LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (FOX 5 Atlanta) - A Girl Scout troop in Lawrenceville is the first of its kind in Georgia to welcome girls of all ages and all abilities. The troop includes girls with autism and special needs, and all the girls work together to earn badges.
Troop leader Bridgette McNeal, who has two children with autism, said she did not want any young girl to feel excluded. "As a special needs parent, you really get used to those fliers coming home for clubs and groups and they really wouldn't be for my children, so it was really important to stress to our local area schools that girl scouts is for everyone," McNeal said.
A few months ago, she opened the troop up to all girls, and seemingly overnight, the troop grew from five to 26 girls.
"What I like most about our troop is that we let all levels of girl scouts in," said Brownie Girl Scout Tempe Elam.
For the girls with special needs and their families, this troop is a new beginning.
"When she gets to the meeting, she's happy about it," said Ana Martinez-Smith. Martinez-smith's daughter is non-verbal, but she said she's already seeing changes in her daughter's social interactions because of this troop. "To see her interact with the other girls, it's a big step for her," Martinez-Smith said.
"It makes me feel so relieved to know she has a place to go and she's accepted," said Retecher Nelson. Her daughter Kayla also has special needs.
The girls all play together and enjoy their time as one troop earning badges at the same time.
"It allows girls who wanna be in Girl Scouts but they have special needs, and I am happy about that because that means we are being kind and respectful," said Elam.
McNeal said she believes if you teach kids to be inclusive from the start, there will never be a question. She said it has been incredible to watch how well the girls get along.
"The bottom line is: they're just little girls. Little girls are little girls. They just want to play and have fun and do crafts and do activities," said McNeal. "If we just say 'Hey, we're a Girl Scout troop,' and we don't throw up those barriers and throw up those differences, and just say we're a Girl Scout troop, girls don't care. Kids aren't wired like that," said McNeal.
McNeal's troop does monthly troop events and several meetings, and if your child might be interested in joining, you can contact the troop at: GSTroop16537@gmail.com.