Girl Scouts—More than Cookies and Art Projects

By Holly Haggerty

When my youngest was in kindergarten, I started a Girl Scout Troop. The first two years were rocky—I was extremely busy at work and the two women that were co-leaders both dropped out for life reasons, leaving me alone to run the troop.

I almost quit after each of those years.

But my daughter wouldn’t let me. “Troop 901 must live on mom!” she said. She loved Girl Scouts. As a Daisy one of her projects was reading about a great woman role model, an activity which started us on a long run of reading books about LOTS of woman role models—many of whom had been Girl Scouts themselves (did you know 58% of the women elected in the most recent election were Girl Scouts?) It was this Daisy activity that planted the idea of winning a Nobel prize in my daughter’s mind—after all, Marie Curie had done it hadn’t she?

As a Daisy, she earned her Petals—activities centered around learning the valuable character lessons around the Girl Scout Law. We did art, we went camping at the beautiful Camp WaiLani, and got experience with sales and money with the traditional Girl Scout cookie selling. My daughter and the other troop members learned that they had millions of sisters around the world—both present and past Girl Scouts and Girl Guides (which is what Girl Scouts are called in other parts of the world).

Women of Nielsen STEM Saturday – Organized by Girl Scouts West Central Florida. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

Any Girl Scouts is Better than No Girl Scouts

So, in spite of my busy work schedule, I carried on as a Girl Scout Leader—thankfully. My mantra became “Any amount of Girl Scouts is better than no Girl Scouts.” I learned how to really take advantage of the levels of support available to Girl Scout Troop Leaders.

I began attending every monthly meeting for Leaders in the Gulf Sands area—an area made of 25 Girl Scout Troops that is overseen by a volunteer. Gulf Sands organizes activities like participating in a Christmas Parade, planning unit-wide events for World Thinking Day where each participating troop learns about a country that Girl Scouts is in (which there are 165 to choose from), singing for veterans at a local country club for Veterans Day, and many others.

I began taking advantage of the many planned activities by the Girl Scout Leadership center in Tampa. Everything from art and theater, outdoor activities like horseback riding and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). And every activity is made available to every Girl Scout regardless of whether or not their troop has decided to make it a troop activity. We can even travel to other areas and states and participate in their Girl Scout activities. It was through the activities planned by the Leadership Center that Girl Scouts from my troop got to do experiments in the Science lab at the University of Tampa, build robots and create apps with students at USF, do the Flag Ceremony for the opening of a Tampa Bay Rays game, do what seemed like hundreds of science activities at STEMapalooza at the Florida Polytechnic Institute and so, so much more. Here is a link to this year’s program guide.

And of course, we do Troop Activities that we plan ourselves. We focus on Journeys, a Girl Scout curriculum that emphasizes leadership skills.

This year we had 21 girls in our multi-level troop. Some, like my daughter and the daughter of my co-leader, are very active and participate in everything. Others participate in fewer activities. But no matter the level of participation, I can truly say that the girls are gaining experience in Girl Scouts that they would not get anywhere else.

As a result of all of this, Girl Scouts has become the single most significant activity in my daughter’s life. And, just as important to me, it has become something that she and I share as mother and daughter that we can continue to share through her teen years.

Be a Marine Biologist: Organized by Girl Scouts West Central Florida in conjunction with Clearwater Marine Aquarium

And that brings me to Boy Scouts

Given all of the above, you can imagine my shock when, just recently, a lovely friend of mine approached me and said, “Now that Boy Scouts is accepting girls, are you planning on transferring your daughter Dagny? You could become a Boy Scout leader!”

After the initial shock of that question and statement wore off, I spent the next ten minutes enlightening my friend on what an incredible disservice I felt it was to recruit girls for Boy Scouts when Girl Scouts, a program specifically designed for girls, was available.

To be fair, her comment to me was not totally out of the blue. My son, who is now 18, had been in Boy Scouts in the same troop as her son. My son achieved the level of Life Scout, just one level below Eagle Scout, before stopping. When my son started attending the cub scout meetings, I knew almost nothing about the Boy Scouts program. He learned about it at his school and got me to sign him up.

Years later, I became a merit badge counselor in the Boy Scout troop my friend is now a leader in. I loved and still love the Boy Scouts program. In fact, it was because of my experience with Boy Scouts that I became a Girl Scout Leader for my youngest.

I explained to my friend how many more opportunities are available to my daughter in Girl Scouts than were available to my son in Boy Scouts. From my experience, the Troop Leaders in Boy Scouts do not have anywhere near the level of support and activities available to Girl Scout leaders by the Girl Scout Service Unit and Leadership levels.

But the truth is, people like my friend just don’t know. I didn’t know either before I became a Girl Scout leader. I am so grateful that Boy Scouts was not accepting girls when my daughter was in kindergarten. There is a high likelihood that I would have enrolled her in Boy Scouts simply because it is what I knew.

