Zoe Kizer and Bethany Carlson love helping people.
The 6- and 8-year-old Bluffton residents make shoes for children in Uganda, stuff Easter eggs for a church egg hunt, decorate and pack gift bags for people in Ethiopia, work with Stop Hunger Now, sing Christmas carols at National HealthCare Corporation, take cookies to the police department and serve food at Thanksgiving.
They are American Heritage Girls.
Similar to Girl Scouts, American Heritage Girls teaches girls to serve others and gives them the opportunity to form long-lasting friendships. The girls work toward goals and earn badges in the Christian group, which works to shape "women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country."
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"It's mostly serving God and helping people," Zoe said. "It pleases him."
Her mother, Julie Kizer, likes the fact that the program encourages the girls to serve others with kids their own age.
"When the mom is saying to do it, it's different than when the kids are actually doing it with them," Kizer said.
The group gathers every other Monday night at Cross Schools in Bluffton. There are chapters all over the country; another one meets at Hilton Head Presbyterian Church. Each chapter is sponsored by a church.
The national program is open to girls beginning at age 5 and going up to age 18; however, the Bluffton group only goes through sixth grade. It would like to eventually expand the program. The Hilton Head group is open to girls in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Amy Weaver is the coordinator of the Bluffton group. She said her group started about two years ago, when a few moms started talking about wanting a Christ-centered group for their young daughters.
"It's really just a program to help them grow into the women that we hope they will be," Weaver said. "In this world and the environment that all of them are growing up in, it's just a huge challenge. So we really wanted something where the girls could go and ... their parents at least have the same values, and they'll have some support."
In American Heritage Girls, the girls are encouraged to memorize Scripture. They read devotionals together. They learn the different characteristics of being a Christian. They begin and end each meeting in prayer.
"With other programs, they talk about skills and having fun and being together, but for me, the whole thing is about God being integrated into everything that we do," Sue Carlson, Bethany's mom, said. "It gives us good things to talk about at home, too."
Bethany gets to learn things she normally wouldn't take the time to learn at home. She's working on her sewing badge at the moment.
"It's great for self-esteem," Carlson said.
Most importantly, Bethany loves it.
"It's fun, and I get to learn about helping people," she said. "It's really cool to have my mom as an assistant. I like that we can do experiments and learn about God at the same time."
The Bluffton group has grown quite a bit in the past year. There are more than 60 members this year, at least 20 more than last year.
There are scholarships for girls who can't afford the program. Girls are welcome to join anytime, but Weaver said it's best to start in the fall because the dues are not prorated.
"I think the most important thing to learn is that God has given her talents and special gifts, and that she needs to share those with people in our community and to have friendships with other girls that believe the same things as she does." Carlson said.
Follow reporter Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.