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Girl Scout leader finds joy in hiking and mentoring

Robert Houk • Nov 23, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Haowei Claire Tong is area director of Girl Scouts of the Southern Appalachians

She is an avid walker and a member of the Johnson City Noon Rotary Club.

Fast Facts

Dog or cat: “Dog — specifically Henry, my chocolate Labradoodle, who was adopted from the Johnson City/Washington County Animal Shelter.”

Favorite book: “Currently, ‘Factfulness,’ by Hans Rosling, which both exposes my biases and gives me hope for the future.”

Ideal getaway: ”There’s no better getaway than the top of ‘Big Hump’ right here in the Appalachian Highlands! I absolutely love the hike from U.S. Highway 19E.

HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE YOUR WORK TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS?

Girl Scouts is the best investment a community can make. We’re known for building girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place, and we deliver. What folks don’t know is that we vet, train and support adults, providing everything from wilderness First Aid to Microsoft Excel workshops

We even partner with Gatton College of Pharmacy to provide drug safety programming. My work is strategic, challenging and joyful — and it really pays off.

WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING PART OF YOUR JOB?

Opening eyes and doors for our Girl Scouts. A few years ago, I had the honor of co-chaperoning 12 Girl Scouts to a mayoral inauguration. The female mayor (the city’s first female mayor) invited Girl Scouts to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. It was crowded and loud. There was a marching band, an army of TV cameras and swarms of people.

After reciting the pledge, we stood in the “wings” of the room, where my co-chaperones and I took turns lifting each girl up so they could all see the mayor as she gave her inaugural speech. When I lifted one girl up, she shouted, “Wow, she looks like me!”

It was an amazing moment.

Perhaps what’s even more exciting is what Girl Scouts will do in the future, now that they know what’s possible. Currently, our Girl Scouts are choosing to earn NASA-developed badges. They’re looking through telescopes at the East Tennessee State University observatory and building robots.

Very soon Girl Scouts will be ready for jobs at the Aerospace Park.

WHAT LED YOU TO THIS WORK?

When I was young, all I wanted was to fit in and be like everyone else. Girl Scouts gave me that sense of belonging. As a Girl Scout Daisy, I wore the same blue tunic, earned the same badges, ate the same snack and explored the same camps.

When I grew older, I wanted to stand out. I identified a community issue (obesity), found a mentor (parks and recreation staff), made a plan and tackled the problem. I established a tennis camp for under-resourced kids, earning a Girl Scout Silver Award and college scholarships.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE CONSIDERING A SIMILAR CAREER?

First, I’d thank this person for considering a career in the field. And then I’d encourage this person to go for it.

HOW DO YOU UNWIND?

Most evenings you’ll find me walking with friends from Junior League (and our dogs) or at a Rotary social.

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