By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
For approximately a decade Wilma Ballard has led and mentored more than 100 girls from the Bluewell, Bramwell and surrounding areas as a troop leader with the Girl Scouts of America.
“I started when my granddaughter wanted to be a scout, but there was no troop in Bluewell,” Ballard said. “I started it at Bluewell Elementary. Pastor Milam at the Bluewell Baptist Church let us use his building to meet because the school often had to close for snow days or holidays and other things. So, we’ve been meeting here for the past seven years.”
Though she founded the troop in Bluewell 10 years ago, Ballard’s own experience with the scouts goes back even further.
“I was in the scouts myself around 50 years or so ago, and I loved it,” Ballard said. “I got into scouts when a lady from the neighborhood came door-to-door and asked parents if they wanted their girls to be in scouts. She had a troop and we would meet at her home. Our parents would drop us off there and then pick us up when the meeting was done. Our troop leader had a station wagon and she would pick us up or take us home if we needed a ride. I always thought it was funny she was a Girl Scout leader because she had all boys.”
Ballard said being in Girl Scouts taught her lessons she still uses today.
“There wasn’t as much to do then as there is for scouts to do now, but we camped and did a lot of activities,” Ballard said. “When we went to scouts, it was like going to a party. I thought I was just having fun, but looking back, I learned so much from Girl Scouts. I learned about nature, etiquette and culture.”
When she was in scouts, Ballard said camping out was her favorite activity.
“I liked the camping the best,” she said. “Back then, we had to dig our own latrine and our tents were blankets over a limb. We cooked out and we learned about nature. I loved the campfire at night when all the girls would sing. We still kick off every year with a campfire and that is always so neat.”
Ballard’s own daughter was a scout and now two of her granddaughters are in her Bluewell troop.
“My daughter was in scouts and I have two granddaughters in scouts,” she said. “One is 10-years-old and the other is 17. She is going to be a senior in high school. She does a lot of things in the community and works to organize things for the younger scouts. She often takes on a sister buddy if there is a younger girl struggling with something. She is the big sister to the troop. She works behind the scenes a lot. Any money she raises she gives to the girls to use, especially the girls who didn’t get as much. She is really a role model for the other scouts and her younger sister.”
Ballard said scouting shows girls what they can do in their community.
“In this area, especially, I think it is important for the girls,” she said. “There is a lot in the community to do and Girl Scouts provides a lot of opportunities for them. There is so much you can do in scouts, and we have some great leaders here. I think more girls should get in scouts. We have quite a few troops in our area. I think girls not in a troop should join one to see what is available in their community and in their school. We need more parents to get involved too. People say there is nothing to do here and that you have to move away to do anything, but they haven’t really looked at what is here.”
For many, Ballard said scouting gives them a much needed boost of confidence.
“One of things we do is — and a lot of people don’t know this — is we sell candy and nuts at the start of the year,” she said. “This is the first opportunity for these girls to see what they can do for themselves. They gain confidence. The shyest little girls are usually the ones who get so excited and it gives them confidence. They go to their families to sell these things and really get into it. The girls who are hyper and outgoing learn to help their sister scouts come out of their shells.”
Ballard said there are a wide variety of things girls learn in scouts.
“They learn manners. They learn to help each other. They learn respect,” she said. “They learn when one person is speaking you have to listen or you will miss something important or something you wanted to know. They learn respect and to help out in their community. Our girls collect pop cans and recycle them. They use the proceeds from that to buy food for the animals at the shelter. They give the pop tabs to the Shriner’s or to the Ronald McDonald House. We did ‘Make it Shine’ in Bramwell this year, worked at Yakety Yak playground doing clean up and will be doing the clean up in Bluewell that is coming up. If you learn these things now, you retain it as an adult.”
Ballard and her troop visit a wide variety of places across the two Virginias as part of their scouting activities.
“They made apple cider, went to the Indian Village and went to the Carousel Horse Farm,” she said. “We want to go into a coal mine this year to see what their dads do. I have a lot of coal miners’ daughters in the troop. I love taking them on trips, but I also like the one-on-one interactions.”
While she teaches them skills, Ballard said her scouts have taught her things as well.
“They love to dance and sing songs, so we incorporate that a lot into things we do,” she said. “The girls have taught me dances like the macarena and the cha-cha slide. I taught them the Charleston, the washing machine and the mashed potato. I loved that and seeing them enjoy themselves. We have hula-hooped to music, done the limbo and jump roped to music. We took them to Zumba and they loved it. The moms went as well and now the moms and girls are going to Zumba together. Exercise and making them feel good about themselves is important. We don’t want them to feel like they can’t do something. We want them to give everything their all.
Hard work is another value instilled in the girls.”
“These girls work to pay for trip and for their uniforms,” Ballard said. “They girls don’t have to work to pay for them, but they want to. They take pride in saying they raised the money and paid for their sash and everything themselves.”
Ballard said she is proud to see how her former scouts have succeeded in life.
“I think the best thing for me to see is the things we do in Girl Scouts help them succeed in life,” she said. “Some of my former scouts are nurses and dental technicians. They come back and tell me how important scouts was to them, how it helped them recognize how much they could do. I like seeing them succeed. I have had one who came back and now works in a nursing home and is getting her nursing degree. She told me she wouldn’t have done it if we hadn’t gone to visit a nursing home when she was in scouts. Another became a veterinarian because of our visits to the animal shelter where we would walk and feed the dogs and cats.”
Additionally, Ballard said it is important for the next generation of scouts to see previous Girl Scouts who have been successful.
“I want these girls to be successful, well-rounded young ladies,” she said. “I think this shows the girls what other scouts have accomplished. There are not enough heroes to look up to now. When they see older scouts who have gone on to be successful, it shows them they can accomplish their goals. They feel they can do it. These kids hear a lot of negativity growing up and scouts teaches them not only to do things that are fun but to help them succeed. It makes them feel good about themselves. They need a chance to just be kids. When they are in scouts, they have an hour-and-a-half to just do happy, fun things. They don’t have to worry about all the outside pressures kids face.”
Seeing the happiness on the girls faces is Ballard’s favorite part of leading the troop.
“I love seeing them smile and laugh,” she said. “When those girls come through that door they hug me. That let’s me know I’m doing right. I love their warmth. We adults need that to. We need to have someone who is happy to see you and love you. This is like my family, like my children. There are 165 girls over the past 10 years who have come through this troop. When I think about that, I realize there are that many people who’s lives I have touched and I am still in regular contact with most of them.”
Most of all, Ballard said she hopes the girls in her troop look back on their scouting days as fondly as she does her own.
“I hope these girls are confident in themselves and happy with the things they have learned,” Ballard said. “I hope they feel they had the love and support they needed as a child, that they were happy. I want them to walk away as well-rounded, happy young ladies.”
— Contact Kate Coil at