Centre County Girl Scout sails across the Great Lakes through Girl Scout Destinations trip

By Catherine Amoriello

Local Girl Scout events, activities, and camps are fun, don’t get us wrong. But by participating in Girl Scout Destinations, Cadettes, Seniors, and Ambassadors can maximize their Girl Scout experience with extended travels both domestic and abroad.

Senior Girl Scout Josephine in front of the US Brig Niagara.

Fourteen-year-old Senior Girl Scout Josephine from Centre County broadened her horizons this past summer through a Girl Scout Destinations sailing excursion.

“I wanted to encourage her to push herself. I want her to expand and be brave and take on things she might have thought she couldn’t do on her own,” said Michelle Varrassa, Josephine’s mother.

In July 2022, Josephine joined 14 other Girl Scouts from across the country to sail Lake Erie on the US Brig Niagara, one of only four remaining ships from the War of 1812.

“I really like history, so it was really cool to sail on the Niagara. I’d never done any sailing before so it looked really fun and you get to meet Girl Scouts from all over the country,” Josephine said of why she chose to participate in the Girl Scout Destination trip.

Josephine and her crewmates boarded the ship in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 9 and disembarked in Erie, Pa., on July 24. The crew sailed across Lake Erie and Lake Huron with adventures at Put-in-Bay, Ohio; St. Clair, Mich.; and Alpena, Mich., during their two-week long adventure.

The route the US Brig Niagara took on the sailing excursion. The orange arrows indicate the crew’s departure route; the blue arrows indicate their return route.

“Girl Scouts has afforded her such great opportunities. I wouldn’t have put her on the trip if it wasn’t through Girl Scouts.”

Michelle Varrassa, Josephine’s mother

But the Destination trip was no vacation. It was a college-level education experience that saw Josephine and the other participants became full members of the sailing crew. From hauling a 12 ft. anchor out of the water, to cleaning the decks with a fire hose, to sleeping in hammocks, the girls were expected to learn and participate in all aspects of life and work on a ship. They even learned to climb up the mast of the ship to bend down the sails and conduct night watches.

“It was challenging to do watches because you had to stay up and stay standing for roughly four hours at a time,” Josephine said.

While Josephine was immersed into life on the water, Varrassa faced her own challenges at home as a parent.

“It was challenging sending her out on her own, letting her do her own money management for the first time, allowing her to do and navigate everything independently. We also didn’t have much communication during the program,” Varrassa said.

Josephine returning to the ship after a swim in Put-in-Bay.

By the end of the trip, Josephine had become a full-fledged sailor with newfound knowledge, independence, and confidence. Upon returning to the mainland to meet her family, Varrassa could visibly see the impact the trip had on her daughter and the value in Girl Scout Destinations.

Josephine controlling a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), an underwater machine commonly used to explore ocean depths.

“Picking her up at the port, I could just see how much she had grown up, matured, and learned how to be part of a team,” Varrassa said. “The Destinations are just organized so well and give rare opportunities for girls to participate in activities they wouldn’t do anywhere else.”

As for Josie, she’s already planning ahead for another Girl Scout Destination experience that will hopefully take her overseas.

“It’s a fun and unique experience you wouldn’t get to do anywhere else,” Josephine said.  “I would like to do this again, but I’d like to do an international one. Going international would be really fun.”

Interested in learning more about Josephine and her Girl Scout Destinations experience? Register for the Virtual Volunteer Conference (VVC) and hear Josephine share her Girl Scout story as a member of our all-girl panel!

Catherine Amoriello is a Marketing and Communications Coordinator specializing in writing and editing for Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania. Reach her by email at camoriello@gshpa.org.

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