Amy Wallace: Reaping the Benefits of Girl Scout Lessons

By Cathy Hirko

Amy Wallace

Amy Wallace is a former Girl Scout and now the Vice President of Learning and Development at Members 1st Federal Credit Union in Cumberland County. While chatting with Amy at a recent Members 1st Federal Credit Union employee/family function in Lancaster, I found out that she and her family have a rich history with Girls Scouts. She gladly agreed to share her story with us.

Amy now lives in Mechanicsburg with her husband and two children. In her day-to-day work with Members 1st, she said she has “the honor of focusing on associate growth and development each day.”

She originally grew up outside Boston, but the opportunity to play college basketball brought her to the Central Pennsylvania area.  After graduation, she decided to stay. She loves it here. 

“We still get all four seasons, but it’s a good bit warmer here than in New England!” she said.

GSHPA: Your parents (before they were your parents) have a unique connection to the oldest running Girl Scout Camp in the United States, Camp Bonnie Brae. What can you share about that?

Amy: This is such a neat story and one that is near and dear to my heart.  When my father was growing up, he served as the “Handy Man” for Camp Bonnie Brae.  The camp resides on the same lake where my parents have a summer home.  My dad grew up on the lake and spent many summers working at the camp.  My uncle (my mom’s brother) also worked at the camp as a cook.  My dad and my uncle became great friends.  When my uncle got married, my dad and my mom were both in the wedding, but they didn’t know one another yet.  The wedding was the beginning of my parents’ epic journey.  They have been married for 49 years! 

Now, during the summer, when we are sitting on the porch at the lake house, we can still hear the dinner bell at Bonnie Brae ring across the lake.  The camp is an active reminder that the Girl Scouts are alive and well as the waterfront is bustling and the campers return each year.  My parents continue to attend the Bonnie Brae reunions as there are many former workers, like my dad, who are still in the area and enjoy the chance to return to camp and see how the legacy continues. Bonnie Brae will always have a special place in the story of our family.

GSHPA: Share with us some of the memories/experiences that you had as a Girl Scout.

Amy:  It’s hard to choose just a few.  I began as a day camper at the former Camp Virginia and then graduated to sleep-away camp.  I had the privilege of attending Camp Wabasso in New Hampshire, which specializes in horseback riding and then Camp Favorite on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where I chose the overnight bicycling adventures. 

Girls Scouts has allowed me to try new experiences that I would have not encountered in my daily life.  From windsurfing to sleeping in a hammock in a tall stand of pines, I was always challenging myself to step outside my comfort zone and try new things.  Girl Scout camp afforded me the ability to tackle a ropes course with a team of people, to learn archery, to create and act in a camp skit, to go trail riding by horseback, to go sailing, to hike through cranberry bogs, to camp outside and cook over a fire …  The Girl Scouts are masterful at creating activities that not only allow you to try new experiences, but learn impactful life lessons.  At a young age, I didn’t appreciate those many life lessons, but today I reap the benefits of those experiences.

GSHPA: What skills or attributes did you learn from the Girl Scouts that you still carry with you today?

Amy: To know that stepping outside your comfort zone can bring growth, joy, and life lessons. I learned the value of teamwork.  As a dominant, outspoken personality, I learned the value of letting all the voices in the group be heard to solve problems and tackle challenges.  The high ropes course (for example) is an excellent place to solidify that sometimes it takes a group effort to achieve a tall feat.  I also learned about the value of communication, adventure, ingenuity, creativity, empathy, independence, encouragement and respect/appreciation for nature.  I know that my experiences as a Girl Scout helped to build the foundation that I draw from on a day-to-day basis in my current occupation and interactions.

Why is it important to mentor others? What can we learn about lifting others up and helping in our professional lives?

Amy: While at Camp Wabasso, I had the opportunity to go rock climbing.  In hindsight, it was not something I enjoyed, but I sure did learn a lot by challenging myself to climb a rock face in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. 

At one point, I fell.  I was dangling from the side of a mountain by a tiny rope, being anchored by a complete stranger (who turned out to be my biggest cheerleader in that moment) who was telling me to keep calm, get my footing, and try again.  Isn’t that the greatest metaphor for life?  Do you surround yourself with people who cheer on your crazy adventures?  Do they remind you to stay calm and find your inner peace in moments of panic?  Do they uplift you with words of encouragement and guidance when needed?  Do they remind you that inside yourself is a strength that sometimes you lose sight of?

Just like that counselor who had me anchored to the mountain and held my fate in their hands, I want to be that voice of reason and encouragement to others.  Self-discovery and growth can be challenging.  Pushing yourself into new situations can reap great rewards, but it can come with self-doubt and imposter syndrome.  The ability to be a cheerleader, motivator, and counselor is such an honor.  For someone to trust you enough to be vulnerable with you is an amazing gift.  Mentorship is a chance to give back to others and your community as a whole.

I can think through my life and career and name many people who took the time to mentor me.  In the same way, I want to give back to others. My counselors at camp cheered me on, wiped my tears, held my hand, offered encouragement, asked me about my worries/doubts, and helped me to see a strength inside myself that I didn’t even know was present.  THAT is the beauty of mentorship and that is the energy I want to put out into the world. Helping others to live their best lives and find their core strengths is truly a humbling experience.  There may be many things we can’t control in this world, but giving back to others with our time and guidance allows us to make the world a better place from our little corner of the planet.

GSHPA: If you had a top memory to share about your Girl Scout experience what would that be?

Amy:  My favorite memory, by far, is the overnight trip I took from Camp Favorite.  The two weeks of camp involved several days of progressively longer bike rides until we worked up our stamina to hit the Cape Cod rail trail.  We biked from the camp to Hyannis, MA, roughly a 20-mile bike ride, to catch the ferry to Nantucket.  Once on the island, we stayed at a youth hostel where we were responsible for chores to help maintain the daily operations of the hostel.  We spent time exploring the island by bike for a few days, before we returned to camp.  More than 30 years later and I still have vivid memories of the trip, the challenges, the ways in which in I grew, our cheerleader counselors, and the feeling of accomplishment when our entire group made it back to camp.  As a pre-teen girl, the thought of biking 60+ miles, while carrying all of my personal belongings seemed unfathomable.  The Girl Scouts structured an experience to help me see that I was capable of more than I realized. 

GSHPA: What’s your favorite Girl Scout Cookie and why?

Amy:  Ooooo… this is a tough one.  I’m going to go with the classic and say: Thin Mints.  Straight out of the freezer is my favorite way to enjoy them!

Cathy Hirko is the marketing and communications director for the Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania. Reach her by email: chirko@gshpa.org.

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