Volunteer Highlight: Erin Barwis

Erin Barwis wants prospective Girl Scout volunteers to know that you don’t have to have a five-year-old girl to get involved. She has been a Girl Scout for twenty-five years and has found value in each stage of her life; as a girl, teenager, and adult. “Girl Scouts has become a definition of who I am. There’s no separation from my professional and family life. It complements everything else that I enjoy to do,” Barwis said, describing her hobbies as camping, cooking, hiking, canoeing, and swimming.

She began her Girl Scout journey as a first-grader in legacy council Mitten Bay, now part of Girls Scouts Heart of Michigan. For six summers she served as part of the Governor’s Honor Guard on Mackinac Island. This program is still active today and allows girls to stay in barracks near Fort Mackinac for several weeks while performing various service tasks.

Barwis has also had many experiences at Girl Scout Camp. She served as the head lifeguard for two years at Camp Oak Hills and prior to realignment in Minnesota, served as the water front director at Camp Greenwood, assistant camp director at Camp Northwoods, and ran weekend skill-building programs with girls at Camp Rolling Ridges and Camp Lakamaga. She also became a trainer for legacy councils St. Croix Valley and Greater Minneapolis focusing on CPR/First-Aid, aquatics, and safety.

Currently she is a River Valleys facilitator and leads all four of the Beyond the Troop Modules and several popular enrichment sessions held at adult education conferences such as: Identifying Your Greatest Contribution, Girl Field Trip and Tour, Small Craft Safety, and Canoeing for Fun. Barwis recently developed curriculum for a new session called “Super Eats – Inclusive Cooking,” which focuses on various food needs such as cultural, gluten-free, and allergies. “At outdoor cooking sessions, I’d always get questions from leaders: ’I have two girls with peanut allergies,’ or, ‘I need recipe ideas.’ I saw leaders eliminating food altogether from programming, and I feel cooking is such an important part of learning to take care of yourself,” she said.

Barwis’s favorite session to lead is Girls Cook Out, showing participants that cooking outdoors encompasses much more than hot dogs and marshmallows. “I define success by helping other people learn more and get better at something they want to do,” she said, which is why being a facilitator comes so naturally to Barwis. She describes her facilitation style as “loose and to the point” and advises fellow facilitators to tailor their training sessions to the questions, struggles, and successes shared by participants.

Barwis recommends the facilitator role to other volunteers who want to strengthen their own skills and make a significant impact in Girl Scouting. “For every person trained, eight to 20 girls are impacted … It’s a powerful feeling,” she said. Besides facilitating training sessions, Barwis often serves as a special interest volunteer for troops looking for a lifeguard. She has also served on the Outdoor Conference Committee.