When Wren Thornton was a small child, her family served as a foster family for the Cullman County Department of Human Resources (DHR). She remembers some of her foster brothers and sisters needing clothing and shoes and, how her mom learned to keep extras on hand.
Later, when there was a foster shoe closet remaining in her home, Wren decided to plan a donation. First she decided to add to their number, and after three years she had accumulated 400 pairs of new and gently worn shoes. Wren thought about collecting shoes for one more year, but then the tornado hit Cullman. She knew that they would be needed this year. “It was just the right thing to do,” said the 14-year-old St. Bernard Prep student, who just started the eighth grade.
In honor of the 100th birthday of Girl Scouting, and the beginning of her own tenth year in scouting, Wren set up a 6x50-foot display for her shoe store in the driveway of her home, with the help of her twin brother, Will. On Friday, Aug. 13, local foster parents and workers from DHR arrived to shop for the children in their care. Two hundred pairs of children’s shoes were immediately claimed, with the rest going into DHR and foster family reserves. “We ‘shopped’ for shoes for 51 children,” said and excited but tired Wren. “They were each given more than one pair. Some children also needed church shoes or boots. We gave each a couple of pairs in the next size up so that they could get through the year despite of their growing feet,” she laughed.
The foster parent closet at DHR was restocked with an additional 200 pair for dispersal as needed. “We didn’t have enough adult sizes for the older children,” Wren lamented. “I hope Santa remembers them at Christmas.” By Monday morning, every single pair of shoes was given out or stored in the closet at DHR.
When asked if she plans to make this an annual event, Wren grinned, “No. My mom wants her attic back. It took me three years to do this project,” she explained. “I’m hoping that it will make more adults aware of the needs of these children, and they will think to help them at the beginning of the school year, not just at Christmas.”
During her project, Wren discovered that many of the DHR workers, who had done double duty working during the tornado, had also been Girl Scouts. “Girl Scouting teaches you to have both skills and a servant’s heart,” said Wren’s mom, Dr. Nancy Thornton. “As a Girl Scout, Wren has learned courage, confidence and character.”
In the process of donating these shoes to DHR, Wren learned that the DHR director, Catherine Denard, was also a Girl Scout. “She is a really wonderful leader, and I loved getting to meet and work with her,” said Wren. “It just must have been meant to be.”
Denard was just as complementary of Wren. “It is my understanding that one of the key elements of the Girl Scouts is service. I think that this young lady showed that one person can make a big difference when we look for ways to serve our community. If this young lady can do it, then we all should look for ways to make a difference,” she said.
Wren has been active in scouting since she was four-and-a-half years old. She is a cadette member of Flex Troop 1150 in Cullman, led by Tiffany Whitesell. Wren attends First United Methodist Church. She participates in gymnastics and serves as a varsity cheerleader at St. Bernard Preparatory School. Her next long-term Girl Scout goal is to earn her Gold Award, the equivalent of Eagle Scout. This would be a legacy, since both her mother and grandmother have earned that award. Her father and twin brother are also active in Boy Scouting.
Scouting has given Wren opportunities to travel, which is one of the things she loves most about the experience. “I met another Girl Scout in a café in Paris. You meet sister scouts worldwide. It’s cool,” she smiled. Her favorite trip was to Savannah, Ga. “My troop visited the Juliette ‘Daisy’ Gordon Low birthplace (built in 1860) in downtown Savannah,” she said. “It was at the Gordon house in 1912 that Girl Scouting got started in America. We were able to see Daisy's home and try on clothing in the style of that time. After we got our corsets off we went to eat at Paula Deen's restaurant. I don't think we could have done both at the same time. Those corsets were a killer,” she said.
The Thornton’s are excited to be helping with the Girl’s Scouts 100th anniversary celebration this year. For a century, Girl Scouting has given every girl access to life-changing experiences that inspire her to do something big and exciting. Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama (GSNCA) is a United Way community partner and serves more than 15,000 girls ages 5-17, and 5,000 volunteers in programs across 36 counties. Girl Scouts have fun while learning. Through the Girl Scout leadership experience, girls have opportunities to travel all over the country and internationally, explore science and technology, learn about finances and a healthy lifestyle, and build valuable leadership skills. The Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama (GSNCA) offers age-appropriate programs with real experiences that prepare Girl Scouts for all aspects of life. Girl Scout experiences are also, as much as possible, girl-led and encourage learning by doing. The Girl Scouts also teach incentive, which is probably where Wren got the ability to conceive and carry out her shoe store idea. She collected the shoes, sized and arranged them, and helped people to find just what they needed the day of the sale.
Wren felt good about the way her project turned out, knowing that her idea and hard work helped so many people. “I had that good feeling I get when I do something just because it is the right thing to do,” she said softly.
Wren has another project in mind but can’t talk about it yet. She did give us a hint, though. “It will be called, ‘When Pigs Fly’,” she laughed. “My idea came out of a problem I watched after the tornado. Sometimes grownups don't play nicely. I hope to help them solve a problem for years to come.”
Any girl age 5-17 can have opportunities like these by registering to be a Girl Scout. The Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama invite girls of all ages in Cullman to join. Girl Scouting is one of the most affordable extracurricular activities for girls, at only $12 a year for membership. Scholarships are also available for registration fees and uniforms. Books and uniform costs vary according to age level, but are usually a one-time cost estimate of $40 to $50. Each troop determines their dues.
Wren and her fellow Girl Scouts do a lot of interesting and fun activities throughout the year. The next thing they are looking forward to is coming up on Saturday, Aug. 27, when the Cullman Girl Scout leaders will hold a “Solving Mysteries” event at Living Faith Church in Good Hope, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Parents and girls will “unlock” some mysteries, including the use of fingerprinting, taught by a local police officer. Girls will complete several activities toward the earning of a Marvelous Mystery Badge (fourth- and fifth graders) or Marvelous Mystery Try-It (second- and third graders). New troops will be forming and current troops will be present to answer questions and provide meeting times and locations.
GSNCA is in need of troop leaders and other volunteers. Adults over 19, both male and female, can help with programs, lead troops, volunteer with events, serve on committees, and help at camp or work with girls virtually. This fall, there is a special need for volunteers to help with a NASA grant teaching robotics to middle school girls.
To learn more about the Girls Scouts and how you can become involved, call 800-734-4541; visit www.girlscoutsnca.org/girlscoutsrock or contact your local staff member, Jennifer Parker at 256-620-0828 or email@example.com.
A great way to serve children in our community is to become a foster parent, volunteer or mentor. Interested individuals can call Cullman County DHR at 256-737-5300.