Local Girl Scouts join in celebrating first century
This is the big year. Girl Scouts throughout the country are celebrating 100 years of American girls exploring their potentials and having fun cooking over campfires, earning badges, sleeping in tents, hiking, swimming and much more. (The cookie selling came five years later!)
Girl Scouts, leaders and alumni throughout the Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Council will take time out on the evening of March 12 to commemorate the day in 1912 when the founder of Girl Scouting, Juliette Gordon Low, started her first troop in Savannah, Ga. They will hold Promise Circles and small celebrations in more than 300 locations around the metropolitan area.
They will also hold a Tribute to Achievement Dinner that evening for Girl Scouting's civic and corporate benefactors to thank them for the impact that they have had on girls' lives and to honor high-achieving former Girl Scouts like Mary Dillon, CEO of US Cellular, and Anne Pramaggiore, the first woman CEO of ComEd.
But that is just the beginning of the celebrations.
"We have such a great year ahead of us," said Maria Wynne, CEO for Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana.
Girl Scout history will be honored in 46 displays in libraries and museums around the Council throughout the year; and on or near Arbor Day on April 27, girls and volunteers in many communities will be planting commemorative trees purchased with pennies they have been collecting since October.
Throughout the year girls will be able to participate online in the "Savannah Shuffle" virtual walk from Chicago to Savannah, Ga., by tracking the miles they walk each day using a pedometer from the Council. While the exact miles involved will depend on where each girl lives, the average virtual trek will be 978 miles. Wynne and others in the Council hope that through this activity girls will learn the health benefits of walking, sharpen their math skills and maybe prepare to participate in the Council's 5K event in September.
In June, more than 650 local girls will travel to Washington, D.C., for the national "Rock the Mall" event to mark the centennial and in July, Chicago will host 750 girls from around the world for the Girls' World Forum, sponsored by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS).
On Sept. 8 the Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Council will host the "Cookie Classic 5K" event in Grant Park. All are invited to collect pledges and participate. In fact, Wynne said, they are hoping to see large corporate teams participating.
They will close the year with a Camporee event on or around Low's Oct. 31 birth date.
"When you think about the fact that when Juliette Gordon Low started the Girl Scouts in 1912, women didn't even have the right to vote in this country, this anniversary and all we have achieved are all the more amazing and impressive," Wynne stated. "After seeing Robert Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in England, Juliette started the Girl Scouts here because she wanted to give girls in the United States an equal opportunity to explore their potential and the world around them."
And over the years they have provided service to untold millions, providing food to those in need, volunteering in hospitals, holding clothing drives, tending World War II Victory Gardens and involving themselves in ecology projects like cleaning up rivers, building parks and trails and planting trees. They have also participated in extraordinary events like a World's Fair, periodic international Girl Scout Round Ups, the "Flames of Freedom" candle-lighting ceremony during the nation's Bicentennial and, more recently, national Girl Scouts Sports Events.
"Girl Scouting is still relevant today because we are equipping girls for the global economy they will be facing when they are adults and are teaching them to become leaders in their communities," she explained. "We already have women in Chicago who are former Girl Scouts who are leading major organizations and corporations, creating jobs and shaping our economy."
Today, the Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Council alone has 86,000 girls and 24,000 volunteers in 245 communities.
"We are working to give them the necessary skills, through activities like robotics competitions and Project Law, so that they may to pursue anything they wish in such diverse fields as ecology, engineering, math, science and law," Wynne said. "We are encouraging girls early on to pursue anything that interests them. There is no longer any such thing as careers that are 'just for boys'."
Emily Rose Bartusiak, 16, of Lake Forest has taken that charge to heart. She is actively exploring her future options through the many opportunities offered through Girl Scouts.
Last summer she was one of 25 girls accepted into Camp CEO, a weeklong experience during which girls were exposed to the corporate world and were able to spend a day with and be mentored by a local CEO.
She also participated in Project Law, a new program for girls in sixth through 12th grades. They met with practicing attorneys and learned about the law from them. The program culminated in a mock trial held at the Dirksen Federal Building.
Finally, Bartusiak is one of six nonvoting girl representatives to the Council's board of directors, helping to influence decisions made about programming and policies.
