By Diane Silcox-Jarrett
Even if your image of Girl Scouts includes girls camping and looking up into a starry night, learning the constellations, just a little tired after a day of hiking, it might be hard to picture a group of young ladies doing so a hundred years ago. But in 1912 Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low felt called to make such scenes a reality and invited girls to come into her Savannah, Georgia, home to create the first American Girl Guides (the name was changed to Girl Scouts the next year). Low was inspired by the Boy Scouts and wanted young girls to have the same opportunities as the boys. Drawing on her enthusiasm for the arts, animals, and nature, she also wanted girls to realize they could become involved in their communities in many different ways.
A hundred years later, “Daisy” Low would be more than proud to see how Girl Scouts and their leaders have carried forward her ideas and adapted them to the modern world. “Girl Scouts of today learn similar lessons the girls of the past decades learned,” said Leslie Cross, membership director for Girls Scouts in Cumberland County. “They learn life lessons — how to cook, how to be a good citizen, conflict resolution, self-esteem and more. Through Girl Scouts girls will be able discover themselves and their values, connect with others, and take action to make the world a better place.”
There are approximately 3,000 girls in the Fayetteville area who are learning those lessons with the guidance of their devoted leaders. Cross herself was a Brownie while growing up in California and has served as a Scout leader for both of her daughters. She shares her job in the area with Valerie Jackson, who also serves as a membership director. Jackson, who has been working with the Girl Scouts for four years, said that when she was growing up no one presented her the opportunity to participate in Girl Scouts. “That is why I do what I do to make sure Girl Scouting is available to all girls, no matter where they live.”
Girl Scout Troop #225, one of the 56 troops in the area, is led by Teresa Garcia and S. Deneen Freeman. As with all the other troops in the region, they are very involved in the community, teaching their young girls the importance of giving back. “In October they helped the Police/Sheriff/Fire Department host a Bonnie Doone Empowerment Day,” said Cross. “The girls ran a booth with games and face painting. They helped with the bouncy houses and talked to girls about Girl Scouts.” Eighty-four pairs of gloves were collected at a Cookie Rally in January by all the Girl Scouts who attended the event. During the “Bring a Friend Bash,” Cumberland County Girl Scouts collected socks and distributed them to the needy in the community. To celebrate the 100th year of Girl Scouts, troops hosted a Bonfire & Hootenanny, where food and blankets were collected for the needy.
Those who belong to troops are not the only ones who benefit from what the Girl Scouts have to offer. Cross and Jackson visit schools across the county and teach courses in self-esteem and one on financial literacy called “Cents Ability.”
“These classes give us the opportunity to be there for all girls,” Jackson said. “When you are a girl in middle school learning about self-esteem is very important. We want to let them know we understand what they are going through.”
Cross added, “It is so amazing how they listen to us and take in what we are teaching them. This may lead some girls to want to explore the Girl Scouts more. As a leader and now as a membership director and working in the school system with young girls, I love it when you see a light bulb go off and you see they understand a concept you are teaching or when you see their leadership skills come alive.”
Jackson said that being a membership director in the area that includes Fort Bragg presents some interesting aspects. “Many of these girls have lived in several places during their young lives and when they move, Girl Scouts is one stable thing they have to look forward to. No matter where they came from, they can just pick up from where they left off.” For such mobile families, Girl Scouts can be equally beneficial for the parent volunteers. Girl Scouts is a great place for them to make friends and find others who share similar interests. “A lot of our leaders in Fort Bragg are acting as single parents because their spouse has been deployed. We try and work around their schedules to make things easier for them. Also, other leaders understand what they are going through and are here for them,” Jackson added.
Both Cross and Jackson agree that Girl Scouts helps young girls celebrate their abilities, their potential and their own independence. These days girls can earn badges in digital skills, technology and entrepreneurship. Those who want to earn badges in some of the more traditional skills can still do so through “legacy badges,” which have been revamped to be more modern.
“Tradition is important to Girl Scouts and badges are a part of that along with selling cookies,” said Jackson. “The cookie sales began as early as 1917 when Girl Scouts would bake their own sugar cookies and sell them to raise money.”
Cross agreed that tradition is important, “Girl Scouts is like a strong ribbon that weaves from one generation of girls to another.” She cites an example of this intergenerational bonding from the Gray’s Creek Girl Scouts event titled “Women and Their Careers —Celebrating 100 years of Girl Scouts”.
“One of the young professionals there was presenting pharmacy as a career. Guess what? She had been a local Girl Scout in the past and had attended a Career Day as a child and had decided she wanted to be a pharmacist because of her experience there. And now she was back inspiring young girls.”
It’s easy to see that Daisy Low would be impressed with the dedication the Girl Scouts in this area show toward their community and how they help each other grow. And for those nights when the girls lie on their backs and look up at the constellations, it is nice to think that Girls Scouts have been inspired by those same stars for a hundred years.