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With her American Heritage Girls troop, Amy is ‘Empowering girls to find out who they are as daughters of God’
Amy Parish, troop coordinator for the American Heritage Girls (AHG) troop based at Old St. Patrick’s Parish in Ann Arbor, knows firsthand the impact that faith and fellowship can have on girls and young women – precisely because her own life changed dramatically as a teen due to the witness of friends who showed her the beauty of the Catholic Church.
Raised in a large family, Amy was a Girl Scout who loved going to her family’s Protestant church. “My grandmother was a Bible-based woman and a huge influence in my life. In eighth grade, I started going to Mass with friends, and I had a close and personal encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist. I went home and asked to be Catholic, but my mom said no. I waited until I was 18, and came into the Church then. It was easy for me to accept the Church because it started by believing in Jesus in the Eucharist. Because I knew it was God’s Church, I was comfortable with all of it. It just seemed right, like coming home – and it still feels like home.”
Amy and her husband met in eighth grade, grade. They both attended Penn State University. After they married, they moved to Michigan and have been blessed with nine children. Because she had always been involved in Scouting herself, the couple’s older kids were Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. While Amy appreciated the values and adventure of Scouts, the faith that was at the core of their family was missing from the Scouting experience.
“A friend of mine had started AHG in Grass Lake and was encouraging me and my daughter, who was 8 at the time, to come along. I was working full time, so I couldn’t always be a part of it, but Mary would go, and I’d go when I could. My next daughter was going to join and they needed leaders, so I committed to doing it and helped out another mom with the troop that year.” It didn’t take long for Amy to realize she had found something that could have a huge impact on both her and her daughters.
“AHG is Christ-centered, and the mission is bringing girls up as women of integrity to follow Christ and all of the things that could mean to them. In addition to faith, there is a strong emphasis on country, community and service. The first troop we were a part of got too big for the space, so a friend and I started another troop with 10 girls. Soon, the number of girls in the troop tripled. While we are not exclusively Catholic, we pray with and hand out religious medals, we focus on the saints, and we do quite a bit of pro-life work with various agencies.
“AHG is a wonderful experience for moms supporting each other in the way we are raising our children, all while trying to give girls a place where they can share their Catholic faith in a lot of different ways. We have so much fun baking, sewing, horseback riding and camping, but we also do a lot of service and we participate in the community. It’s fun to teach the girls new things. We run the gamut from engineering badges to skiing badges. We’ve made rosaries, served with St. Paul Street Evangelization, listened to St. Gianna Molla’s daughter speak, gone to summer camp, stuffed bulletins at the parish, attended Mass at the nursing home, helped with the flag ceremony for Veterans Day and so much more. It is a great adventure.”
In the midst of all of the adventure, Amy says the best part about AHG is growing in faith right alongside the girls. “What is most fun is to experience the faith through the girls. One of them had never been to eucharistic adoration before. Every year, we have a lock-in and the last night during adoration one of the girls expressed that she didn’t know what to do. I told her to simply kneel down, be quiet and let Jesus talk to you. She looked at me and smiled and said, ‘I think I can do that,’ and it ended up being a great experience.”
With her own daughters, Amy says the impact of AHG is immeasurable. “My daughter Mary, 16, is the oldest girl in the troop. She is working on ideas for her Stars & Stripes (equivalent to Eagle Scout status). The older girls have a unique role in teaching and leading the younger kids. Their badges require them to teach skills to the younger girls and to really step up as leaders. For me to stand back and watch them do that well, or even fail in some things along the way, those are ‘proud Mom’ moments.
“To realize that you’re empowering girls to find out who they are as daughters of God with strengths and weaknesses is such a gift. They may say they don’t like to camp, or to speak or to sing, but they try it. Ultimately, they realize that all of the things we do are for the Church or for Christ – we try to represent Christ to other people. Nothing is more spiritually rewarding.”
The mission of the American Heritage Girls is “building women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country.” To find out more, visit www.americanheritagegirls.org.