FORT WAYNE — Founded in 1995 in Cincinnati, Ohio, American Heritage Girls (AHG) is a faith-based character development program dedicated to the mission of building women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country. AHG girls across the nation and the globe participate in badge programs, service projects, leadership opportunities and outdoor experiences.
Since its beginning, AHG membership has grown by 30-50 percent each year. AHG will exceed 30,000 members by the end of 2013. American Heritage Girls is currently chartered in 74 dioceses. To date, there are 155 AHG Catholic troops, reported Jody Token, the national public relations coordinator of American Heritage Girls.
“The Catholic denomination is now our fastest growing membership in the AHG programs,” she added.
In the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, there are active charters at St. Pius X, Granger, and St. Vincent de Paul, Fort Wayne. There is another charter at St. Anthony Parish in South Bend.
The St. Vincent AHG Troop IN3712 has been in existence nearly three years now and although their numbers have changed since their inception, Troop Coordinator Pam Leach is very pleased with their current membership of 45.
“We are growing and have a very committed group,” Leach told Today’s Catholic.
The strongest concentration of the pack is presently the “tender hearts” — young girls in the first, second and third grades.
Because the group is more streamlined now, they are able to meet as a whole unit and hold their meetings at the Scout Lodge in Fort Wayne on the first and third Tuesday of each month.
Leach explains, “This makes it much easier for families with more than one daughter involved.”
The service-oriented organization recently celebrated their national organization’s 18th birthday in a special way, which benefited two local charities. During the evening of Sept. 18, the troop made 333 pounds of laundry detergent for the Community Harvest Food Bank, packed six bulk-sized boxes of pretzels and prepped lunch sacks for The Franciscan Center. They also made mats for the homeless using plastic grocery sacks along with collecting food and health items.
“Service is the practical expression of a girl’s faith,” says AHG Executive Director and Founder Patti Garibay. “Watching girls grow in their faith and discover their God-given purpose through the development of servant hearts is the greatest achievement of AHG.”
Some of the many other events the St. Vincent group has been involved with have included camping outings, lock-ins and father-daughter evenings. They are currently planning a mother-daughter night on the town in Fort Wayne with a gingerbread theme during the holidays along with an archery-themed event in conjunction with the showing of the movie “Brave.”
Leach feels it is important for families to create a less stressful, quieter environment with less “running” and busyness in today’s culture, and the activities like scheduling “unscheduled time” during the lock-ins help the girls and their families to do this.
The troop also includes prayer as an important part of their meetings — praying not just for the development of their servant hearts, but often with the special intention of things like the young members’ future spouse.
AHG’s largest fundraiser is the annual Patriot 5K, which is set to take place in the spring of 2014 at Solomon Farm. The troop also sells flowers and vegetables to assist members with various things like camping fees and other costly expenses. Leach is especially fond of the camping trips, “It is such a neat learning curve for non-camping families and a great bonding experience.”
Although the troop is open to all faiths, Leach explains, “We tell interested members we are Catholic based. I feel we do a good job of letting people know about the Catholic faith in a quiet, evangelizing way.”
Recently AHG invited other churches to participate in an event which involved the Stations of the Cross and gave out Catholic medals to all who participated.
“Many times we are sharing our faith with girls of other faiths or those with no faith at all,” Leach added.
St. Pius’s troop
At St. Pius X Parish, in Granger, Lois Horvath coordinates the American Heritage Girls Troop IN0328. She reported that troop, entering its second year, has 19 girls.
The girls have visited Hannah and Friends, founded by Maura and Charlie Weis, that works to improve the quality of life for children and adults with special needs. The girls played games and interacted with the people in the program. Horvath said it made the girls realize how much they have in common with the people at Hannah and Friends.
Other service projects included bussing tables at the Knights of Columbus fish fries and Christmas caroling at an assisted living facility.
The troop is made of predominantly young girls at the “tender hearts” level, and Horvath hopes that as the girls grow through the different levels of American Heritage Girls to the “pioneer” and “patriot” levels, they take on leadership roles. These girls lead, run and choose activities for the troop.
“What I like about American Heritage Girls is that it fosters family life,” Horvath noted. Although the girls have campouts and activities that are limited to the girls, there are occasional family camps, such as one coming up at the Gene Stratton-Porter Historic Site.
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