Girl Guides, Scouts see surge in demand — but struggle to find volunteers
Parents are met by wait lists across B.C. and Canada for affordable, diverse programs for kids
East Vancouver mother Katherine Laurence wasn't expecting to become a volunteer leader when she tried to register her daughters last spring for Girl Guides programs.
Laurence's oldest daughter, now 10, had previously participated for a couple of years and was looking forward to returning after a short break to try other activities.
But when Laurence tried to register her and her younger sister, the girls were put on a wait list because the organization didn't have enough volunteers.
"I wanted to try to find a way to support the organization," Laurence said.
Despite no experience as a Girl Guide, Laurence stepped up to volunteer as a leader. She is one of many mothers who say they've had to donate their time so their daughters could take part in the programs.
But it's not enough. The B.C. Girl Guides say the organization is struggling to find enough volunteers to keep up with the surge in demand.
Diamond Isinger, provincial commissioner for the B.C. chapter of the Girl Guides, said she started the season last fall with more than 1,000 girls on wait lists across the province.
"We continually need to find new adult volunteers who have the time and the interest to volunteer," Isinger said.
Across B.C., there are 18,000 Girl Guide members, including adult volunteers.
The Girl Guides have updated their programming over the years to include more progressive activities, Isinger says, which has attracted more interest.
For Laurence, the draw of the Girl Guides is that it offers a diverse range of activities from outdoor camping to talks about healthy relationships and career development.
She says she also appreciates that the organization is girl-centred and is led by female volunteers.
"It's a really positive program for girls," she said. "My daughters just really enjoy it."
The organization is volunteer-led with relatively low overhead costs, so the affordable price tag — $175 for a full year of activities, with subsidies for those who need them — also appeals to Laurence.
'People are just busy all the time'
Scouts Canada, which similarly offers affordable programs that offer a range of activities year-round, says it also struggles to find volunteers despite growing demand.
AJ Mendes, youth coordinator for the Lower Mainland, says the problem has gotten worse across the country.
"People are just busy all the time now with social media and work," Mendes said.
As an incentive for volunteers, Scouts Canada offers leadership and skills training for those who donate their time, says Mendes.
For the Girl Guides, Isinger says the organization's volunteer recruitment focus has been on keeping opportunities flexible and low-demand.
Laurence says there are several volunteers who lead her daughters' troops and share the responsibility. As a result, she only needs to give about 10 hours a month of her time.
She attends every second meeting and occasionally helps arrange talks or put together crafts.
"It's something that I've appreciated the opportunity to put my time towards," she said. "Seeing the kids get the enjoyment out of it, it's worth it."
Women often think they need to offer special skills or have previously been part of the organization to volunteer, Isinger says, but that's not always the case.
"We are really just looking for empowering, passionate women that are willing to share their time and their skills," she said.