National Volunteer Week: Volunteer helps girls grow into leaders

photo by: Nick Krug

Volunteer Cris Bandle uses a miter saw to cut lengths of wood for an archery platform for campers on Saturday morning, April 9, 2016 at Lawrence Hidden Valley Camp, 3420 Bob Billings Parkway. In back is her husband, Jeff Bandle. Bandle says she has been involved with Hidden Valley Camp for about 15 years.

For Cris Bandle, Hidden Valley Camp is a tree-filled classroom on the corner of Bob Billings Parkway and Kasold Drive where girls can surround themselves with nature and learn some of life’s most important lessons: How to face your fears, solve problems, work with others and become self-sufficient.

If that seems like a tall claim to make for a few summer days spent learning how to start a campfire despite the wind, tie knots that really hold and brave sleeping out under the stars, Bandle has seen for herself that big life skills grow from seeds like these.

Bandle, who has volunteered with Girl Scouts since 1997, grew up in a DIY family that wasn’t afraid to take on big challenges, such as building their own house. In this real-life laboratory she discovered how to analyze problems and figure out solutions, then develop the skills and self-confidence she needed to get the job done, whether it was helping run electrical wire or laying insulation.

She’s nifty with a drill and other power tools, but one of the best skills Bandle gained from her upbringing, the one she works to impart to the girls she works with through scouting, is self-sufficiency.

“You learn how to do something yourself; you don’t wait for somebody to do it for you,” said Bandle, who is the office manager for Owens Flower Shop.

Bandle has held a long list of volunteer positions with the Friends of Hidden Valley, from board member to webmaster to event planner. She was selected as the organization’s 2015 Honor Bench Recipient, its highest volunteer award.

But no matter what kind of volunteer activity she’s engaged in, from canoeing and camping with a group of older scouts through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Superior National Forest to teaching day campers how to cook over a campfire at Hidden Valley Camp, her goals are the same. She wants to give girls a safe place to try something difficult and new, encourage them to stick with the task even if it becomes frustrating, and help them discover they are braver, more powerful and skilled than they ever dreamed.

These early life lessons learned outdoors become life game-changers for girls, Bandle said. For example, a little girl who doesn’t give up when trying to master a complicated knot develops resiliency and determination, and can grow into the adult who solves a complex challenge at work, she explained.

“All those things through Girl Scouts start at such a basic level. It gives them all the little experiences of trying new things, and they build on it,” Bandle shared. “They feel so much more confident in themselves as leaders. They are willing to try new things because they stepped out of their comfort zones, and they succeeded.”

— Micki Chestnut is the director of communications for the United Way of Douglas County.