American Heritage Girls offers alternative to Girl Scouts
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — These girls wear uniforms, earn proficiency badges, belong to troops, go camping and recite an oath.
But they don’t sell cookies.
You may not have heard of the American Heritage Girls before, but odds are you’ll be hearing more about them from now on.
Three Catholic-sponsored AHG troops have been established in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, and at least four more are in various stages of development.
“American Heritage Girls is an approved organization to partner with our parishes,” said Deacon Dana Nearmyer, lead consultant for archdiocesan evangelization and Catholic formation of youth. “AHG is an intentional, Christ-centered youth ministry.”
The AHG is a faith-based, ecumenical Christian organization for girls formed in 1995 by a group of parents in West Chester, Ohio. They were concerned about perceived deficiencies in the Girls Scouts of America, so they decided to create a program that would be fun and challenging like Girl Scouts but would reflect Christian values, too.
Today, AHG has 674 troops in 48 states and seven foreign countries. Approximately 30,000 girls are members. The first AHG troop was founded in Kansas three years ago, and today there are six troops in the state.
The first Catholic-sponsored AHG unit in Kansas is KS1111, sponsored by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Wichita.
The first Catholic AHG troop in the archdiocese (and second Catholic AHG unit in Kansas) is KS2206, founded in December 2011, and is sponsored by Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood.
“I had an opportunity to discuss American Heritage Girls with Deacon Dana Nearmyer at family camp during summer 2011,” said Kim Grandon, KS2206 troop coordinator, and member of Curé of Ars.
“He was very encouraging,” she continued. “I then went to [pastor] Msgr. Charles McGlinn and asked for funds to charter the troop, and he was just as encouraging and gave his approval. Msgr. McGlinn even agreed to be on our board and is our charter representative.”
“[AHG] is a very Christian organization, very much committed to correct moral principles in the formation of these young people,” said Msgr. McGlinn.
“We have very strong adult leadership that is responsible for the success of the program,” he continued. “It is very attractive to the children, and they have a lot of fun and learn an awful lot. I think it’s been a really great asset to our parish program, and I hope other parishes will pick up on it.”
Grandon has two daughters — Grace, 6, Tenderheart rank; and Sofia, 9, Explorer rank — in her troop. Currently, 36 girls belong to the troop, which meets for an hour twice a month.
Grandon chose AHG because of its faith emphasis.
“I was so impressed with the fact that, in the handbooks the girls use from first to 12th grade, Scripture [passages] were everywhere,” said Grandon.
“They have badges, for instance, that teach modesty in fashion,” she continued. “[AHG] has a variety of Christ-centered badges where girls can experience God in everyday life.”
Stephen Davidson, a member of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka, is an Eagle Scout and has two sons in the Boy Scouts. He wanted a similar experience for his two daughters Katherine, 12, Pioneer rank; and Julia, 7, Tenderheart rank.
“I believe strongly in the Scouting experience, precisely because it isn’t focused on one thing,” said Davidson, an AHG troop coordinator.
“Because of it, my kids have been exposed to many different things.
“[We’ve had] pretty rich experiences because of it, and I wanted for my daughters what my sons were getting through Boy Scouts.”
Three years ago, Davidson enrolled his girls in the only AHG troop in Topeka, which was sponsored by the Central Church of Christ.
It had been a good experience for their family. He decided this year, however, that he’d like to have a Catholic-sponsored troop, although only his younger daughter will transfer over to the new KS0219, sponsored by Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish. Currently, the troop has 12 members, but he anticipates more will join.
“I wanted an organization that made sure we recognized a duty to God,” he said. “The AHG makes it very clear that it is a Christ-centered program. My wife and I decided long ago to make sure our kids went to Catholic schools, regardless of what it took to do it. In our opinion, the same principle applies to these activities as well.”
The AHG troop at Ascension Parish in Overland Park is KS3130.
“We received our charter in July, had registration night in September, and held our first official meeting on Oct. 10,” said Janelle Dana, troop coordinator. Her daughter Caroline, 7, is Tenderheart rank.
“We, as a parish, chose [AHG] for many reasons,” said Dana. “We liked that it was Christ-centered, with faith as a core item, not just another thing out there with an asterisk.”
Although new, the troop has 50 members, with some being from neighboring parishes that do not have an AHG troop. Other parishes considering the AHG are Church of the Nativity in Leawood, Queen of the Holy Rosary in Wea, Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa and St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee.
“We’ll grow,” said Dana. “We’ve had inquiries from several area parishes, so there is room for the organization to grow here and throughout the archdiocese.”
“I think this is going to snowball,” she said. “I think this will become very big, because it is such a good match for the Catholic Church.”
For information about American Heritage Girls, go to the website.