Everyone has heard of the Girl Scouts. With a US membership of 3.7 million, and 50 million alumni, the organization is a household name and is the only international organization dedicated to all girls, everywhere. Most of us have feasted on their tasty Thin Mints and Samoas. But the organization that started in 1912 with just 18 girls in Savannah, Georgia, has not only grown in numbers - it has also adapted to give girls new opportunities, no matter the times.
Founded by Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low on the belief that all girls should be given the opportunity to develop mentally, physically, and spiritually, the organization started off with the goal of bringing girls out of isolated home environments and into community service and the outdoors. The first Girl Scouts hiked, played basketball, went on camping trips, learned how to tell time by the stars, and studied first aid.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and the Girl Scouts were preserving fruits and vegetables to stave off food shortages. During the years surrounding World War II they collected scrap metal for recycling to help with the war effort. In the late 1960s the Girl Scouts launched public initiatives to help overcome prejudices, and in the 1970s the organization elected its first African American National Girl Scout President, and launched a national environmental program. In the 80s, a Contemporary Issues series was developed to help girls and their families deal with serious social issues. The 90s brought them federal funding for P.A.V.E. The Way (Project Anti-Violence Education), and they inaugurated a health and fitness national service project, Be Your Best, to promote different ways of being healthy, keeping fit, and eating right.
Today, Girl Scouts are taking advantage of the World Wide Web via the organization's web site (www.girlscouts.org), local Girl Scout Council web sites, and online troop meetings. They responded to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America by performing community services, hosting remembrance ceremonies, and writing thank-you letters to rescuers. And they have new badges which include Global Awareness, Adventure Sports, Stress Less, and Environmental Health.
One thing that is unique about the Girl Scouts, as Girl Scout Spokesperson Michelle Tompkins points out, is that it is girl-driven, reflecting changing needs and desires. She says, "We always ask the girls what they want. It's always been about building leadership and confidence in girls. I think the reason we stay relevant is that we give the girls some tools. Discover, connect and take action – these are keys for girls now."
Within the local Girl Scout Councils, girls have exciting and fun opportunities to do just about anything they imagine. Each individual Council offers unique opportunities and activities that meet the needs and interests of girls in that area. There are opportunities in the areas like Leadership and Self-Esteem; Community Outreach and Education; Environmental Awareness; Financial Literacy; Health and Wellness; Science; Technology; Engineering and Math; the Arts; and Travel.
All Girl Scouts are expected to try and live up to the Girl Scout Promise and Law, which emphasize service, fairness, helpfulness, courage, responsibility and respect.
The program has lasting effects. Tompkins says "80% of women business executives are former Girl Scouts; 65% percent of women in the House were Girl Scouts, and 65% of women in the Senate were former Girl Scouts. One thing that makes Girl Scouts stand out is that a five year old can be a leader now. We want girls to be leaders in their own lives. We hope that we help the girls find their passion."
With one in ten American girls participating in Girl Scouts, that's a lot of passion! For girls between the ages of 5 and 17, Girl Scouts might be just the thing to encourage confidence, responsibility, and fun!