Littleton parish starts first American Heritage Girls program in metro area
By Julie Filby
American Heritage Girls
Photo by James Baca/DCR
Last fall St. Mary Parish and School in Littleton started the first troop of American Heritage Girls in the Denver metro area. AHG is an extracurricular, faith-based scout program for girls 5-18 where they learn service, teambuilding and leadership.
“It’s been going very well,” said Mary Beth Bonacci, director of evangelization, catechesis and family life at the parish. “We’re starting to get a lot of attention and inquiries from parishes and other denominations about starting a troop.”
The mission of AHG is to build “women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country.” The nonprofit was founded in Ohio in 1995 by parents, some former Girl Scouts, who were disillusioned with the increasing secular focus of existing organizations for girls.
“We were growing increasingly wary of the Girls Scout organization,” said Bonacci. “Our Girl Scout leaders have always been wonderful and faithful in teaching our girls, but we were finding it more and more problematic to affiliate with the organization.”
Some parents, as well as leadership in the St. Mary community including pastor Father Alvaro Montero, D.C.J.M., became concerned about information accessed via the GSUSA website including links on how the organization deals with sexuality, “choice,” sex education and reproductive issues.
“The main difference (from Girl Scouts) is that the AHG program is completely Christ-centered,” Bonacci explained. “It’s important to give the girls a program that’s centered in God, where the projects and service all flow from the girls’ relationship with him.”
Last year Bishop James Conley, apostolic administrator of the Denver Archdiocese, addressed the growing number of concerns he received from Catholic parents and youth ministers (“The good about Girl Scouting, and a caution,” Denver Catholic Register, June 1, 2011).
“Scouting and the Church have always had, and hopefully will continue to have for many years, a very positive relationship,” he wrote. “But parents … have every right to insist that their beliefs, especially their moral and religious beliefs, be respected—not undermined—by the organizations to which they entrust their children.”
Scout leader and mother of two school-age daughters, Karyn Byrne, was involved in the process of dissolving Girls Scouts at St. Mary’s and transitioning to AHG.
“It was hard for some (parents), perhaps they were Girl Scouts as well,” Byrne said. “But it’s not the same organization as 30 years ago … and they understood that.”
Nearly 50 girls, kindergarten through fourth grade, meet once a month after school. They start with a flag ceremony, followed by the AHG oath and creed, then a group prayer before breaking up by grade level. They earn badges, perform service projects and enjoy outdoor experiences.
“There’s a wide variety of badges the girls can earn from areas including outdoor skills, family living, science, arts and technology,” Byrne said. “For example, our fourth-grade unit is learning about geocaching.”
The troop’s first community service project was a coat and clothing drive for Catholic Charities’ Samaritan House shelter in downtown Denver.
“It was a huge success,” said Byrne. “With our parish and school community, we collected over 750 winter coats, hats, gloves and scarves.”
While St. Mary’s troop consists of girls from kindergarten through fourth grade, the national program accommodates young women up to 12th grade.
“We hope to grow in the future to include all the grades,” she said, adding that the program is open to any girl in the parish, school or surrounding community.
“We’re so happy we made the switch,” said Bonacci. “I highly recommend it.”