What is the Purpose of Girl Scouts? Definitely More Than Just Cookies
If you were in Girl Scouts as a young girl, your memories probably consist mostly of selling Girl Scout cookies, earning badges, and maybe going on a camp with your fellow scouts.
But as Director of Coaching and Facilitation at Galileo and co-leader of a worldwide Girl Scout troop Elizabeth Streett explained in a recent inspirED Clubhouse event, today’s organization is more focused on developing leadership and life skills, while of course, fostering friendship among the girls.
“It’s not about us teaching the girls or telling them what to do and earn these badges in this order...it’s not like a curriculum.” - Elizabeth Streett
The Purpose of Girl Scouts
Streett, along with former Girl Scout members Vicki Adams and Amy Kennedy, began the event by sharing memories they had as young girls: their first overnight Girl Scout camps, learning songs, and bonding with new friends.
Adams explains that these things are what create a sense of community and "safety" in Girl Scout troops, allowing a girl "to be able to learn and grow as a person that [they] are, and the person [they're] becoming."
Now, as adult members, these women see Girl Scouts as a place to find community and make the world a better place.
Adams, who has moved around a lot, states that Girl Scout chapters have given her a home no matter where she is. "Country to country, city to city, and I can always find a home in Girl Scouting where there are people who are like-minded. A good way to sort of make friends as well as give back to the community."
Additionally, by encouraging girls to get involved in an all-girl organization, members are able to see their friends excel in leadership roles while developing their cooperation and socialization skills in authentic ways, outside of school.
What Girl Scouts Do
As you might remember from your own time as a Girl Scout, Brownie, or Daisy, members still work to earn badges for their uniforms. They still have meetings to develop leadership skills and focus on giving back to communities through food drives, and their troop cookie business.
But the Girl Scouts of today do so much more than that.
Kennedy explains that there's a real Girl Scout movement to encourage scouts to work individually to discover their passions and to develop skills through self-directed learning.
"Girl Scouting today has four pillars: STEM, outdoors, entrepreneurship, and life skills," she says. The scouts are encouraged to try at least one of each of these badges over the course of a year. "Girls seem pretty happy to try new things; even though they might not love STEM, it was still interesting to do the robotics badge, for example."
Girl Scouts Cookies and Confidence
Adams states that trying new things is a really important part of how Girl Scouts builds girls up. "Girl Scouting is a really safe space for them to be able to try things and fail," she says.
A unique way that Girl Scouts are able to learn about the real world is by creating their own cookie business, selling those incredibly delicious Girl Scout cookies. History has it that these cookies have been part of the Girl Scout program since the early 1900s when one of the Girl Scouts made cookies as part of her community service project.
The Girl Scouts organization states that the Girl Scout cookie program promotes that idea of entrepreneurship and cooperation and that the proceeds support the "girls' ability to learn, grow and thrive through adventure," by funding camping trips and STEM projects.
Building Leaders of Tomorrow
With such a rapidly-changing world and job market, it can be challenging for parents and teachers to know how to prepare kids for the future. But what we do know is that by providing girls with authentic leadership opportunities, we allow them to develop values, character, courage, and confidence—all while having fun.
As Adams says, to build leaders, "we put the girl first." She explains that Girl Scouts' programming has always been girl-designed and "based on what girls have asked for." This is an important part of encouraging younger girls to be troop leaders.
Adams states that they "unfortunately know from research that oftentimes when girls are in an environment with boys, their leadership skills are set on the back burner just because of how we've been socialized with a little bit of patriarchy."
Girl Scouting Builds Girls
Research shows that girls who are in a single-sex environment are able to really develop their leadership skills in a positive way. "We want them to be able to do that in this safe, welcoming environment where they can feel free to truly explore all aspects of their identity," says Adams.
With that said, Streett makes sure to specify that "anyone who identifies as a girl" is welcome to join Girl Scouts.
In their conversation, Kennedy shares that her 16-year-old daughter grew up as a Daisy (a junior Girl Scout) when she was younger. She was very quiet and had trouble expressing herself as a young girl. But about a year ago she went outside her comfort zone and led one of the neighborhood "junior troops" (4th and 5th-grade girls).
"She led them through a journey in a day and she planned and organized it and had all this fun stuff for them to do," Kennedy recalls. "It was great when I think back to what she was like when she was seven and wouldn't utter a word at a Girl Scout meeting."
Girls supporting girls is something the Girl Scouts pride themselves on. The adults share in the celebration of their daughters and the fact that the Girl Scouts organization builds girls of courage, confidence, and character.
Giving Back to the Community
Because the Girl Scouts organization is so focused on building confident leaders and thoughtful learners, a large part of the Girl Scouts' program is centered around volunteering.
Streett talks about the journey these girls take when achieving the "highest award" —either a Bronze, Silver, or Gold. These awards are given when the scouts take action to make the world a better place.
Girl Scouts are encouraged to choose projects that are meaningful to them as individuals. Kennedy says her daughter is currently in this process: she came up with her own idea on how to improve her local community, she has a mentor, and she tracks all of her hours and progress on worksheets.
This choice and accountability builds responsibility and encourages each girl to become a lifelong volunteer.
"It's great to watch the girls as they progress, and in each level, they take on more and more responsibility," says Kennedy.
How to Join Girl Scouts or Start a Troop Abroad
Even though most people assume Girls Scouts are only in the United States of America, girls and women from all around the world can join Girl Scout activities online. In fact, Kennedy and Adams are both currently living in Asia.
Girl Scouts Overseas serves American girls living abroad and their counterparts attending international schools, Adams explains. "The idea is that [scouts of the USA] will have something to transition back to when they return to the States, which of course we know not all girls will do."
Kennedy adds that she's been overseas for the past 17 years and that Girl Scouts has been the one constant—something "you can take with you." She says her daughter has been a Girl Scout since they lived in Canada and that her experience as a scout has "been seamless moving around on our virtual troop."
If women are interested in starting up a virtual Girl Scout troop, they can start a community by registering at www.usagso.org.
Getting Involved in the Girl Scouts of the USA
If you or your child are living in the United States, it's pretty easy to find a local Girl Scouts troop to get involved with.
Girl Scouts got its start in Savannah, Georgia almost 100 years ago, and today there are 2.5 million Girl Scouts, with 1.7 million girl members and 750,000 adult volunteers. There are Girl Scouts chapters all around the States, and you can find one near you by searching your zip code on the Girl Scouts of the USA website.
Streett says that even if in-person isn't a possibility, there are many virtual opportunities to explore, which still offer pretty amazing experiences for girls who want to make friends and memories that will last a lifetime.
Share with the girls in your world! You could be part of a troop from anywhere on Earth 🌍 and gain confidence, build friendships, and discover your passions.