Girl Scouts celebrate 100th anniversary

Girl Scouts in the 1950s prep boxes of cookies for delivery.
Girl Scouts in the 1950s prep boxes of cookies for delivery. Photo courtesy of Girl Scouts of Conecticut

March 12 marks the 100th birthday of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA), founded in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low of Savannah, Ga. Girl Scouting has come a long way in the past century while staying true to its core principals. The three C's, Courage, Confidence and Character, have withstood the test of time-as has selling cookies to raise funds for charitable causes.

The organization also stresses the importance of empowering girls and advocates for more educational opportunities through its STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program to ensure that young women have equal opportunity to succeed in these critical fields of the future.

Girl Scouting is not only alive and well but growing in leaps and bounds here in Connecticut where a host of celebratory events are being scheduled throughout the state in the upcoming year.

Connecticut is among only five statewide councils in the country, representing all girls who reside here, according to Jennifer Smith Turner, Girl Scouts of CT CEO.

"One in every six girls in the state is a Girl Scout. We're on a growth trajectory," she says. "We're growing our membership at a time when most youth organizations are seeing a decline in memberships."

Smith Turner attributes the growth in part to concern on the national level to ensure that Girl Scouting is relevant in the 21st century.

On March 7 Girls Scouts of CT held a Girl Scouts Day at the Capitol to discuss and advocate for key issues that impact girls statewide.

"Clearly, the opportunities girls now have are unbelievable," Smith Turner says. "Title Nine (created an) opportunities revolution. In today's environment our focus is on building leadership acquisition for girls and making sure that girls have every opportunity and are in disciplines where you don't usually see them."

Even the selling of Girl Scout cookies has grown and evolved with 21st-century technologies. Girls use Facebook to alert people that it's "cookie time," Smith Turner says, but emphasizes that they still do a lot of face-to-face, door-to-door selling, as well as booth sales at supermarkets. Through the Gift of Caring program, people can donate cookies to send to the military.

"Already, 85,000 boxes of cookies have been purchased (in CT) to be donated to the military," Smith Turner says. "We hope to reach 130,000 by April. Our military just loves it. They're so appreciative. Particularly if they're overseas, it's such a touch of home, so iconic."

Carrying on the Tradition

Michelle Brown is the Waterford Girls Scouts service unit manager. In just one town she oversees 30 troops made up of about 300 girls and more than 100 registered volunteers.

Brown was a Girl Scout growing up in New London and her daughter, now in high school, carries on the tradition.

Brown proudly points out that one of the first troops in the country was formed in New London, soon after the founding of GSUSA. Although there aren't many records of the early years, it's documented that Mrs. Leroy Gracey of Quaker Hill had a troop that marched in a parade in 1918 and manned the first-aid tent.

Like Smith Turner Brown believes one of the reasons Girl Scouting is thriving is its ability to adapt to today's world.

"GSUSA keeps up with the times, changes programs, has added programs for older girls," she says. "Because of the time demands of school and curriculum-some girls are involved in sports, some have to work-there are different pathways to being a Girl Scout besides attending troop meetings," she says.

These may include camping, attending events, connecting on the Internet, being involved in specific programs and fundraisers.

"Every girl does it in a different way," Brown says. "There's no right or wrong way. It's just about giving your time."

Brown finds that Girl Scouting is "very open and embraced" in Southeastern Connecticut.

"We've done waterway programs with the Coast Guard. Our cookies are deployed all over the world from (New London) and the girls feel a connection with that," she says.

Brown says it's incredibly rewarding to watch her first troop, which she stared in 1997, evolve into confident college-age young women who have touched other people's lives and understand the importance of community service.

"I've seen friendships blossom that may not have happened if the girls hadn't met in a troop atmosphere, where they feel safe to be themselves and express themselves, and be accepted for who they are: strong young women," she says. "I've also probably met hundreds of women I wouldn't have met. It's incredible what you learn working with other women."

In the end, Brown stresses, "We're all working for the same goal-to keep reaching out and touching more and more girls' lives.

"It's all about the girls," she says.

RELATED EVENTS

March 12 - A Promise Circle, 6:30 p.m., Civic Triangle ("Waterford Duck Pond"). Every CT Girl Scout will recite the Girl Scout Promise and Law simultaneously in different locations throughout the state.

April 20 - Girl Scouts Going Green, recycling event at Clark Lane Middle School in Waterford, coordinated by Cadettes earning their Silver Award in troop 63430.

May 19, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. - Girl Scout 100th Jubilee, Durham Fairgrounds, 24 Town House Rd, Durham. Featuring musicians, comedians, and other performers.

May 20 - "Someone Special and Me" dance. Dancing through the decades from 1912 to 2012 at Port and Starboard at Ocean Beach Park, New London.

Aug. 5-12 - International Camporee at Camp Laurel, Lebanon. The theme of this 100th birthday event is "Changing the World - One Meal at A Time." Girls will learn about nutrition, food sources, world food supplies and how they can change the world.

For more information on local events, contact waterfordgirlscouts@gmail.com. For details on statewide events, visit www.gsofct.org.

