When 7-year-old Anna Vogel saw how much fun her brothers were having as part of the Troops of St. George, a Catholic outdoor movement for fathers and sons, she wanted to join a scouting program, too.
Her parents, Amy and Jay, members of Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids, began to look at what options were available for Anna and came across the American Heritage Girls organization.
“When we went to the informational meeting and saw the fun badges and activities the troop offered and how faith was incorporated, we were excited about the program,” Amy said.
American Heritage Girls is a Christ-centered leadership and character development ministry. Girls in grades K-12 earn badges and participate in programming that focuses on six areas: life skills, leadership, teamwork, and character, social and spiritual development.
Each girl takes an oath to love God, cherish family, honor her country and serve in her community. And each participant — youth or adult — also makes a statement of faith.
Today, American Heritage Girls has almost 1,000 troops in 49 states and nine countries.
The program has similarities to other scouting programs — there are five program levels and the girls earn badges, sports pins and service stars for different activities.
The troop Anna belongs to is comprised of about 27 girls. They meet twice a month and typically have two special events, two fun nights and four service projects during the year.
This past year, Amy served as the coordinator for Troop #1412. Their troop number is based on 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
In May, members of the troop worked on a special badge in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. Girls in the younger levels colored pictures and decorated prayer cards depicting Our Lady of Fatima to be given away to others.
Older girls made posters about her and explained them to the group. All of the girls watched a video about the children who witnessed the apparitions in Fatima.
“It’s just a fun way to help the girls learn about their faith,” Amy said.
Amy also has seen changes in Anna since joining the troop.
“I noticed Anna has more confidence. She takes part in leading the flag ceremony and group song leading, which could be part of it, but I tend to think it is from being reaffirmed in the friendships she is developing,” she said.
Another benefit, Amy said, is seeing adults from different Christian faiths engaging in discussion.
“[We have] good adult dialogue across the various faiths with no agendas, just sincere conversation,” she said.
“The fruit I have seen, by being Catholic and knowing our faith, is a bridge being formed, a sharing and cooperating between us adults.”
Serving the community
Another strong component of the program is service.
At the Fatima badge activity day, the girls baked and packaged cookies to accompany the prayer cards they made. Each was encouraged to give the card and cookies to someone in need of joy.
Anna gave one of her prayer cards to family friends who just had their sixth baby. Her second card and cookies were given to an elderly man who regularly attends daily Mass at St. John Cantius Church in St. Cloud, where the Vogels also often attend.
“The next day he pulled me aside and asked if he could give her a dollar to let her know how much he appreciated that she remembered him and did not forget the old people. I told him, ‘No, thank you,’ to the dollar and that I would tell her of his thankfulness. He had tears in his eyes.
“When I told her, she said , ‘I am glad you did not take the dollar, Mom. Can I make him more cookies?’”
That is just one of the many reasons the Vogels love American Heritage Girls.
“I encourage other Catholic families that are looking for a Christian scouting program to join AHG. It allows your daughter to learn some skills relating to the badges while having fun. The girls are with each other throughout the school year, not just a season, giving them time to get to know other girls. AHG includes the family, too.”
The first meeting of the new year is at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 11 at Hope Covenant Church in St. Cloud and includes a family night of kickball and gagaball, along with an ice cream social.