Cookies for conservation

The Wetlands Initiative recently had the pleasure of meeting Brownie Troop 21242, or as they call themselves, “The Rainbow Troop.” Inspired by their “WOW! Wonders of Water” curriculum, this troop of home-schooled seven- to nine-year-olds on Chicago’s North Side decided they wanted to donate a portion of their Girl Scout cookie sales to support wetland wildlife, and troop leader Charisse Antonopoulos contacted TWI through our Facebook page.

TWI doesn’t have an education program for children but senior environmental engineer Jill Kostel and development and communications assistant Julie Erdmann thought it would be fun to visit one of the troop’s regular meetings before cookie sales started. It seemed a perfect opportunity to get the next generation excited about wetlands and ecological restoration, and to thank them for their generous impulse. With some background from Charisse on what the girls had covered already, Jill and Julie devised some wetland-themed activities and games for the troop and set off to meet them on a February morning.

Brownies of the Rainbow Troop supporting TWI during their cookie sales.

The visit began with Jill introducing herself and describing what she does at TWI. To get the girls involved Jill asked them if they could name any wetlands, like lakes or ponds. Immediately a Brownie shot up her hand and said, “A vernal pool is a good example!” Needless to say, Jill and Julie were impressed—there are plenty of adults who don’t know what vernal pools are. These were some serious future ecologists.

The Rainbow Troop displays one of the many posters they created for their cookie sale booths.


During the lesson, Jill had the Brownies get in groups of two or three and then she passed around seven photos of different wetland types for the girls to identify. They were given a sheet of clues that indicated what traits each type of wetland has, such as shallow versus deep water or home to fish versus frogs, turtles, and birds. The girls worked together to match the clues with the right photo, and they were able to recite many of the wetland characteristics by the end of the visit.

Since the Brownies were particularly interested in wetland wildlife, Jill and Julie brought out TWI’s own wetland bird matching game. They were at the ready to give the girls clues if needed, but the Brownies continued to impress. One Brownie said, “I know this is a Red-winged Blackbird because I’ve seen them in my yard!” The girls ended the morning by working on their “Support the Wetlands” posters, which they decorated with snakes, raccoons, and other wetland creatures.

The homemade thank you card sent to TWI after Jill and Julie's February visit.

Later in the spring the Rainbow Troop headed out to sell Girl Scout cookies. At each of their booth sales days in Evanston, Niles, and downtown Chicago, they hung their wetland posters, donned their TWI caps, and handed out material about the Wetlands Initiative. On March 23, TWI staff visited the troop’s booth in an office lobby on Michigan Avenue across from the Art Institute of Chicago to see the girls in action. Not only did they do a great job delivering their conservation message, they sold a ton of cookies—and TWI staff themselves couldn’t resist buying quite a few boxes of their favorites.

If there isn’t yet a wetlands Girl Scout badge, there ought to be one. The Rainbow Troop has been a terrific Wetlands Initiative partner.