Joy Magazine

Strong girls make strong women

Girl Scouts kicking off 100th year
 Illustration courtesy of

Since they first raised three fingers to recite "The Girl Scout Promise" as a pair of 6-year-old Brownies, Central Point teens Samantha Edgerton and Stephanie Risner have been part of a nearly century-old tradition focused on leadership and community that they say is anything but dated.

As Girl Scouts of the USA embarks on its 100th year, the organization is evolving to meet girls' needs in a world far different than the one in which founder Juliette "Daisy" Low started the first troop in 1912 in Savannah, Ga.

Today's Girl Scouts are far removed from the ones who helped collect scrap metal for the war effort and learned embroidery and food preservation, but the organization's focus has always been to teach leadership and a sense of community.

"I tell people I'm in Girl Scouts, and they'll kind of laugh, but Girl Scouts has done so much in making me who I am," says Risner, 17.

"It's about leadership and values, which is more important now than ever. People think it's just cookies and camp, but it's about so much more."

While the core focus of leadership remains, 2.3 million members like Risner, along with changing society, have led to an image makeover to keep girls interested. With one in 10 girls counted as members, Girl Scouts hopes to reach the other nine.

Recent years have seen a redesigned logo, more modern uniforms, changes to programming and a national realignment just over two years ago that reduced 312 council headquarters to 109. Michelle Clinch, director of communications for Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington, says the merger helped the organization better capitalize on its assets and extend more opportunities to girls.

"Realignment ensured that we were taking advantage of economies of scale and working together to apply for grants," says Clinch. "Girls now have access to more programs and camps, and volunteers can network to share best practices."

To that end, the program being delivered to girls can be customized. Girl Scouts can be part of a troop and earn badges or opt for an "a la carte" experience, registering as a solo "Juliette" to take advantage of events, camps and scholarships. A new set of handbooks, dubbed "journeys," encourage critical thinking, ethical decision-making, team dynamics and community.

Baking, sewing and hiking remain, joined by topics such as geocaching, Web design and videography. Both Risner and Edgerton acknowledge the Girl Scout stereotype of "cookies and camp" but quickly affirm it's about far more.

In 12 years as Girl Scouts, they've learned life skills, traveled, made lasting friendships and initiated projects to help their community. They attended and helped run camps, explored potential career fields and now help lead a troop of Daisies and Brownies just learning the century-old "Promise" and "Law."

For Edgerton, 18, the traditional aspects of Girl Scouts are as crucial as the "new stuff." Her favorite memories include helping run summer camp, a visit to Washington, D.C., to serve as a delegate to a Girl Scouts convention, as well as all the times over the years when someone asked about the uniform she often wears.

"When I describe it to people, I always go for the "Girl Scout Promise" and "Law" and the values that it's about," she says.

"It's all about leadership, and that's definitely more relevant now for girls and women than it was back when it started. It's about becoming the best person you can be and helping your community."

Jennifer Hackem, a Medford-based program specialist for Girl Scouts, who joined the organization when she, too, was 6, says developing compelling programs and reaching potential new members is as crucial as training adult volunteers and focusing on a healthy balance of old and new.

Hackem says she hopes the focus of Girl Scouts — and girls like Risner and Edgerton — are testament to what the program offers.

"I think incorporating the new stuff and the old stuff is really important," says Hackem. "Girls should be able to go to an embroidery workshop as much as they should learn about technology.

"The original stuff that Juliette Low was really trying to bring to girls, like hiking and taking care of the environment and learning how to build a fire, those things are still relevant, too."

For her generation, Risner wishes more girls had the opportunity she sees in Scouting. In her own 12 years, she's witnessed changes, but the important stuff remains.

"I like that even though it's changing, that it's still the original intent and the values that Juliette Low had almost a 100 years ago," says Risner.

"It focuses on being a strong woman, which I think still translates to now. Girls can be strong and independent, try new things and succeed at them, and they can help their communities and themselves.

"That's one of the things I feel like I've gotten from Girl Scouts that came directly from Juliette Low."

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