For Service Unit volunteers, planning a Journey Weekend (or even a Journey in a Day) can be a daunting task. Not only is your troop doing a wide variety of activities to earn multiple badges and meet the Journey requirements, but there are also budgets to keep, volunteers to recruit and train, materials to gather, and so much more. Despite these challenges, the pay-off of a successful Journey Weekend is far-reaching. Girls who attend Journey Weekends come away rich with experiences in learning, growth, and badge-earning. They’ve made new friends outside of their troops, they’ve pushed themselves to try new things, and they had a great time while doing it. With this handy guide, plus support from your Service Unit Event Managers and volunteers, you can run a Journey Weekend that girls will remember for years to come.
As any good Girl Scout knows, nothing can be done without preparation. So when it comes to Journey Weekends, preparation is your biggest ally in ensuring that your event runs smoothly and everything gets done that needs to be done.
As most Service Unit volunteers (especially Program Support Managers) know, the first step to planning a Journey Weekend is filling out your Plan for Success, which is due to your Volunteer Experience team contact (usually a Volunteer Development Manager) by June 30 for the following year. With your Plan for Success, you can get started on fleshing out the basic details of your event—location, age-level, and event type (Outdoors, 5 Skills, STEM, or Life Skills). These questions will act as your baseline for where you should get started with your Journey event.
Part of this is deciding which Journey to actually run for your girls. Do they want to Think Like An Engineer, or dive into nature with It’s Your Planet—Love It? A great place to start is to look at your current slate of Service Unit events. Find the types of events that you are not running, look at the ages of girls you are mostly serving, and use that to inform the type of Journey that you choose.
In October 2018, GSNorCal ran an Outdoor Journey Weekend at Camp Bothin in Marin County, where Juniors and Brownies earned all three of their outdoor badges and brainstormed the beginnings of their Take Action awards. Although this was a large undertaking, with the help of volunteers and staff the girls had an amazing weekend at camp. They hiked, learned, earned their First Aid badge, did outdoor cooking, and sang camp songs around the fire. This event was planned and executed by Council staff, but the templates for it will soon be online in the Volunteer Learning Portal. Look out for updates and emails from council staff so that you can bring it to girls in your Service Unit!
Delegate, Delegate, Delegate!
Every volunteer plans and runs their events differently, but all of them need a dedicated team of helpers and supporters. The key to running a successful Journey Weekend is to keep that team of volunteers informed of their roles, duties, and expectations. Need someone to facilitate a First Aid badge workshop? Reach out to your service unit team and leaders—you may find someone willing to donate a few hours. Need a hiking leader who can confidently lead girls while teaching them about conservation for the Eco-Camper and Hiker badges? Look at folks around you who love to take their girls outdoors and tap them to help. Make sure you ask people to help who you know can handle the fast moving, concentrated, and somewhat intense nature of running a Journey Weekend. Use the strengths of each person helping you so that they have a good experience as well and come back to help you at other events.
The key to keeping volunteers happy, especially while running large-scale and heavily structured weekends, is to support them as much as possible before the event itself so that they enter the event feeling empowered with knowledge and confidence. Set up a meeting one month, and again two weeks, before the event to dive deep into the rotation schedules. Send them copies of schedules that include where they will be at any given time, provide them with program plans of the workshops they’ll be running at least a week prior to the event so they can go over them, and show your appreciation for all the work they’re doing on behalf of the girls you all serve.
Planned to the Nines
Planning a Journey Weekend (especially if you are serving more than one age level) requires a lot of flexibility and creativeness on the part of the event manager who is tasked with pulling everything together. For the Journey Weekend last October, I found it useful to print out all of the badge requirements and look at activities that can overlap and be molded into one. Many activities in the Brownie Cabin Camper badge coincide with the Junior Camper and Eco-Camper badge, so I was able to blend them together so that girls of both age levels could participate in activities together while completing badge steps.
Creative planning and flexibility is key to ensuring you complete your required activities for your badges and that the girls get a great experience.
For each rotation or activity that you plan, create a separate tub or bag full of the required materials for the specific activity. With the Journey Weekend at Bothin, I packed these materials in the week leading up to the event, and let my volunteers know where these materials would be. This way, when it was time for them to run their assigned program, they could pick up their tub or bag and have everything ready when they needed to.
Organize, Be Flexible, and Don’t Forget to Have Fun
As event managers and folks who are passionate about program, it can become easy to get lost in the logistics of planning a Journey Weekend. Meals need to be planned and sleeping arrangements need to be made. There are last minute changes to the schedule, sometimes volunteers drop out…all of it can become overwhelming.
My biggest piece of advice is to remember that flexibility is key. As a Go-Getter, Innovator, Risk-Taker, and Leader (G.I.R.L) you are more than capable of handling any last minute surprise or obstacle that comes your way. At the end of the day, the goal of your event is to help every girl who attends not only complete badges, but make new friends, grow in her confidence and courage, and have a blast. Remember this when you are schlepping your program materials around the venue, are awake late into the evening refining tomorrow’s schedule, or dealing with one of the million surprises that happen in every program.
With these tips, a sharp eye towards detail, and a tough Girl Scout spirit, you too can run a Journey Weekend for your local girls that they’ll remember for years to come. Happy Girl Scouting!
What to do next:
- What Journey will you choose? Read more about the available Journey topics and what they are about.
- Learn from an experienced troop leader about how to plan a Journey in a Day, which you can scale into a whole weekend!
Gabi Reyes-Acosta—Gabi is a Program Manager for Girl Scouts of Northern California, where she works to create experiences and programs for girls to enrich their Girl Scouting experience. A graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California, Gabi has been a member of the Girl Scouts family since she was a Daisy (Girl Scouts of Central California South!). In college, Gabi found her passion for helping girls develop their leadership skills while having fun as she worked several summers as a camp staff member at Camp Bothin, and again during her years serving in AmeriCorps in Oakland. A lover of all things outdoors (there’s nothing better than songs and stories around the campfire), Gabi can usually be found in any Bay Area park, wilderness, or forest with her dog close behind.