Girl Scouts Membership Fosters Creativity, Commitment and Community Caring
Writer / Amy Lant-Wenger
For today’s generation of young women, it may seem unfathomable that there was ever a time when certain freedoms and liberties were out of reach, once deemed only justifiable for men. Yet as the advent of the 20th century came about, these were the ways of the American girl. Aspirations beyond the homestead were discouraged, voting was forbidden, and their strengths and talents were largely subdued and silenced.
Meanwhile, in heart of the deep south, there was a revolution taking shape, spearheaded by a visionary named Juliette Gordon Low. With a gathering of like-minded girls, she launched the very first club of what was to become the Girl Scouts in Savannah, Georgia, in 1912. The mission, then and now, was to empower girls and nurture the notion that they could achieve whatever goals they could dream of.
This was much more than creating a ripple in a small pond. This was destined to become a global movement that still resonates powerfully, more than 110 years later.
The local organization of Girl Scouts spans a vast territory that includes 20 counties in northern Indiana, along with two counties in southwestern Michigan. The club is a consolidation of several “legacy” clubs, and was originated in 2008, making 2023 the 15th anniversary for the Michiana representation. The membership is currently about 4,500 girls strong, with an additional support network of volunteers numbering nearly 2,500. The opportunities for participation are many, and girls can begin their Girl Scouts journey as young as 5 years of age.
“We offer programs that are age-appropriate, including life skills, STEM education, and outdoor activities,” says Claire Forrest, who serves the district as the chief marketing officer. “The girls are able to explore different styles of learning, like working with businesses to develop financing strategies, working with experts at places like the Potawatomi Zoo, or taking part in workshops. There are so many ways that Girl Scouts can give girls a safe space and discover their potential.”
The progression of membership in the Girl Scouts includes Brownies for youngsters in kindergarten through first grade, Daisies for the second- and third-graders, and Juniors at the fourth- and fifth-grade stages. As the girls approach their teenage years, they can become Cadettes in grades six through eight, Juniors in the ninth and tenth grades, and Ambassadors as high school juniors and seniors.
Camaraderie amongst the members is bolstered through a variety of activities such as volunteering, summer camps, creating business models and putting them into practice, and mentoring. As the Scouts finesse their skills, they can earn badges of distinction. It is also one of the primary tenets of the Girl Scouts experience to invest in their communities, which in turn builds their confidence and gives them avenues to draw on their strengths.
For Girl Scouts who not only wish to dream big, but to also power those visions into action, there is a level of accomplishment known as the Gold Award. This is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a young woman of high school age, one who has met a specific list of criteria and expresses a desire to earn this distinction.
To receive the Gold Award, a Girl Scout must select a project that fosters her abilities in leadership and contributes significant impact to her community. This past summer there were seven young women celebrated at Goshen College for becoming Gold Award recipients. One of the honorees also was given a National Gold Award scholarship. Those who were feted at this occasion included:
Colleen Britten, Columbia City – Britten saw a need for middle school students to further a love of music by implementing a show choir camp that would allow young people to embrace their talents for song and dance.
Heather Elwood, Leo – Elwood worked to develop a peaceful place of respite for caregivers who look after loved ones who are struggling. By aligning with Image of Hope Ranch, she helped install benches for a simple oasis, along with brochures that detailed additional resources for families.
Isabella Habegger, Fort Wayne – Habegger’s focus was on the mental health challenges that are so prevalent in a post-pandemic era, as well as its effects on children. She created coping kits for youngsters, along with literature to help others recognize warning signs, and a special patch to display their newfound knowledge on wellness.
Sarah Lynne Northrop, Claypool – Northrop had long expressed an interest in the Potawatomi tribe and their traditions. Upon learning that a building showcasing that heritage had sustained storm damage at the Fulton County Historical Society, she went to work rebuilding the affected parts of the structure, so that the building could once again be used for educational purposes.
Keely Roe, Warsaw – Roe noticed that the campaigns espousing breast health were tailored for adult women, and there was scant information for younger women and preteens to access. She went about developing virtual education workshops and informational literature to demonstrate the importance of self-exams and abnormal signs. For her work on this project, Roe was also honored with a Girl Scouts USA Gold Award Scholarship for $10,000.
Courtney Tobin, Columbia City – Tobin spearheaded an endeavor to aid families facing food security, who may not have access to food pantries when needed. She created Kindness Boxes, which contained nonperishable items and other necessities, which can be made available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Megan Willis, Hartford, Michigan – Willis’s work was for the benefit of emergency service workers, who are trained to deal with stressful situations. Her goal was to enhance that training by providing kits and a specialized curriculum when dealing with patients who have sensory issues.
When many folks hear about the Girl Scouts, their minds automatically fill in a third word…cookies. And while it is certainly true that the beloved treats are legendary in and of themselves, they represent one of the most successful sales campaigns in not only the club’s history, but also for any organization nationwide.
The tradition dates back to 1917, when a Girl Scout troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma, started baking batches of cookies in the local high school cafeteria. The group, known as the Mistletoe Troop, began selling their creations locally as part of their hometown service project. By the early 1920s a club magazine called The American Girl published a recipe for cookies, which was in turn passed along to 2,000 Girl Scouts within the council.
Florence E. Neil, who was serving as a local director in Chicago, offered an estimate of 26 to 36 cents to purchase all of the ingredients to bake seven dozen cookies. Her suggestion to the girls was that they could then sell the cookies for a price of 25 to 30 cents per dozen – and the direct-sales revolution was born.
The newest round of annual cookie sales is just around the corner, set to launch in January. Customers can expect to see several of their favorites returning, including Thin Mints, Trefoils and Peanut Butter Patties. Making a comeback this year is the newest flavor, Adventurefuls, a brownie-style cookie with caramel cream and a hint of sea salt.
Through the cookie sales, Girl Scouts learn practical skills in business management, financial responsibility, and other valuable lifelong skills. The money raised stays within the local clubs, and assists with a number of programs such as camp scholarships, property upkeep and management, and financial assistance with various membership fees.
There are countless ways for people to offer their own gifts through volunteerism. The need for kindness and compassion within the organization is especially important now, as the Girl Scouts organization is vigilant about focusing on mental wellness. Girl Scouts leaders and members are always seeking those who wish to take on leadership roles, as well as those who have other means to contribute, such as transportation needs or additional tasks.
To learn more about Girl Scouts, and how to enroll or become involved, visit girlscoutsnorthernindiana-michiana.org.