By Marnita Coleman
Special to the AFRO
Nestled in Seton Business Park in Northwest Baltimore is an organization that has been advocating for girls for over 100 years. When Girls Scouts of the USA’s founder Juliette Gordon Low began her all-girl gatherings, the desire was simply to interest girls in outside activities and involvement in their communities. It has since blossomed into an organization of empowerment flaunting courage, confidence and character.
“Girl Scouts helped establish my self-confidence to do things,” stated former cadette, now social worker, Monica Ford. “You didn’t know you were learning life lessons, you were just doing. We learned organizational skills, how to work as a team raising money with the cookie drive, how to set a campfire and horseback riding. We had good outings, good times, and cared about each other and our community.”
But, is Girl Scouts still relevant present-day?
Do girls really thrive in an all-girl environment?
At her desk, draped in pearls, Girl Scouts of Central Maryland’s CEO Violet Apple spoke with the AFRO about the organization. “I’ve spent my entire career with Girl Scouts,” she proudly stated. Apple has successfully climbed the ladder of leadership in this girl-led organization. Her office serves scouts located in Central Maryland which includes Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County and Howard County. The largest population of active members are located in Baltimore City through partnership with area schools, roughly about 3,000 pre-pandemic.
AFRO: Why is Girl Scouts still a relevant organization for girls?
Violet Apple: I find that this is an organization where so many different types of girls can find their voice. This is not just an activist organization. But if you are an activist, guess what? You can find your connections with that. We’re not just one thing, and sometimes that’s to our disadvantage, from the perspective of people that say you’re so complex, you’re doing too much. I don’t think we have to be that specialized. I love that so many different girls have been able to find their voice through this organization.
Across the board, if you look at anybody that has participated in this organization, what they say they mostly got was their confidence and their passion for service to the community. Those things have not changed. Women and girls need confidence and we still need that passion for community. I think that is as relevant today as it was 110 years ago. This year we will be 110 years old as an organization. So, I think that’s why. And for me, it has kept me here because I’ve been able to touch a broad number of girls. I’ve been able to bring this rich programming to a community of girls who sometimes didn’t know it existed, didn’t know it was for them or have never had an opportunity to participate in it.
Giving girls the opportunity to learn how to be leaders in an environment and comfort level for themselves, we can’t do enough of that. When I talk about being a leader, I don’t want you to think I’m talking about every girl is going to go out and be a legislator, or senator or congress woman or doctor, no it’s being a leader in whatever environment you’re in. It could be your household. Be the most comfortable you can be in your skin in your leadership experience. So, I think we are as relevant today as we were over 100 years ago. That doesn’t mean that we are an organization without challenges, and we are very membership driven. We’ve lost membership, we’ve gained membership. And so, we are like any other nonprofit with our challenges. I feel like we are still very relevant. And there are a million girls nationwide who will tell you that’s why they’re still here. Someone feels that we’re relevant to them. And I do believe that won’t change as long as we are helping to build girl’s courage, as long as we are giving them the confidence, and we’re giving them a voice.
AFRO: In what way do you empower girls, specifically minorities?
VA: The whole Girl Scouts program is about empowerment. It is a leadership development program. All of our programs are built on the concept of the girl scout leadership experience, discovering, learning, connecting and then taking action in your community.
What’s been most empowering for girls, not just girls of color, is allowing girls to change the world in the way that is comfortable and right for them through things like their highest awards, gold awards, during the pandemic. One member did a program, Girls LACE Up, keeping with her passions for elevating the voice and experience of women of color. It stands for leadership, advocate, communicate and empower. After witnessing the simultaneous devastating events of COVID and systemic racism, it motivated her to center her experience for the voice of girls of color. She took her gold award, the highest award you can achieve in Girl Scouts, which is 85 hours of service in the community, offered courses, brought groups together, discussed mental health, gun violence and the issues that were affecting them.
To me there is nothing more empowering for a girl than to realize she has a voice and through that voice, she can make a difference.
AFRO: What programs do you have that cater to women empowerment?
VA: Our job is to give girls as many opportunities as possible. In the new year, we will launch 140 new programs outside of troupes for girls to participate in. There will be different areas outside, STEM, diversity, equity, inclusion, and what that means for girls, the world and a lot of different things for girls.
I think we have enough opportunities here that girls can find something they’re interested in. I encourage girls to step out and do something different. If you don’t have friends that are interested in what you’re interested in, try one of the programs in Girl Scouts. Get a friend and go, or make new friends. It’s really a good way to think about the rest of your life, because you’re always going to be put in situations where you may not know someone but what happens is you get an opportunity to open doors for yourself.
Our “Becoming Me” series is a program with Michele Obama specifically for the Girl Scouts. [It’s] all about being lifted up, finding your voice, being an advocate for other people and for yourself.
Pre-pandemic, a lot of programming was around STEM and robotics in Anne Arundel County, Harford County and Baltimore City. The 2019 STEM conference around cyber security released about 30 badges in engineering and cyber. Girls competed here and then against other councils around the country. It was all about introducing girls to cyber security [because there are] not a lot of women in the field.
[We have] a financial literacy program with Toyota Foundation, where 1,200 girls participated in the program at that time. Most were from Baltimore City; Entrepreneurship [by way of] cookie sales. Money earning and goal setting skills are all a part of what the cookie sales do for girls. It raises money, but also raises confidence.
The distinguished women’s program scouts are mentored by amazing women in the community. It begins to change a girl, when she can interact with a woman who is a professional in the community and what she begins to see, putting a vision to what her life can be down the road, is really key.
AFRO: Are Girl Scouts able to move to different positions within the organization after completing the program?
VA: They are definitely able to become leaders. If they go all the way through the program, quite a few of them will become lifetime members.
A number of them will work at camp in the summer or become a facilitator of something specific. Most girls will participate at the volunteer level, so there are absolutely ways for that to happen. Within the organization, if you are not interested in being a leader, in what other ways can you participate? We have different committees that people can participate in.
I would say that most girls don’t get significantly involved until after their college years, or either when they have children themselves and they want to come back.
We do have an active alumnae. There are all kinds of ways to be involved in Girl Scouts as an adult. Some people just want once and done experiences like speaking engagements. Or maybe they are going to participate in the Fierce and Fit program. We wouldn’t call it a promotion. It’s the natural progression of the next steps of what you can do in the Girl Scouts.
Famous Girl Scout alumni include:
Taylor Swift • Mariah Carey • Abigail Breslin • Gwyneth Paltrow • Dakota Fanning.• Venus Williams • Serena Williams. • Katie Couric • Barbara Walters • Robin Roberts • Susan Wojcicki • Hillary Clinton • Madeleine Albright • Condoleezza Rice.
For more information about Girl Scouts, visit www.girlscouts.org.
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