"I would recommend that any girl join Girl Scouts and stay in it as long as possible," Bartusiak said. "It is not just about camping, cookies and merit badges. It is about making lots of great, lasting friendships and also mentoring younger girls."
"In addition, Girl Scouts has made me a girl of courage, confidence and character through everything they offer and the tools they have given me," she added.
Bartusiak is considering majoring in electrical or chemical engineering as an undergraduate and then attending law school with the final goal of becoming a patent attorney or going into business.
Dedicated, hardworking volunteers like Peggy Rogers and Mary Ann Christenson of Elk Grove Village and Jane Doyle of Lisle are the reason that the Girl Scout program has remained so strong all these years.
All three were Girl Scouts, for at least a few years, as children. But something about those youthful experiences propelled them to return as adult leaders, even if they didn't have any daughters.
Rogers wanted to get out of the house after her son was born in 1966 so she volunteered to lead a Cadet troop of junior high age girls in Elk Grove Village.
"It sounds corny but when I was a girl at Girl Scout camp, we sang a song about 'blue lake and rocky shore, I will return once more' and I always remembered that. I wanted to go back," Roger recalled.
So for many years she led troops, co-led her daughter's Junior troop and acted as an adviser to her daughter's Senior troop.
Around the time of the country's Bicentennial in 1976, however, she found her true calling when she became interested in the history of Girl Scouting and the story of Juliette Gordon Low. She subsequently cowrote a book on Low, became her Council's historian and for the past 37 years she has portrayed Low to audiences many times each month. She even edits a newsletter on Girl Scout history that goes out to 500 people around the country each month.
"I can't tell you how much I have enjoyed sharing Girl Scout history with people and showing them archival uniforms, handbooks, badges and so forth. It has been so rewarding to see their faces when they see a uniform like the one they wore or their mother wore," Rogers said.
"After all these years, I feel like I know Juliette's history better than I know my own," she quipped.
Christenson, on the other hand, stayed in Scouting from Brownies through 12th grade and even attended an international Round Up in Lake Champlain, Vt., in 1962. But after she turned 18, she felt that there was no role for her in the organization.
Then later, as luck would have it, she had no daughters -- only a son -- so she didn't see an obvious route back into Girl Scouts until her friend's daughter's troop needed a leader and she agreed to lead 16 Junior Scouts.
Before long she had become so involved in the organization again that she left her corporate job to take a staff position with the former DuPage County Girl Scout Council, working her way up the organization until she retired a few years ago.
But Christenson can't stay away and is now back to volunteering. She is a mentor to girls working toward their Gold Award and is also the committee chairwoman for a local Venture Crew made up of older boys and girls. She even reads to girls at day camp each summer.
"The experience I had in Girl Scouts was so wonderful that I wanted to stay involved," Christenson explained. "We all pick what we are comfortable with and interested in and this has been a good volunteer niche for me."
She is particularly proud of the changes she has seen in the program over the years.
"They update the program every few years and it always reflects what girls need to know at the time," she said. "Today there is much more about careers, saving for a car, buying insurance, car maintenance, online safety, banking accounts and things like that which you would have never seen in the old days."
She also noted that meeting times are more flexible today to meet the needs of working women who want to lead troops. Instead of meeting right after school like they once did, many troops now meet in the evenings or on weekends, she said.
Doyle took a more traditional route. She returned to Girl Scouts by leading her daughter's Brownie troop, and she got progressively more involved over the years, always as a volunteer. She even led her daughter's Senior Troop where all of the girls earned their Gold Awards.
Today she is a Council historian, working to help set up 100th anniversary exhibits in museums and libraries all around the Council, and she is also a three-year Council delegate to national Girl Scout meetings like the recent convention in Houston.
"I am still involved in Girl Scouts because I really believe in the program and I see this as a great opportunity to develop girls' potential and convince them not to be afraid to try something just because they are a girl," Doyle stated.
"Today there is so much recognition of girls' abilities and there is also so much more help and training for adult leaders that I am really proud to be a part of it all," she continued. "I am having a good time and constantly meeting wonderful people, so there is no end to my volunteering in sight."