In 1993, my life’s course changed, and I became a “woman interrupted.” God interrupted my life and called me to found a new organization for girls — the American Heritage Girls (AHG) — as a response to the major changes in direction of the Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA). His voice was clear as to the need for a God-honoring program that utilized some of the scout-type techniques that made the Girl Scouts an effective, transformative organization for generations of girls.
For 13 years prior to his calling, I served as an active volunteer in GSUSA, using my influence to share the gospel with my troop’s members in West Chester, Ohio. But when a decision had to be made as to whom I would serve, Abba Father was my clear choice.
In retrospect, God had prepared me for the journey upon which he had asked me to embark. He peppered me with leadership opportunities, instilled a love of country and youth in my heart, and gave me an inquisitive and determined mind. I didn’t have the educational background, financial resources, or experience to launch a nonprofit ministry, but God assured me he would provide all that I needed.
And so, as with many new ventures, it began with a perceived community need that sparked a founding idea and a vision of what could be. The other founders gathered around my kitchen table, bringing their ideas for the new organization and, together, we began creating the skeleton of a program. Passion ran high, producing quick results. American Heritage Girls was launched within 18 months of its conception.
The passion of many of those founders’ evaporated when roadblocks seemed to emerge everywhere. Without systems and processes in place, issues arose daily. The dream became an albatross around the necks of the few who remained. The mission of the new organization was contested. “God- honoring” was too broad, didn’t clarify the mission, and seemed to extend the tent too widely, resulting in confusion. There were daily theological challenges. A mission change was needed. As believers, our leadership team knew that confusion does not come from the Father, but from the adversary.
After a prayer-filled board retreat in the year 2000, five years after its founding, AHG made the bold step of proclaiming its program and goals as “Christ centered” — allowing churches and private schools to use the program to extend their reach to youth. This calling on the hearts of the board of trustees proved to be God-ordained. More people than ever before came forward to offer their talents in organizational management and training. New ideas arose from a more diverse community. And all the while, we were learning.
God allowed us to make small mistakes — skinned knees rather than face plants — that taught us valuable lessons. We made critical adjustments and our faithful Father blessed those changes. Passion was reignited. Prayer was a consistent element of all gatherings of volunteers and girls. Blessings of resources flowed to allow for paid staff — no longer was the operation led by unpaid friends or family members of the founder. Christ was blessing our obedience. During this time we grew from 100 girls to 10,000 girls.
Forty-five percent membership increases continue to be our new norm, and attempting to keep ahead of the growth is AHG’s current “modus operandi.” Today, I am working diligently on succession planning and building a bench of talent for AHG to enter its third decade of “building women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country.”
For me, challenges are no longer albatrosses, but opportunities for him to grow me into the leader he knows I can be. I have learned humility — my worth and my ability come from him alone. I have experienced the importance of unceasing prayer. I know that his plan is perfect and that he is faithful. I have learned to open every door God provides in faith and expectation, as he brings his followers to serve AHG with diverse talents and gifts.
Daily I see God’s love pouring out on other women and men as they, too, enjoy his divine interruption and call to ministry. And I, once a woman interrupted, am eternally grateful for God’s calling on my life, and I look forward to the future of American Heritage Girls and his eternally significant imprint on our nation’s daughters.
Patti Garibay is the founder and national executive director of American Heritage Girls, Inc. She has been married to her husband Pat for 34 years and is a mother to four grown children and grandmother of four precious boys. This post is an excerpt from the Fall 2013 edition of Outcomes Magazine.
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