For many people at certain times of the year, a trip to the grocery store means a walk past tempting tables overflowing with Girl Scout cookies, sold every year to raise money for local troops and scouting activities. But today’s Girl Scouts are much more than the providers of Thin Mints and Caramel deLites. They are doing more than arts and crafts projects each week. They are growing up to lead some of the area’s most influential nonprofits. They are leading cutting-edge businesses. Two-thirds of the women in Congress and every female astronaut are former Girl Scouts, according to the organization.
U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Governor Chris Gregoire and Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland are former Girl Scouts who remain active advocates of the organization.
“We want girls to be motivated by the fact that women are truly changing the world,” said Stefanie Ellis, public relations director for Girl Scouts of Western Washington. “Today’s Girl Scouts are learning to make their own animation, videos and websites. They’re learning about public policy and creating business plans, supporting their local food sources and even increasing their happiness and sense of purpose through our Science of Happiness badge.”
This year, as the Girl Scouts of Western Washington celebrates its 100-year anniversary, the organization is holding hundreds of local, regional and national events. The annual GirlFest has become the ultimate celebration of the power of girls, and is designed to show the region how the organization makes an impact on the community.
The Forever Green Challenge was developed to celebrate the centennial, through monthly programming built around sustainability. Each month, the girls focus on a different theme revolving around energy and waste reduction, protecting water and other green living skills. In addition, troops are participating in the 100th Anniversary Proclamation Project, where girls campaign for community leaders to recognize this milestone with an official proclamation honoring the Girl Scouts of Western Washington.
Many troops will also attend the Gold Award reception May 31 at the Governor’s Mansion.
Although little has changed over the years in the organization’s mission to help girls develop courage, confidence and character, the pressure they are under today is much different compared to even a few decades ago.
“We work harder than ever to deliver on our promise to give girls the tools they need to make the world a better place,” Ellis said. “We help girls find their voice and introduce them to things they may have never experienced. And the best part – we give girls plenty of amazing role models to help them in their journey.”
One of the most important initiatives supported by the Girls Scouts today is its goal of achieving greater equality in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The organization actively researches STEM-related issues, and has even received funding from the National Science Foundation and partners with Seattle University to train volunteers on activities they can use with their girls. Since many adult volunteers today grew up in a time when girls were not expected or required to engage in these activities and professions, expert training is more important than ever.
“We’ve also taken a hard look at ourselves and, with the help of our volunteers, have figured out ways to insert science into the everyday fabric of Girl Scouting,” said Stephanie Lingwood, science project director for the Girl Scouts of Western Washington. “While there’s still work to be done, we’re well on our way and are now helping other youth organizations around the country nurture a passion for science in the children they serve.”
Many girls have put this training to good use, completing projects that continue to benefit the community in often-unexpected ways. When local Girl Scout Jessica Lam found a way to raise money by recycling her neighbors’ Christmas lights, she eventually recycled more than 5,000 pounds of lights, and raised nearly $5,000 for Point Defiance Zoo’s conservation fund in the first year alone. Years later, her project is still going strong.
Another Girl Scout traveled to Tanzania to teach math and English to children in order to earn her Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can receive.
“Part of what makes Girl Scouts so unique as an organization is that we help girls be curious about the world, by gaining the confidence, skills and money they need to explore it,” said Megan Ferland, CEO of Girl Scouts of Western Washington.
Another local Girl Scout, when working toward her Silver Award, traveled to orphanages in China to deliver specially made bottles for babies with cleft palates.
“When she found out these babies weren’t getting the nutrition they needed from regular bottles, she immediately set out to change that – and she did,” Ferland added.
Troop leader and fourth generation Girl Scout Meagan Pascoe recalls the gardening and healthy lifestyle skills she learned during her own years as a Girl Scout in the early 1990s – before healthy eating and nutrition gained the momentum in society it has today. Today, she leads Daisy Troop 44114, which includes her 5-year-old daughter, Lola. “The Girl Scouts has had a huge impact on my life as an adult, and the way I view the world,” Pascoe said. “When I started having girls, I knew this is what I wanted for them.”
Pascoe’s troop is currently involved in a project through National Geographic called Letters to Lions, where the girls can write letters to tribal leaders in Africa, expressing their support of the lions and the importance of their conservation.
Initiatives like these are designed to help the girls get involved in issues that matter to them.
“We are helping girls grow into active community leaders who recognize the power one person has to make a difference,” Ferland said. “They know they can because they have seen countless girls before them tackle issues in their communities with a conviction born of courage and confidence. We give them the tools, help them learn to use them, then cheer them on. And believe me, we do a lot of cheering.”