While celebrating its first 100 years, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America can look back with satisfaction while planning a promising future.
"The national organization is constantly reassessing the girls' needs to make sure we stay relevant, such as a brand new 'Girl's Guide to Girl Scouting' that just came out in September," said Gwen Ferguson, vice president of volunteer services for the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana.
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By listening to members and using sound research, the organization tweaked what works and added programming. But throughout its first century, Girl Scouts' mission remains constant: to encourage girls to be confident, courageous and of good character to leave the world a better place.
The organization began on March 12, 1912, when founder Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low assembled the first Girl Scout Troop in Savannah, Ga. Her dream was to promote goodwill and friendship around the world.
"At the time Juliette Low started the Girl Scouts, girls were sheltered and not doing things like sports," Ferguson said. "We have a picture showing how Low hung blankets around so the girls could play basketball in their bloomers with no one seeing them."
Today, more than 50 million women in the U.S. are Girl Scouts alumnae. There are 3.2 millions girls and adults in more than 100 local Girl Scout councils across the United States and others in more than 92 countries, according to girlscouts.org. Belonging to a Girl Scout troop provides a familiarity to girls if their family moves across the country or around the globe. Details on how to continue in a group wherever you live are on the website.
Everywhere Girl Scouting is found, it continues to inspire, challenge and empower girls. To celebrate its centenary, Girl Scouts USA will launch its yearlong 100th Anniversary celebration at the Girl Scouts National Council Session 52nd Convention Nov. 8 to 13 in Houston, Texas.
Lisle resident Jane Doyle, a former Girl Scout and Girl Scout leader for 16 years, is among 25 local elected delegates traveling to Texas for this year's convention. Doyle says the national convention, which takes place every three years, is an opportunity to learn, exchange ideas and meet colleagues from across the country. She is always impressed with the young delegates who come.
Part of the convention is a two-day Girl Scout Leadership Institute with a variety of programs ranging from storytelling to leadership development. Former Girl Scout, TV host and journalist Katie Couric will welcome participants and alumnae.
The Girl Scouts Forever Green action project will roll out to make an environmental difference in local communities nationwide. There will be a Song Leaders' workshop, a Flash Mob experience, and an Unleash Creativity session.
Approximately four years ago, the national organization consolidated councils and streamlined operations. The structural move condensed 315 councils into 112. The move gave birth to the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana council, the largest in the country. It serves more than 86,000 girl members and 23,000 adult volunteer/members in 245 communities including those in DuPage, Cook and Kane counties, said Julie Somogyi, the council's director of integrated marketing and communications.
The new council offers convenient service centers, called Girl Scouting Gathering Places, in six regional locations. The Lisle location, at 2400 Ogden Ave., has a gift shop with resources for local troops in addition to many 100th anniversary items.
The expanded council also has seven camp sites including Camp Greene Wood in Woodridge. Girls and troops may attend any programs or camps within its council.
Recently the entire Girl Scout proficiency badge program was revamped to include activities and programs relevant to today's girls. Added to the traditional camper, cook, naturalist, athlete and trail blazer are badges for web design, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, innovation, digital filmmaking and environment. The make-your-own badge allows a member to explore a personal interest in depth.
Other changes in Girl Scouting include one to address the needs of high school-level Girl Scouts. The program continues to serve girls ages 5 to 17, which includes Daisies for kindergarten and first grade; Brownies in grades two and three; Juniors in grades four and five; Cadettes in grades six through eight; Seniors in grades nine and 10; and the new Ambassador level for grades 11 and 12.
Girls may join Girl Scouts in several different ways. The Camp pathway is for girls who want to attend only summer camps. The Series pathway allows girls to work on a badge or focus on an interest for a defined period of time. Last year, the local council had a Project Law Track run by a group of lawyers for girls to learn about law, Ferguson said.
Another path to Girl Scouting is the Individual Girl Member, or Juliettes, as they are sometimes called. This membership allows any girl to choose things of personal interest from the program guide even though she is not a troop member.
With all this diversity, the most popular pathway to Girl Scouting remains its traditional troop, which often includes two adults meeting regularly with 10 to 15 girls. Older girls may intersperse monthly troop meetings with trips and activities.
Lisle resident Marie Hasse is a Girl Scout Leader for both of her daughters' troops. She oversees 31 girls in Brownie Troop 50062, which meets every other week, and another 14 girls in Junior Troop 59784, which meets monthly.
Changes in Girl Scouting even have touched the traditional Girl Scout cookies. In addition to the ever popular Thin Mints and others, a new cookie called the Savannah Smile will honor the location where Girl Scouting began. Although no official information has been released, an Internet search reveals the new cookie might be a bite-sized, lemon wedge dusted in powdered sugar. Yumm.
• Joan Broz writes about Lisle.