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100 Years of Girl Scouting

Doing More Than Just Selling Cookies

 March 2012 prince william living

By Audrey Harman, Contributing Writer

girl scout logoThe legacy of the Girl Scouts began in Savannah, Ga., on March 12, 1912, as the brainchild of Juliette Gordon Low. With just 18 girls in the original troop, it has since grown to 3.2 mil- lion members, including girls and volunteering adults. The original goal of empowering girls has remained in the Girl Scout Mission: “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence,  and character, who make the world a better place.” As the largest organization for girls in  the world, the Girl Scouts website(www.girlscouts.org) defines their focus on helping girls achieve their full potential and puts great importance on diversity and in- clusiveness. The organization claims that “Girl Scouts is dedicated to every girl, everywhere.”Historically, Girl Scouts have consistently aided in helping those affected by domestic and global issues throughout the past 100 years. During World War I, among many things, the girls sold war bonds, volunteered in hospitals, and learned about producing and conserving food. They were there through the Great Depression  by leading community relief efforts and collecting food and supplies for the needy. They supported the Civil Rights   Movement, and the March 1952 issue of Ebony magazine was quoted as saying, “Girl Scouts in the South are making steady progress towards breaking down racial taboos.” More recently, the girls responded to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on America by hosting remembrance ceremonies and collectively writing thank-you letters to first responders. President George W. Bush also encouraged the girls to support children of Afghanistan by each donating one dollar. Since March 16, 1960, when the Girl Scouts of the USA was chartered by the U.S. Congress, it has considered itself an “American institution” with both local and global impact goals. As well as being important historically, the Girl Scouts is an organization that has adapted to suit modern needs. According to Prince William County resident and 14-year Girl Scout troop leader and day camp director Karen Hammack, much has changed since the1970s, when she was a Girl Scout. She said that after sixth grade, a lot of her friends didn’t move on in the program. Once girls reach high school age, afterschool activities and sports tend to compete with Girl Scouting, so it’s somewhat difficult to keep older girls interested and involved.

The Girl Scouts have since started offering options like “driver safety” to appeal to teen girls, and Prince William County has a program called POGO (Prince William Older Girl Organization). POGO has encouraged high school-aged girls to remain in Girl Scouts by offering more diverse activities and experiences for individuals, rather than the group. Activities like caving, quilting, horseback riding and crochet have helped the organization grow since its 1998 launch year. The POGO website boasts that “There are now over 900 girls in just Fauquier and Prince William Counties that are still active through their Senior High School years.”

Hammack is the leader for Troop 2096, which meets at the Dumfries United Methodist Church, with 36 girls ranging from sixth through twelfth grade. She said that her troop is a great example of cultural diversity and that the girls represent almost every middle school in the county as well as several high schools. Her troop spans all of the teen scouting groups: Cadette (grades 6- 8), Senior (grades 9-10), and Ambassador (grades 11-12). (The younger groups of the Girl Scouts are: Daisy (kindergarten-grade 1), Brownie (grades 2-3), and Junior (grades 4-5).) Her group enjoys everything from traditional camping to visiting the birthplace of the Girl Scouts in Savannah during their upcoming spring break. Hammack always incorporates a college visit when she takes her troop on one of their trips. “Every person should be able to go to school,” said Hammack. “The girls are never too young to visit colleges and I always ask Girl Scout alumnae to give the tours.”

Troop 2096 also exemplifies what modern Girl Scouts are doing to aid their community. Each girl volunteers once a month at the ACTS Emergency Homeless Shelter in Dumfries, reading and playing games with the children there. The girls also fund raise, most notably selling the popular Girl Scout Cookies every February. Hammack emphasized that the girls are the ones participating in the cookie selling and other service activities, so they are learning the importance of these activities firsthand.

Ten different girls in Hammack’s troop, including her own daughter, have received the Gold Award, which is Girl Scouts’ highest award. The Gold Award is accomplished by high school girls and requires 85 hours of a planned community service project focusing on global impact. This project is completed along with schoolwork and college applications and teaches the girls project management, time management, and leadership skills that are tantamount to boosting resumes and college admissions.

The Girl Scouts have always focused on empowering girls and building a great foundation for them to be prepared to be successful leaders in their careers. Samantha Paradas, 17, a senior at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, has been a Girl Scout since first grade, and said: “Girl Scouting enables girls to have incredible experiences. Through these experiences, I have been able to develop leadership skills that I now use in extracurricular activities. These leadership skills have also helped me in school as well, for example—group projects! I love all of the activities that are offered that I would never be able to experience outside of scouting. I have made friends that are my sister Girl Scouts for life!” Learning these types of skills and making bonds like Paradas has made only better enables her to carry on what she has learned from Girl Scouting and apply it to her college career and beyond.

Ashton Bond, 13, a seventh grader at Graham Park Middle School in Triangle, has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten. “Scouting is important because it will make me a better person and an independent, responsible woman,” she said.. “A good Girl Scout career will help me get into college. My favorite things about scouting are adventurous camping trips and having fun!” It is amazing that girls so young understand the importance of who they want to be in life and that what the Girl Scouts stand for can only help them in their future.

On Saturday, June 9, Girl Scouts from across the country will join their voices for the 100th Anniversary Sing-Along and “Rock the Mall” in Washington, D.C. It is projected that more than 200,000 people will be in attendance. There will be opportunities to hear the girls sing songs of friendship, learn the organization’s commitment to girl leadership, visit their program’s tents, and make friends. Hammack said the importance of the Sing-Alongs is that the Girl Scouts will get to see just how many girls are a part of scouting—far more than just the girls they meet with every week. To learn how local Girl Scouts will be participating, visit the area’s website at www.gscnc.org

Author Audrey Harman is a 2011 Hollins University alumna with aBA in English and Spanish. She currently resides in Woodbridge with her family.

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