Helping Girl Scouts is top priority for Ronnie Winterich of Collinsville

When it comes to Ronnie Winterich and his volunteer work for the Girl Scouts, one thing — or in his case, a troop — led to another.

“I’ve been a Girl Scout since my oldest daughter was in first grade,” said Winterich, who lives in Collinsville. “I started her as Daisy and went down the path of being a volunteer parent. Our troop leader moved away, so I became the troop leader.

“Then I started a troop for my youngest daughter and there was another troop where their leader moved, so I was leader of three troops for a while. When our service unit manager’s daughter graduated, I replaced her as service unit manager. I also stepped in to be the treasurer.

Wearing multiple hats for the Girl Scouts, combined with a full-time job in St. Louis, doesn’t leave much free time for Winterich. But she didn’t want it any other way.

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“Finding parent volunteers is getting harder and harder because everyone is so busy,” Winterich said. “I took on multiple roles and ended up being the event coordinator when we tried to do different events each month. A lot of troops step in and put on an event at the service unit level.

“We have a food drive that we do every fall as a sock hop. We also have a dad-daughter dance and the troops are mobilizing to organize this event.

Another event Winterich helps organize each February is “World Thinking Day,” where participating troops pick a country and talk about their Girl Guides, who are the international equivalent of Girl Scouts.

“The girls talk about different things about the country and bring a food item that’s popular there for everyone to taste,” Winterich said. “The girls get a passport and get it stamped and learn about all the different countries.”

About six years ago, Winterich became a camp director, and every summer she runs a week-long day camp with the help of parent volunteers.

“We have between 70 and 150 girls and we choose a different theme each year,” Winterich said. “We have guests coming. World Bird Sanctuary teaches girls about their birds, and we have an astronomy club to teach girls about astronomy.

“We are also doing a progression where we teach the girls about safety, first aid and knots. We teach them to walk and identify things. We teach the seven principles of “Leave No Trace” to leave the Earth better than we found it. We also do fun things for Girl Scouts like crafts and learning about animals, and there was one night we went on a night hike and saw turtles laying eggs, which was the coolest thing. cool.

Winterich notes that volunteers are the lifeblood of organizations such as the Girl Scouts.

“The volunteers who have stayed with me over the years and the new ones we add every year are fantastic,” said Winterich. “We can’t run things like day camp without volunteers. We have become one big family and look forward to being there every year.

Winterich can’t imagine what life would be like for his daughters, 17-year-old Keira; and Zoey, 12; without their Girl Scout experiences.

“Scouting is important because girls experience things they’ve never done,” Winterich said. “It also allows them to develop skills that they can take with them into the future. Keira is a senior at Collinsville High School, but she is going to SWIC (Southwestern Illinois College) as part of their Running Start program.

“I think Scouting has helped her build her self-confidence and ability to take initiative. Keira had to step in and help me lead the girls, and the great thing about Girl Scouts is that you learn those skills and then progress to teach the younger girls how to do things.

As part of the Running Start program, Keira takes full-time classes at SWIC instead of taking classes in Collinsville. She also works full time in a kennel.

“She’s able to balance those things and she can participate in extracurricular activities in Collinsville, but since she works full time and joins clubs on campus at SWIC, that doesn’t leave her with a lot of extra time,” said Winterich.

Community service is a big part of being a Girl Scout, and Keira’s troop partners with Friends of Valley View Cemetery, a nonprofit group that cares for Edwardsville Cemetery.

“A lot of their family members are buried there and there was no maintenance to take care of them,” Winterich said. “Keira did her Silver Award there, where she helped with a cleanup project.

“She built six wooden bin enclosures and bought six brand new bins from them. For every flag holiday, like the 4th of July and Veterans Day, we would go there and put flags on every grave in the cemetery.

Selling Girl Scout cookies, of course, was another priority for Winterich and his troops.

“It has changed a lot over the years, partly due to COVID in recent years, but Girl Scouts have been flexible and adaptive to change,” Winterich said. “During the pandemic, we did a lot of things virtually, including school and scout meetings.

“Learning about the virtual world and how to interact and engage without being face-to-face is important. The cookie business is a business in its own right, and the girls do marketing, sales, managing the money and interacting with customers, it all builds confidence and getting the girls out and learning is also a great experience.

Winterich has worked as the director of retail and programs for KidSmart, a nonprofit organization based in Maryland Heights, Missouri, since February 1 of this year.

“KidSmart was started 20 years ago by a kindergarten teacher who saw a need,” Winterich said. “A lot of students are coming to school without the supplies they need, and especially this year with inflation impacting everything, a lot of parents are having to choose between paying the bills and paying for the food, and the supplies. may not be something they can afford to do.

“We serve schools that are at the 70% or higher poverty line to qualify for a free lunch and the majority of our schools are 100%. Our mission is to empower children by providing them with free essential tools for learning.

This summer, KidSmart launched its annual “Push for Pencils” campaign.

“Starbucks is one of our partners and we had 82 businesses that put out collection boxes, whether for their employees or their customers,” Winterich said. “They collected supplies for us and we were able to deliver them to schools.

“In August, we were able to provide over $1 million worth of supplies to teachers. Day one we had a big drive-in at Ballpark Village and day two we did the same at our apartment building. It was all from physical donations and/or cash donations and we took the opportunity to get great offers from different organizations for a fraction of the cost you would normally pay.

Winterich added that Walmart was another key KidSmart business partner.

“We had 18 local Walmart stores that allowed us to be there for a duty-free weekend and we were able to collect over 400,000 units of school supplies,” Winterich said.

KidSmart purchased a building in Bridgeton in 2019 with plans to renovate its free store, which is the largest in Missouri and serves the entire state. But the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily halted those plans.

“We raised the funds to complete the renovation and build the new free store, but due to inflation, we’re back to the drawing board,” Winterich said. “We are trying to raise funds to complete our renovation.

“Once we do, we will have a free 6,000 square foot store where teachers can pick up the supplies they need for their classroom. We are also working on a program where teachers can log in and order online and we will have a section of our warehouse dedicated to processing online orders to deliver to these schools.

Winterich worked in retail for 20 years before joining KidSmart and she finds that experience beneficial in her current job.

“I worked 15 years for Kohl’s, which is such a great company, and I loved my job there,” Winterich said. “I was the store manager in Edwardsville, but I did a lot of community service and I was approached by KidSmart and they talked about their mission.

“I felt that was where I needed to be because I’m able to help as many people as possible. At KidSmart we have a team of 10 people, five full-time and five part-time, and everything else is done through volunteering.

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