Judy Zemeske has been involved with local Cub, Boy and Girl Scout troops for more than a decade, but she recently joined forces with a new organization.
Zemeske, of Libertyville, started Lake County's first American Heritage Girls troop nine months ago. American Heritage Girls was founded in 1995 as a Judeo-Christian not-for-profit group for girls ages 5 to 18. The organization partners with the Boy Scouts and allows girls to earn merit badges, like "Outdoor Skills" and "Our Flag."
American Heritage Girls is definitely faith-focused, added Zemeske.
"There's a real mix of what we do, but it is a faith-centered program," she said. Students can earn a "Daughter of the King" badge, for example, and must be able to recite the group's oath to join: "I promise to love God, to cherish my family, to honor my country and to serve my community."
Zemeske said meetings open with a prayer and a devotion, and close with a prayer.
"We're very firm that we will recognize God," she said.
So far, Lake County's American Heritage Girls troop has 27 members ages 5 to 12. Zemeske said what's great about the troop is that it's a mix of ages and grade levels. Plus, a third of the troop members are home-schooled, "so we're meeting people we otherwise wouldn't meet."
The girls recently went on an overnight campout and learned about a variety of activities, including geocaching, Dutch oven cooking and pocketknife skills.
The troop also competed in a pinewood derby in February.
"We made this a family event and added a sibling heat and a parent heat," said Zemeske. "Most troop members had never heard of a pinewood derby. We organized a session in which the girls sanded and painted their own cars. Some used glitter and paint. Their dads were very excited that we were doing this."
Zemeske said the Lake County troop meets twice a month at Trinity Community Church on Winchester Road in Libertyville. Troop members come from towns like Grayslake, Highland Park, Libertyville, Mundelein, Round Lake and Vernon Hills. To get more information about joining, contact Zemeske at 1-847-549-9654 or by email at email@example.com.