A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Gena Bigler: Knee socks, door-to-door sales, camp; who wouldn’t want to be a Girl Scout?

(Photo from GSA)

(Photo from GSA)

I still remember the brown polyester uniform, brown knee socks with orange flash sock guards and a brown sash that constantly slipped off my shoulder. Being a Brownie was a memorable milestone in my life. It was more years ago than I care to confess, but I still remember some of the activities we did as a troop. I still remember selling cookies and begging my mom for just one more box.
When my daughter became old enough to be a Girl Scout, I called our local Girl Scout Council and asked about finding a troop for her. During the conversation, I was encouraged to consider starting a troop. Soon after, we were assigned a troop number and had recruited the necessary number of girls.
This past Saturday, I spent part of the day at Camp Shawano learning how to safely take the troop out for a visit. One of the organizers had been my younger sister’s troop leader over 20 years ago. Cathy Feltham has been a lifelong Girl Scout volunteer. Over the years, she has been a role model for scores of girls. She made such an impression; my sister still clearly remembers her days in the troop and has suggested projects they did for her niece’s troop.
Since becoming part of the Girl Scout family again, I have heard some amazing stories from women, mothers and grandmothers about their Girl Scout days. I have heard about camping trips that happened decades ago and cookie sales “in the old days.” Over the years, Girl Scouts has changed, but the mission is the same: “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.”
The basic tenet of Girl Scouts is that troops are girl-led. The role of troop leader is to support and guide the girls, but also to step back and give them the space to be the real leaders. This means that each troop is as different as the girls that lead them. Girls are leading troops all over the world. There are over three million Girl Scouts in the United States and over 10 million across the globe.
Girl Scouts do much more than camp and sell cookies. They travel, learn about different cultures, learn how to work as a team to meet shared goals and give back to their communities.
Cookies are much more than a way to raise money. Girls learn how to set realistic goals. They get hands-on lessons in basic business principles, marketing, how to cooperate with “co-workers,” money management and budgeting, as well as customer service practice and business ethics.
The girls decide as a troop how they spend their hard-earned dollars and often, it involves giving part of it away to support something they believe in. Our fledgling troop voted to donate to help animals and homeless kids. Along with learning to be entrepreneurs, they are provided an opportunity to be philanthropists as well.
Famous former Girl Scouts include executives like Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, or Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop. Every first lady in the last 28 years was a former Girl Scout. Former Girl Scouts have served as governors, members of Congress, senators, secretary of state and ambassadors. The first woman in space, Sally Ride, was a former Girl Scout and so was Lt. Col. Eileen Collins, the first woman space shuttle commander astronaut.
You see former Girl Scouts on the Today Show, The View and CNN. From Lucille Ball to Dakota Fanning, former Girl Scouts are well represented by famous entertainers. Former Girl Scouts are professional and Olympian athletes, writers and there are even a couple of princesses.
Being a Girl Scout builds memories and skills that last a lifetime. If you have a girl in your life, talk to her about joining. For more information, click here.
Consider volunteering because there are girls waiting for troops. If you can’t commit to being a troop leader, maybe you could assist or even spend an hour talking with a troop about what you do or teaching them a skill. Volunteering is just as rewarding as being a Girl Scout, but without the knee socks.

Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.


Click here to read more columns from Gena Bigler.

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