The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 14, 2013

Girl Scouting evolves to meet today’s challenges, provide for future

Tom Lavis

JOHNSTOWN — Perhaps there is no better time to tout the values and accomplishments associated with Girl Scouting than in the midst of its current cookie-selling campaign.

Local Girl Scout officials took time to spread the news that today’s Scouting programs offer a host of activities and positive experiences beyond selling a lot of Samoas, Trefoils or Thin Mints.

“Just as it was in 1912 – when Girl Scouts were founded – right through today, it is always about what is best for the girls,” Pat Burkhart, chief executive of Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania, told The Tribune-Democrat Editorial Board on Monday.

And what is best for the girls is how Scouting is developing programs that will prepare them for life’s challenges while providing a foundation for a fulfilling future.

That philosophy is reflected in the new packaging for Girl Scout cookies, which hadn’t been changed since 1999.

The new cookie boxes include stories of what Girl Scouts do today, the fun they have doing it, and all that girls learn from the experience.

All boxes feature the Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can achieve. Each Gold Awardee spends one to two years on her project.

The packages and revamped training to sell Girl Scout cookies are part of a broad effort to rebrand the Girl Scout name.

“The cookie sales are used to teach girls financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills of goal-setting, decision-making, money management, people skills and business ethics,” said Angie Stengel, the council’s chief operations officer.

The organization has 36,000 members and 6,000 adult volunteers throughout 27 counties in western Pennsylvania.

Stengel stressed the council’s emphasis on teaching girls how to develop healthy lifestyles, connecting to their communities and appreciating the environment.

“We are growing despite seeing a decline in girl population of 8 percent,” she said.

“Offering opportunities to girls from kindergarten through grade 12, our market share is 14 percent ­– and much of that growth can be attributed to our incredible volunteers,” Stengel said.

To prepare girls with leadership skills, the council is responding to their emotional, social and academic needs.

“A variety of pathways have been developed to deliver immeasurable benefits tied to specific outcomes,” Stengel said.

The model of Scouting also has changed.

Nowadays, children don’t even have to join a troop to become a Girl Scout.

Burkhart said individual members may go to camp and pay the Girl Scout rate.

Girls also can join various programs that provide opportunities to travel or to study specialized subjects.

There is a strong emphasis on career education for the trades and for jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“We have so many options,” Stengel said. “Our ‘To Get Her There’ program works on breaking down the barriers that are keeping girls from reaching their potential as leaders.”

And although programs have changed, there is still a need for troop leaders.

“We have several males who are some of our best leaders,” Stengel said. “In some single-parent homes, girls sometimes don’t get to interact with a male role model.”

She said some males take the lead in teaching girls a variety of skills such as camping.

“A male leader is required to have an unrelated female co-leader present in a troop,” Stengel said.

Officials estimate it takes $260 a year to participate in Girls Scouts. That’s one reason cookie sales are so vital to sustaining a spectrum of programs and initiatives.

“Cookie sales serve as a financial literacy program that teaches girls how to save for a goal while being up front, honest and fair,” said Michelle Magiske Treadwell, regional vice president. “Scholarships are available for low-income families.”

Burkhart said Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.

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