March 2012

Scouts Honor - Girl Scouts USA is Celebrating its First 100 Years


It must be great to be a girl these days—especially a Girl Scout. Girls Scouts USA is celebrating its first 100 years, and local girls are finding that scouting is changing as it heads into the next hundred. (Don’t worry; the cookies are safe!)

Programs, however, are evolving. Just as girls and young ladies have seen massive changes in opportunities in the last century, the Girl Scouts have been keeping up, refining and redefining their development role, aimed at building courage, confidence and character in girls and young women.

Regionally, 6,560 girls are involved in the Girl Scouts Council of Eastern South Carolina; 3,334 adults are certified as Girl Scout leaders in the region and there are more than 3 million active girl scouts in the United States. In Service Unit 631—the southern part of Beaufort County—about 25 troops, 250 girls and about the same number of supervisory adults are busy in five levels of scouting programs for ages 5 to 18.

Phyllis Neville, program coordinator for Girl Scouts of Carolina Lowcountry service branch 601, has seen and been part of many of the changes that have taken place in the last 16 years, since her daughters began in scouting programs and she began supervising. Her daughters, now 21 and 14, have been involved in a generational shift toward more topical community service options, more expansive educational programs and even more contemporary uniforms.

Instead of a relentless pursuit of badges, girls now take “journeys.” The camping trips are still there, of course, complete with s’mores, and around this time of year you can count on Girl Scout cookie solicitations. Girls discover art, athletics, storytelling, crafts, manners, adventure and life skills. But there’s a hierarchy to all of it that’s a bit like climbing a ladder.

Starting as Daisies (a salute to Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low, whose nickname was Daisy) girls still earn proficiency badges. For Daisies, those badges are called “petals”—too cute. At other levels they’re called legacy badges; but now, in the journeys, there is increased sophistication in programming, and they can choose to wear the badges they earn on the traditional sash or a nifty new vest. The journeys are chronicled in customized journals. As the scouts learn about money, for example, the progression is from philanthropy to comparison-shopping, buying power and then credit. They don’t even teach that in the schools.

The levels, starting with Daisies (kindergarten and first grade), progress to Brownies (second and third), then Juniors (fourth and fifth), Cadettes (sixth and seventh), Seniors (ninth and tenth), and then a new category called Ambassadors (eleventh and twelfth grades). A parallel progression takes girls through bronze, silver and gold levels—the Girl Scout equivalent of Eagle Scout.

The question is, if Girl Scouts—the generic term—can sell cookies, then why can’t Brownies sell brownies and Juniors sell Junior Mints. Neville responds with a nod and a wry smile. Cookie sales are sacred, and there are no plans to branch out into other confectionaries or baked goods. She admits, however, that even cookie sales have changed with the times and technology.

It was slow at first—anyone whose child is a Girl Scout and has a job has probably experienced the pressure of bringing the order form into work. These days, some order forms are online, and social marketing of cookies is beginning to emerge. Mostly, though, it’s the same tried-and-true strategy. Girls are encouraged to take ownership, but take no chances; door-to-door remains a sales technique, but girls go two by two, always accompanied by a parent or leader.

Those who knew Girl Scout shortbread cookies as Trefoils will be surprised to learn that they are now simply called Shortbread Sandwiches and Samoas are called Chocolate Coconut Caramel Delights. Heresy you say! Marketing, they respond. And learning lessons from original Coca Cola, the recipes have not changed. Thank goodness, Thin Mints are still Thin Mints. For those who are confused, the color of the packaging has remained the same. If you’re colorblind, you’re out of luck.

The marketing brilliance of the whole process is, to some extent, all about timing. You order the cookies and forget about them. Then, usually in March, they just show up—Girl Scouts all over the place, hauling boxes of cookies around like it’s Christmas. You forget you bought those six boxes a month or so ago. But delivered in the arms of the charming scouts, it feels as though they’re free.

The Girl Scouts have added a second chance for those who miss buying boxes of cookies the first time around. Scouts are stationed at booths in key locations, such as Wal-Mart and Lowes, with cookies on hand so folks can redeem themselves with friends and family.

Mostly, according to Neville, revised programs still contain the intangibles that have made Girl Scouts great, have produced high-profile women who give their Girl Scout training a nod when acknowledging their success. The “courage, confidence, character” mantra spans every level and is applied to every program.

“We’re just trying to build strength,” Neville said. “We’re trying to build strong women, and that starts with girls who have experienced a variety of things. That’s what we try to do with our journey programs. My favorite part of being involved is to watch the girls grow. Many have blossomed into really outstanding women.”

A totally new initiative, born as the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts approached, is a new Girl Scouts Forever Green program—and it’s not just about the color of their skirts.

The “action project” is focused on waste reduction, energy conservation and rain gardens; all three are designed to preserve natural resources in service projects and events focused on the environmental priorities in their local communities.

Locally, Neville said, a number of events and activities are in the planning stages for implementing the new program, including perhaps teaming with Experience Green to help observe Hilton Head Island’s second Earth Day on April 21, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Shelter Cove Community Park.

“Although our girls might be famous for wearing the color green, it’s clear that they are enthusiastic about ‘going green’ and working to preserve our natural resources,” said Anna Maria Chavez, CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA. “As an organization committed to helping girls become leaders who make a difference in the world, we couldn’t ignore their passion for the environment.”

This new program is just a piece of the continuing legacy of Girl Scouts, Neville said. “It’s just a little different, but it’s not that much different. It’s consistent with the mission and is another way girls become established as fine young women.”

  1. Great article & coverage. Any way of finding out exactly where the cookies are being sold?

    — Sandi Hardwicke    Mar 1, 06:25 pm   

  2. Love the article and the pictures! My daughter is the little one blowing out the candle on the cake, and I’m thrilled with the picture! I safely assume, it would be okay for me to contact Photography by Anne to try and get a print of this photo…probably one of the cover shot, too! Thanks so much for a great experience and fun memory for both of my daughters!

    ~Kathleen Archer

    — Kathleen Archer    Mar 2, 08:18 pm   

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