The experiences I had as a Girl Scout back in the 1970s and ‘80s still rank in the top 5 memories of my childhood — like the “tippy test” at camp each summer, when we had to flip a canoe over in the middle of a cold lake, fully clothed, and then get back in and paddle back to shore in less than two minutes all so we could earn swimming privileges. We sang “Taps” each night as the sun went down, feeling a unified pride for our nation as the flag was folded for the day. We swayed arm in arm with new friends and old, then anchored those who felt homesick as we slept under the stars. The ornaments we carefully stitched or painted at troop meetings over the years still hang on my tree, annual reminders of that sweet time in my life. And the songs …well, any former Girl Scout knows you never forget the songs!
El Dorado Hills Girl Scout leader and service unit liaison Angela Nicholson sat down to give me a history of the Girl Scouts, celebrating its 100th year as an organization this month. But if you ask any of the nearly 550 Girl Scouts making up 57 troops in El Dorado Hills, they’ll say the centennial celebration has been going on for months. Troops near you have been collecting 100 items for soldiers, making 100 cards for cancer patients, and putting 100 plants in 100 classrooms, just to name a few of their activities.
Founded by Juliette Gordon Low in March of 1912, the Girl Scouts first found its roots in camping and the outdoors, said Nicholson. During World War II the organization evolved to include community service. By the 1970s, arts and crafts flourished, and today the environment and “going green” have also become priorities.
Through the years, though, the consistent focus of the Girl Scouts has been on the development of “Courage, Confidence and Character” in girls.
Yet in our national climate today, when just about everything is politicized and polarized, or when one bad fish can stink up an entire sea (as we’ve seen too often of late) I shouldn’t be surprised that even the Girl Scouts have been thrown into the ring, but I am.
I first heard murmurs of people protesting cookie sales earlier this winter. Apparently, 35 Girl Scouts attended a conference in New York City in 2010 where Planned Parenthood reportedly passed out sexually explicit brochures to the girls about “exploring their bodies.” The Girl Scouts organization refutes the claim, saying they “are not affiliated with any political organizations.” No one ever stepped forward to vouch for the claim, yet the damage was already done. The story made the nightly news and naysayers were quick to pounce on it.
A group calling itself “Honest Girl Scouts” is distancing itself from the larger Girl Scouts organization because in October one troop in Denver rejected the application of a 7-year-old boy who identified as a female. This troop later accepted the boy into the troop. People left when he wasn’t accepted, and then more left when he was.
Some also question the funneling of members’ dues because of the philosophies of the umbrella organization, WAGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts), a 145-member organization that aims to “promote mutual understanding and cross-cultural opportunities for girls around the world.” Girl Scouts is one of the 145 members, likening themselves to “having a seat at the table at the U.N,” where they get to voice their opinions but do not necessarily take the same positions or endorse the same programs as WAGGGS. I looked into what exactly WAGGGS then funds, but it is too cryptic. As Nicholson said, “We can make ourselves crazy, or focus on what we do here, in our troops, in our community.”
My shy 6-year-old daughter joined a kindergarten Daisy troop last fall. When, 6 months later, she confidently asked family and close friends, “Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?” or when she and her troop cleared out their teacher’s school flower bed, laughing like sisters, all while getting their hands dirty, I could see she is developing the same pride as well as building the same lasting friendships Girl Scouts have been doing for the past 100 years.
It’s always been a great time to be a Girl Scout.
Julie Samrick has four young children and is a resident of El Dorado Hills. She is also the founder of kidfocused.com, a site devoted to current children’s issues.