Girl Scouts paddle a canoe at Camp Pattagansett in East Lyme.
Girl Scouts paddle a canoe at Camp Pattagansett in East Lyme. Photo courtesy of Girl Scouts of Connecticut
Girl Scouts at Camp Pattagansett in East Lyme.
Girl Scouts at Camp Pattagansett in East Lyme. Photo courtesy of Girl Scouts of Connecticut
Jean Dexter (front row, second from left) of Kansas City, Mo., is shown here with her Girl Scout troop in 1931.
Jean Dexter (front row, second from left) of Kansas City, Mo., is shown here with her Girl Scout troop in 1931. Photo courtesy of Sally Van Dyke
Kylie Heard, 9, of Groton models her great-grandmother Jean Dexter's Girl Scout uniform (see previous photo).
Kylie Heard, 9, of Groton models her great-grandmother Jean Dexter's Girl Scout uniform (see previous photo). Photo courtesy of Sally Van Dyke

Your Girl Scout stories

(Scouting) had a terrific impact on us, and it put us very much in the mode of helping others and solving problems and working together. It was a terrific experience, and there are a great many of us here in Niantic that still cherish those memories very thoroughly.

Eleanor Saunders, Niantic; Scout Troop 71

n In 1984 my mom started a Daisy Girl Scout troop in New London as part of a pilot program for Kindergarten kids — the first one in the state. I continued in Girl Scouts through high school and am a lifetime member. I now have a Brownie troop of my own.

I am not sure if I would have become a troop leader if not for my mother, who was my troop leader. Even though I am all grown up now, my mom still continues to have three troops. Through Girl Scouts I met some of the most amazing people who have played an important role in my life and made me the person I am today. I remember all of the things we did when I was a scout and try to give the girls in my troop some of those same experiences and adventures I was given the opportunity to enjoy. ... Through the Girl Scouts I learned about community service, helping others and being a sister to every other Girl Scout. I can’t wait until next year when my own daughter will be able to join the Girl Scouts and hopefully make the some of the same friendships and memories to last a lifetime that I made as a scout. I am not sure where my life would have taken me if not for my mom and the Girl Scouts.

Traci Buckholt-Miller, New London

I remember very clearly my first Girl Scout meeting as a Brownie. We were in the basement of the firehouse in my hometown, and my leader read us the Brownie Story. From that moment on I was hooked on Girl Scouts.

My Cadette leader, Jean Clark, was a wonderful mentor who took an awkward, shy teenager and taught her leadership, self value and a passion to go for your dreams. I was not good at sports, not particularly talented in anything, but she nurtured my interests, taught me wonderful leadership and encouraged me to be the best I could be.

In Girl Scouting I found a place where I was valued for being my own person, and I was able to achieve many goals that help to formulate who I am today. I have been a leader in Girl Scouts now for 33 years. I have had many girls for the whole 12 years they were in scouting. We have traveled to Canada, Mexico and all over the USA. Many have gone on to earn their Gold Award and become wonderful, successful adults. I like to think that the leadership role model that I got from my troop leaders carried forward and that in my own small way, I have given the same things to the girls that have been in my troops through the years.

Mandy Brink, Troop 63108, North Stonington

n My experiences as a Girl Scout were life-altering. We learned to ride and care for horses, canoe, camp and sail. My troop went from St Louis to Mystic for sailing school in our junior year, and we barefoot sailed in the Bahamas after graduation.

This was not an affluent group. Many had part-time jobs to pay for activities. I still get together with a group from my troop in Missouri to canoe together and catch up on our lives. Being a scout was not “cool” even then but a wonderful outlet and fun.

Amy Kinkler, East Lyme, Girl Scout 1957-1968

My experiences in Girl Scouting helped prepare me for me teaching career at North Stonington Elementary School. Noank was my hometown, and now as I look back to the 1940s and ’50s, I am impressed that so many women were willing to spend their time and energy with us. ... I still remember the poem I had to learn to recite as part of the entertainment at a Mother’s Tea, where we practiced our hospitality skills. That was my first year in Brownies. At one point I was secretary for our troop, walking weekly with our news to the home of our Noank reporter, Eleanor Hunter, for the New London Day. ... At 13 or 14, I became a program aide in day camps held at the Haley Farm and later at the present site of Claude Chester School. I loved the singing, the camp-craft skills and cooking over an open fire. I taught these skills to the younger girls and discovered that working with children gave me much pleasure. ... Girl Scouting was an enriching part of my childhood. It is increasingly clear how fortunate I was.

Audrey D. Smith, No. Stonington

Scouting gave me so many opportunities to experience new things. It was like going into a hat store and trying on a different hat each week.

It was from a Scouting activity that I decided I wanted to become a nurse. It was a Christmas Eve 42 years ago in Cincinnati, Oh., and our troop went to a state hospital for long-term patients to sing carols, give out cookies and serve punch. I was so touched at seeing the needs of these patients and how grateful they were, that night, I decided I wanted to help people and become a nurse. I have been a nurse for 32 years and currently work in Labor and Delivery at L&M hospital. ... I am who I am today from all the years of service others have so given. Once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout.

Patti Belcher, Gales Ferry

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