading the quest for the perfect Girl Scout troop leader: someone who can teach them simple crafts, take them camping, sing with them or just sit and talk with them.

"It makes them feel like they're regular girls," Sewell said.

To recruit someone who is as passionate and devoted to special needs women as Sewell will be difficult.

"We really need someone who's willing to be here for the long term, not just for a few months. Consistency is important," Fenninger said. "[Members need someone they will] recognize when they come into the building."

The future of Troop 21 depends on finding that perfect replacement.

Fenninger says the ideal troop leader doesn't have to know anything about Girl Scouts. You'll take a three-hour training class to prepare, and you can design the meetings and activities to your liking.

If you're interested in volunteering or leading Troop 21, call the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council at 713-292-0300.

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