By Kristina Houck
Dr. Lori Rappaport’s daughter is headed to college in the fall, but she has to say goodbye to more than one graduate. The Rancho Santa Fe resident and Girl Scouts troop leader recently hosted the final meeting of Troop 1109.
Seven of the troop members recently graduated high school. Two of them graduated last year and have completed their first year in college. Most of the members have been Girl Scouts since they were in kindergarten.
“There’s something about watching them grow up from kindergarten and seeing those shy, indecisive, nervous girls become so confident and so organized,” said Rappaport, a licensed clinical psychologist and former board member for Girl Scouts’ San Diego-Imperial Council. “I enjoy these girls so much. They’re just great girls. It’s going to be very odd not to have a troop.”
From backpacking adventures to movie nights, to trips to Disneyland and San Francisco, Troop 1109 has participated in a variety of social activities. But it was community service projects that the girls really enjoyed, Rappaport said.
“It was something that they all felt really passionate about and were happy to do,” Rappaport said. “It wasn’t a ‘check the box, this will look good for college thing.’”
For three years, the troop organized drives for clothing and toiletries for the homeless at St. Vincent de Paul Village. The scouts also enjoyed being mentors and often ran themed encampments for younger girls. From volunteering at local hospitals to feeding the homeless at local shelters, most of the girls also participated in community service activities outside of Girl Scouts.
Through service-oriented projects, the entire troop earned the Girl Scout Bronze Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout Junior can achieve, and the Girl Scout Silver Award, the highest award a Girl Scout Cadette can obtain.
To earn the Girl Scout Silver Award, the troop worked with the Women’s Resource Center in Oceanside, which provides counseling, shelter and education for North San Diego County women, children and men involved in or threatened by domestic violence or sexual assault.
For about two years, the girls held themed birthday parties every month for the children at the center’s 21-unit transitional living facility. The troop brought birthday gifts and party supplies. They also held drives and donated household and school supplies for the families.
“When you live in Rancho Santa Fe, you don’t really see life as life is,” said 18-year-old Isabella “Izzy” Leung, who graduated from The Bishop’s School and plans to study English and photography at Bard College. “It’s a very sheltered area.”
“I just feel so fortunate to have grown up where I’ve grown up, and to have had all the opportunities I’ve had,” said 18-year-old Rachel Marren, who graduated from Canyon Crest Academy and is headed to Rice University to study biology. “I know there’s so many people out there who haven’t had all that. I like doing a little something to make people’s day brighter.”
Three of the girls also earned the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting.
Marren renovated the general store at Seacrest Village Retirement Communities in Encinitas. Because many residents cannot drive, the shop is the only place where they can purchase items on short notice.
Marren coordinated volunteers to organize merchandise and helped employees manage inventory. The new general store gives seniors immediate access to products and increases the shop’s potential profitability.
“It was really cool experience,” said Marren, who has also volunteered roughly 300 hours in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Sharp Memorial Hospital. “I thought I could make a difference in the everyday lives of people who lived there.”
Kristen Weller, 18, helped restore a cactus habitat at San Dieguito River Park. Weller, who graduated from The Bishop’s School and plans to study political science and international relations at Boston University, worked with park rangers to clear nonnative brush and replant native plants.
Malia Rappaport, Lori Rappaport’s 18-year-old daughter, educated local elementary school students about disabilities through presentations focusing on tolerance and acceptance. The project stemmed from her work as a student leader with “I Am Norm,” a national campaign that redefines “normal” and promotes inclusivity.
Malia, who also created an “I Am Norm” club at Canyon Crest Academy, has presented at several conferences for “I Am Norm” and the Girl Scouts at Washington D.C.
“I want to change the way people think about inclusion so it just becomes second nature,” said Malia, a Canyon Crest Academy graduate who is attending San Diego State University in the fall.
In addition to participating in social events and community service activities, the girls have formed long-lasting friendships.
Celeste Calderon, an undeclared sophomore at Skidmore College, and Tessa Gruen, a child development sophomore at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, returned to Rancho Santa Fe for Troop 1109’s final meeting on July 14. Both 19-year-olds joined the troop in fifth grade after their first troop disbanded.
“Coming back, it feels the same,” Calderon said. “We just catch up and we’re all still friends. It’s nice to know that I have them there.”
“It’s good to have an outlet outside of your normal friend group,” Leung added. “It’s a group of people who are inspiring and support you. When you’re in high school, middle school and elementary school, it’s difficult to find a group of people who will genuinely be there for you.”
Already co-leader of her older daughter’s troop, Lori Rappaport became troop leader for Troop 1109 when Malia was in third grade. Her mother was a troop leader when she was in Girl Scouts as a child.
“I loved it,” Lori Rappaport recalled. “I really felt strongly about the mission of Girl Scouts, and I wanted my daughters to have the opportunities and ability to stay in Girls Scouts with a strong group. I guess I felt at the time I could ensure that by being a leader.”
Rappaport said many people believe Girl Scouts is an afterschool program that only offers arts and crafts, but that isn’t the case.
“There are incredible opportunities for these girls as they get older, and I think it’s a wonderful experience as a leader to have the chance to spend that time and see them grow and watch them develop their passions and what they want to do in life.”
Because of her Girl Scouts connections, Malia became involved with “I Am Norm” and has traveled to Washington D.C. on multiple occasions, Rappaport noted.
One of the other girls, Gruen, backpacked the Amazon rainforest with Girl Scouts from across the country the summer before she started 11th grade. During the two-week trip, the girls helped restore a small community.
“It was amazing,” Gruen said. “There were lots of bugs and it was really hot, but everyone was there because they loved to travel and do community service. … It prepared me to be more independent.”
Although most of the girls were a part of the troop from the start, Troop 1109 remained very inclusive, accepting any girl who wanted to join.
A Girl Scout since kindergarten, Clara Belitz, 18, joined the troop in 10th grade when her troop disbanded. Milan Ingwell, 18, and Rachel Barrales, 17, joined the troop when both of their families separately moved from Virginia to North San Diego County. Both graduates of Torrey Pines High School, Ingwell is headed to the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Barrales is going to the University of Miami.
“It was hard leaving my friends behind and hearing all the things that troop was doing,” Barrales said. “When I came here, it was really fun to meet the different girls. It helped with the transition.”
All of the girls thank Lori for leading their troop and helping them develop leadership skills.
“Lori really kept us together even though we went to different high schools and had very different and busy schedules,” Calderon said. “She was the glue that kept us together. She was able to reach out to us and guide us down a really good path.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better leader,” Malia said. “I wasn’t the kid who was content sitting around. I wanted to volunteer and have crazy adventures with the troop, make friends and lead people. She listened to what I said about that, what I wanted.”
“She’s an empowering person,” Gruen said. “She does a lot of work for the community. It’s really inspiring.”
Lori Rappaport encourages other parents of young girls to sign their daughters up for Girl Scouts and consider becoming troop leaders.
“I think of all the things that girls could do, Girl Scouts is probably one of the best experiences and prepares them for so many opportunities later in life,” Lori Rappaport said. “I would encourage any parents who have their girls in Girl Scouts or are considering joining Girl Scouts, or their troops might be falling a part, to step in and take [a leadership role].”