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The pursuit of achieving the core qualities of a Girl Scout: self-esteem and serving the community, has a special meaning for a group of 16 girls from Ramona Gardens in Boyle Heights.
While beating the odds of growing up in a low-income housing development, the girls from Troop 70013 work hard at learning to relate to others, developing values and contributing to their communities.
The troop was launched more than a year and a half ago with the sponsorship of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) under its Ramona Gardens Community Safety Partnership (CSP), a collaborative program with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA), and the Mayor’s Gang Intervention and Youth Development office than aims to improve the relationship between the residents of public housing communities and the police.
Officer Mischell Harvey-Dixon from the Hollenbeck Police Station has played a key role in recruiting and supervising the girls.
Since then, more than 15 girls have joined the national organization that seeks to build young women of courage, confidence, and character. They are what is called a “journey group” because of Harvey-Dixon’s busy work schedule, but hope to transition into an official troop in the summer.
Troop 70013 has participated in clean up campaigns in Ramona Gardens and Boyle Heights. The girls have attended several arts events and are currently involved in selling cookies and recruiting new members. The girls’ ages range from 6 to 13 years old.
“We felt that exposing them to an organization like this would widen their horizon,” explains Officer Harvey-Dixon why LAPD decided to sponsor the troop. Since being a Girl Scout tends to be expensive, LAPD pays for the uniforms and other expenses.
“I know how difficult it is, since I grew up in a housing development myself, never having exposure to something like this. But by being a Girls Scout, you learn to be a leader, to network with other girls, to learn how to sell, what money is at an early age, ” she adds.
Most of all, Girls Scouts “teaches them values they are going to need to succeed in this world and that normally they wouldn’t have in a community like Ramona Gardens.”
Jennifer Ortega, 13, believes that being part of the Ramona Gardens Girls Scouts has contributed to making her a better person.
“It gets you involved with much more things,” says Ortega, a 7th grader at El Sereno Middle School. “I’ve learned that joining is good because you get to meet new people and make new friends.”
Ortega has been a member of the Ramona Gardens troupe for five months. She remembers joining the group of girls because she did not want to keep on “being bored, watching TV all day.”
On the other hand, Stephanie Fernandez, also a 7th grader feels that the most valuable thing she has learned is the importance of learning to love one another.
“We have to be nice to each other and always stick together,” she adds.
After only a week of joining the group, Jessica Rivas, 12, has already benefitted from the experience by making new friends.
“You get to meet new people, and I’m learning how to do a caterpillar,” says the 6th grade student from Santa Teresita School.
Meanwhile, Dennis Guerrero has seen the positive influence being a Girl Scout has had on his daughter Mia.
“I knew I wanted her involved in Girl Scouts just because I see the values they teach young women,” he says.
Guerrero adds that in the five months she has been part of the Ramona Gardens troop, he has seen a significant change in his daughter.
“It’s been a huge change. I used to worry because she was too shy and through the troupe process I’ve seen her blossom and I see how she treats other kids now,” he adds.
Besides taking his daughter to her troupe events, Guerrero also helps with the group’s activities.
“I believe personally that these girls need a strong male figure in their lives. A lot of our girls don’t always have that, and I don’t want our kids to grow up not knowing what a good male role model is,” says Guerrero.