Editor’s Note: Though Liz is a reporter for CDN, she’s putting on her Girl Scout troop leader cap for this post to get you ready for cookie season.
Beginning today Girl Scouts will be standing outside many of your neighborhood supermarkets, bank branches, drugstores – seemingly everywhere – trying to sell you their infamous Girl Scout Cookies. Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Trefoils…everyone seems to have their favorites and can recognize them by their brightly covered boxes plastered with pictures of smiling Girl Scouts.
But where do all these Girl Scouts come from? And why are they selling cookies? Maybe you should ask them. Their answers might surprise you.
Girl Scouts of Western Washington, or GSWW, is the local Girl Scout Council that represents approximately 26,000 girls from kindergarten through 12th grade. GSWW belongs to the umbrella nonprofit organization, Girl Scouts USA, which will be celebrating its 100th year in 2012. Girl Scouts and its international sister organizations make up the largest girl-oriented program in the world, with more than 3.2 million girl and adult members in the United States alone. When we think about Girl Scouts, most of us are familiar with Brownies, but there are actually six levels in Girl Scouting divided by grades, beginning with Daisies in Kindergarten and going all the way through high school with 11th and 12th graders called Ambassadors.
Girl Scouts of Western Washington is split into dozens of smaller Service Units that represent cities or regional areas. The Service Unit that represents Central Seattle, including Capitol Hill, the Central District, Columbia City and Rainier Beach, is Service Unit 540, and as a GSWW employee, Emily Nolan is the Service Unit’s Regional Director.
She is also the Service Unit Manager, the Cookie Manager and the Treasurer – all of which are supposed to be volunteer positions filled by troop leaders. But Nolan’s problem is that there just aren’t enough volunteers.
“We have about 20 volunteer-led troops serving approximately 150 girls in this service area. But we also have a waiting list 200 girls long,” said Nolan. Besides the 20 volunteer-led troops in Service Unit 540, this area is also home to about 15 outreach troops, which together include about 200 girls. Outreach troops are run by GSWW Council employees and are designed to meet the needs of girls in high risk situations: girls in foster care, those with parents who are incarcerated, or populations who are under-served, like recent immigrants or refugees, or girls living in very deep poverty.
Every fall, just as the school year gears up, Nolan and other Regional Directors in GSWW hold recruitment meetings at libraries, community centers and schools; the Central District recruitment meetings are held at the Douglass-Truth Library. These meetings are usually very well attended, advertised by fliers at local schools. The issue though is that parents who attend often say, “My daughter wants to join a Girl Scout troop,” and rarely add, “…and I want to lead it.”
But here’s a little known fact: parents aren’t the only adults who can be Girl Scout leaders. That’s where people like my friend Lindsey and I come in. We have been leading a Girl Scout troop in White Center for eight years. When we started it was a mixed level troop of Daisies, Brownies and Cadettes. Today we have a core group of 14 girls ranging from 7th through 10th grades. Besides going camping, hiking and singing songs around a campfire, our girls study careers, volunteer at the Red Cross, learn about healthy lifestyles, collect donations for victims of house fires, get help with homework, plan college visits, take swimming lessons, and volunteer at the local food bank. Selling cookies every year helps the girls learn good business sense and marketing, teaches them about profit margins, quick addition and subtraction, and hones their organizational skills. Year after year we’ve sold more cookies than the year before. We use the money earned from cookie sales to keep our troop running year-round without the need for monetary support from the girls’ families. And this year we’re working extra hard to take a trip to New York City.
And guess where our girls love to sell cookies? In Capitol Hill and the Central District. There are lots of popular stores who have set agreements with GSWW to let Girl Scouts sell cookies outside their doors, and too few Girl Scouts in this area to take all the spots. This imbalance between supply and demand means that Girl Scouts from other areas get to visit our vibrant neighborhoods and fill the spots left over after the Central Seattle Girl Scouts have signed up for the shifts they want.
So those girls outside the grocery store might be from down the street, or they might be from across town or even from the suburbs. They may be from White Center, and I may be there with them. Each of them has a different reason for selling cookies and a different story behind why they love being a Girl Scout.
In the words of Marina, age 16: “My favorite part of Girl Scouts? If I had to nail down the best aspect about Girl Scouts, out of the hundreds, I would have to say I simply love the feeling. The amazing feeling I get after giving back to the most important place in my life, my community.”
Jenny, age 14, said, “When I first heard of Girl Scouts I was a 4th grader and I didn’t know what it was but one day my friend invited me and I came to a meeting. In the end, I loved Girl Scouts and I knew that it was something I wanted to be in for a while. Throughout the years I came to have a very strong bond with not only the leaders but the other members, and I know that when I need someone to talk to they are there for me.”
Ranny, a freshman at Evergreen High School who recently won a bicycle in an essay contest in White Center, said that Girl Scouts has helped her by giving her more freedom. “When I was young, my parents were strict and overprotective. Ever since joining Girl Scouts, they have eased up to let my sister and I go places, do different things.” And after three years of being in the troop and asking over and over again, they finally let them go Girl Scout camping. “It was such a surprise to us, we almost cried…the trip is something I will never forget.”
If you are interested in volunteering to lead a troop or want to get involved in Girl Scouts of Western Washington in another way, please contact the Regional Director Emily Nolan via email at [email protected]. Please put “CDNews Article” in the subject line so she will know you’re contacting her about volunteering in our area.
Girl Scout cookies will be available at booth sales at local businesses February 25 through March 13. Cookies are $4 a box; girls earn between $.55 and $.70 per box. Girl Scout cookies can be purchased and donated to Operation Cookie Drop, which sends cookies to United States soldiers stationed abroad, or Gift of Caring, which delivers cookies to food banks and shelters. Ask the Girl Scouts you purchase cookies from about which charitable organization your cookie donations will go to. Thank you for supporting Girl Scouts.