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Girl Scouts About More Than Selling Cookies

Lalah Williams feeding a calf during a Girl Scout visit to a farm.
Lalah Williams feeding a calf during a Girl Scout visit to a farm.
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For almost 29 years, Martha Gach has been a Girl Scout. She has been both a Girl Scout and an adult volunteer.

“One thing that has stayed the same – developing self- confidence for our girls and developing leadership skills,” Gach said. And Girl Scouts continue to raise money by selling cookies. It is something they have done for 99 years.

What is different today, she said, is that Girl Scouts spend more time on teaching outdoor skills, such as climbing mountains.

And they work on technology and engineering projects. Today, these kinds of activities are called, “STEM” -- short for developing skills in science, technology, engineering and math.

Girl Scouts are 104 years old

The Girl Scouts have been an organization since 1912, when Juliette Gordon Low set up the first “troop,” or group, of girls.

Today, there are 2.7 million Girl Scouts: 1.9 million girls and 800,000 adults who are mostly volunteers.

That is enough to make the Girl Scouts the largest girls’ organization in the United States. But the numbers are down by more than one million since 2003.

Girl Scout leaders say they have a harder time finding adult volunteers. That is because more women are not only working, but sometimes have more than one job, according to Girl Scouts.

Gach volunteers in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. She said it also is harder to keep girls interested in Girl Scouts after middle school.

“There are other demands on their time,” she said. Among those new demands is the growth in girls’ sports since a 1972 U.S. rule required equal sports programs for girls and boys.

Wishes More Money Went for Girl Causes

Anna Maria Chavez left the Girl Scouts on June 30 after five years as chief executive officer. She said she wishes more money went to help girls succeed. She said people give more money to “animal causes than girl causes.”

“Now, don’t get me wrong,” Chavez said in a recent speech in Washington D.C. “I have a brand new puppy. His name is Cody. He’s a wonderful dog, but he will not be president of the United States one day. A Girl Scout will be.”

She did not mention Hillary Clinton. She was a former Girl Scout who, later this month, is expected to be selected as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.

Some Girl Scouts in the Washington D.C. area say scouting has helped them learn skills and, more importantly, build confidence in their own abilities.

Meeting Michelle Obama and Desmond Tutu

Lalah Williams said Girl Scouts gave her wonderful experiences – from hiking in a national forest to learning to be a “locavore.” That is someone whose diet is mostly food that is locally grown or produced. She has met First Lady Michelle Obama and gotten to see South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak.

“As my mother jokes, ‘all for only $15 a year,’” said Williams, about the yearly cost of Girl Scout membership.

She recently won the Girl Scouts Gold Award for a project she completed. Williams set up a meal so 50 middle school students could meet and talk to women elected to public office. “The purpose of my project was to get girls to envision themselves in elected office,” Lalah said.

Helena Doms is heading to George Washington University.
Helena Doms is heading to George Washington University.

Another Girl Scout 18-year-old Helena Doms also won the Gold Award for teaching girls Taekwondo, a Korean martial art. The idea, Doms said, was to help girls learn to protect themselves if they face a threat.

“People think of Girl Scouts as little girls selling cookies,” Helena said. “I want to change that -- to show people that Girl Scouts is about harnessing your talents and using (them) to empower yourself and others to the benefit of all of us.”

But Girl Scouts continue to raise money selling cookies, such as Thin Mints and Do-si-dos. In a recent change, they are not only selling cookies from tables in front of stores. Now, Girl Scouts cookies can be bought on line.

Helena will begin study in international relations next year at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Taylor Swift the Girl Scout

The Girl Scouts has a long list of famous former members.

They include well-known performers Taylor Swift, Mariah Carey, Abigail Breslin, Gwyneth Paltrow, Dakota Fanning and Carrie Fisher. Tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams were also members. And almost every female astronaut who has flown in space was once a Girl Scout.

But the Girl Scouts have some serious problems, not the least of which is fewer members.

In a 2014 column for the New York Times, Kristin O’Keefe wrote about one reason she stopped volunteering for the Girl Scouts: too much paper work. She said her Girl Scout chapter had 16 separate kinds of forms.

“The Girl Scouts organization has a form and a requirement for everything. And in an area of crazy busy family life, parents do not have time for this,” O’Keefe wrote.

Chavez said she feels good about the long-term future for Girl Scouts. The organization is helping girls deal with the world’s many problems. These include issues like mass shootings, the 2008 recession and continuing military conflicts in the Middle East, she said.

“But what I’ve also been very surprised about, if you take a moment to sit down and talk to a girl about issues that she cares about, they are actually very positive about their future opportunities,” Chavez said.

And, in a good sign, she said girls are very “empathetic.” That means they care about people facing problems, including other girls.

I'm Jill Robbins.

And I'm Bruce Alpert.

Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

self-confidence n. a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something

cookien. a sweet baked food that is usually small, flat, and round and is made from flour and sugar

outdooradj. done, used, or located outside a building

chief executive officern. The head of a company or organization

puppyn. a young dog

harnessv. to use something for a particular purpose

formn. a document with blank spaces for filling in information

opportunityn. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done