Community Post

Girl Scouts learn business and life skills, but lack volunteer leadership

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. 

0 thoughts on “Girl Scouts learn business and life skills, but lack volunteer leadership

  1. Obviously a parent or guardian needs to be part of the cookie operation outside a grocery store, but they often seem to be part of the “sales team”. It would be a better (and maybe more successful) experience for all if the parent (etc) sat quietly observing in the background, rather than being part of the action!

  2. Re: “Selling cookies every year helps the girls learn good business sense and marketing, teaches them about profit margins…, skills.” I would like to see healthier choices offered as a product. Perhaps including all these lessons and adding the part on how our product eventually affects those buying it and the world we live it. I would like to see Girl Scout leadership introduce the environment and health as criteria in selecting your product and demonstrate how you can be selective and responsible in what you sell and still earn a profit.

  3. Andrew, that is a real concern and there are complaints about that every year. Truth be told, we’re not allowed to “sit” for the sales, so the adults always seem to be hovering, though I try to step to the side or step back and let the girls run things. I think a lot of times the parents are speaking for the younger girls who are too shy or are still learning how to count money or learning about each of the cookies.

    Additionally, most of the time site sales are one or two girls and their mom. We tend to have larger groups (like 4), and I think the girls sort of bolster each other which helps them come out of their shell and talk directly to the customers.

    Sometimes the customers ask questions that the girls don’t know answers to, things more about GS as an organization, so I step in and answer those for them. I hope your experience this year is a positive one and that the girls impress you with their customer service.

  4. I hope you can see through your concerns about the cookies to the positive things the organization does for millions of girls across the country, especially when it comes to the girls leading the way on recycling, sustainable agriculture, planting trees and removing invasive species from parks, etc. The GS camps across WA State are beautiful, their emphasis is on preserving the environment, and hundreds of acres of forests are being maintained in WA state alone in various GS camps. That’s a long term benefit to the environment and our state that the GS organization is fostering.

  5. What are they supposed to sell, fish oil and acai berries? :-)
    Somehow I think if they were selling something healthy, that sales would not be as good. Still, it would be fun to see them partner with local businesses to sell products; local bakeries and ice cream shops perhaps? Without being willing to volunteer, it’s not fair to complain. Maybe Lazara could volunteer to help out with the sale operation and see what could be done to enact her vision of a more healthy sustainable sales option?

  6. I am mom to a Girl Scout (Daisey). We sit back and let the girls do the sales. We handle the money (the Daiseys are in K and 1st grade). We worked with them for several meetings to go over the approach and even did quite a bit of role play. We also will not let them sell if they don’t have their uniform on, no exceptions. I thought this was a GSWW requirement. Obviously we answer quesions that they cannot but generally the do a great job answering the simple questions (“which would you recommend? What will the money go toward?, etc.)

  7. When the girls were younger we did role play during meetings and worked on responses, prompts, counting back change, etc. It’s great now that they’re older to watch them keep and handle the money (except I hold on to the 20s!), answer customer questions and give suggestions when people ask for them.

    Our troop had sashes as Brownies but we have not purchased sashes since then. The age groups for levels changed a few years ago so the uniform pieces were in flux, and Financial Aid benefits have changed recently and, as I said above, we use all our money earning to run the troop year round to keep the expense off of the parents. Therefore we haven’t purchased uniform pieces, but we plan to soon. Our understanding from our service unit manager was that Girl Scout attire of some sort would suffice.

    We have bought them official GS t-shirts this year with the new logo on them. Sashes are next on the list…

  8. Thanks Liz. I love Girl Scouts. I think it is so empowering for the girls. Since most of the girls in my daughter’s troop are bridging to Brownies, the goal for the cookie sales this year is to supply Brownie uniforms for each of the girls. We will hit that goal I am happy to say. Support the girls everyone, if you can, and all other hard working groups that empower/ inspire the kids! They work hard and learn lots along the way…

  9. To: funkisockmunki. As a consumer, I feel I do have the right to make suggestions to a company/organization providing a product without necessarily being part of that organization/company. There are many varieties of chocolate chip cookies or macaroons,…etc do not contain hydrogenated oils or the long list of chemicals which the GS cookies contain. These options are readily available in stores and therefore I would assume, are available wholesale as well. I, personally, do not feel the product the GS sells reflects the values it states to promote. And since I would not feed these cookies to my kids or anyone, I don’t buy them nor would I be willing to help an organization sell them. My opinion.

  10. Kathleen, here are two of our girls, sisters in 7th & 10th grades, wearing the new shirts and selling at QFC Harvard Market on Sunday.