I fact, before I became a Girl Scout leader, what I knew about Girl Scouts was pretty limited. I remember asking a fellow volunteer in my son’s Boy Scout troop about Girl Scouts.

“Girl Scouts is not very serious,” I was told. “They do fun patches and do not teach the level of skills Boy Scouts does. And they don’t do outdoor activities like the Boy Scouts.” Not knowing anything else, I accepted this.

Girls help create the agenda and then run the meetings.

Girl Scouts who take part in the CEO Girl Advisory Board are given the opportunity to shadow Girl Scout West Central Florida CEO Jessica Muroff for the day, learning the ins and outs of being an executive.

Girl Scouts—More than Cookies and Art Projects

It was only when I got involved as a leader that I learned that the Girl Scout program is far more than cookies, art projects, and fun patches.

Girl Scouts has as many skills badges available to girls as Boy Scouts do. In addition, Girl Scouts has Journeys, which are workbooks that teach leadership skills like team building and planning.

As far as outdoor activities go, Girl Scouts has four amazing camping facilities with small watercraft, archery, a sewing room, kilns, marine labs, and high adventure challenge courses. I did my BOLT (Basic Outdoor Leadership Training) last fall with 20 other Girl Scout volunteers. The volunteers worked together with incredible camaraderie throughout the training. By the end I learned that these women were from all walks of life—military, teachers, professors, lawyers, and even a Florida supreme court judge—all there with the same purpose of helping our girls become strong women.

Our troop is learning leadership skills through the Journeys workbooks we do in our meetings. The girls help me put together the agenda ahead of time and they take turns running the meetings. The girl leading the meeting gets reports from the other members about activities since the previous meeting, go through new business, and finally, we work on our Journey workbooks.

As the girls get older, more and more leadership opportunities are offered through Girl Scouts. When my daughter reached 4th grade and became a Junior Girl Scout, she, along with every other Girl Scout her age and above, was given the opportunity to serve of the Girl Advisory Committee at the Leadership Center in Tampa. As a result of Girl Scouts, my daughter now understands the role that boards of advisors and boards of directors play in organizations—something I did not learn until well into adulthood.

Leadership Opportunities for Older Girl Scouts

When my daughter bridges up (Girl Scout talk for graduating) to her next level as a 6th grader, she will be able to join other older Girl Scouts in our service unit in the planning of the annual Gulf Sands encampment for all Girl Scouts in our 25 troop area. I have watched these older Girl Scouts for years and marvelled at their skills in not only planning the theme and activities of the encampment (detective theme, circus theme, etc.) but also in the marvelous way that they interact with the younger girls and set such a stellar example of kindness and leadership for them.

As Dagny gets older, she will be able to be a delegate to the actual Board Meetings of Girl Scouts of West Central Florida. The older girls that act as delegates have a say in the decisions made at our council level—decisions on how resources are spent, what activities and programs are offered and so on.

Girl Scouts learn about shooting a canon from the war of 1812 on the Tall Ship Lynx.

Fun Patches—they are fun!
(And what’s wrong with that?)

And yes, Girl Scouts offers Fun Patches. Fun patches are just that — really really fun. Fun patches go on the back of the Girl vest, unlike the skills badges which go on front. The girls LOVE them. They can get patches for anything — a camping trip they took with their parents, practicing the piano, or an activity that the troop leader planned. When I wanted my daughter to read extra books I bought her a reading fun patch at the Girl Scout store. The patch provided her with extra incentive to do what I wanted. (Pretty sneaky right?)

With our troop, we have earned fun patches by doing activities that I organized. Activities like Etiquette Class, welding (yes, real welding), learning about the War of 1812 by sailing on a replica ship, and a virtual reality activity.

In the Boy Scouts program, fun patches do not exist so leaders do not have the same type of flexibility and incentive in offering activities that are not strictly part of the curriculum, but may be of great benefit to the members of the troop. I personally love the flexibility that Fun Patches give.

Girls gain business knowledge right from the beginning selling cookies.

Business knowledge and confidence increase as the girls get older.

Girl Scout Cookies!
Not just yummy—they teach too!

When I first started my troop, we very nearly did not sell cookies. We had several parents, including myself, who had girls with allergies and were trying to have as little sugar in life as possible.

We even went as far as asking a local keto restaurant to try to create the equivalent of a s’mores cookie (my personal favorite) with stevia, almond flour, and all organic ingredients.

The girls hated them.

So we resigned ourselves to selling Girl Scout cookies.

What I have observed in my girl and the rest of the girls in the troop is nothing less than amazing and makes me very glad that we just did it.

That first year, the girls were so shy about talking to customers we were lucky if one of the five girls at the booth would say anything. Today, the girls are so eager to handle the money and answer questions that we cannot have more than two girls at the booth because they all want to help the customers.

As girls get older, they plan out how they will use their cookie earnings and they help defray the cost of re-enrollment in Girl Scouts for the new year.

The Girl Scout Cookie business is the largest girl-run business in the world—an 800 million dollar business. Through this program, Girl Scouts around the country learn planning, money management, teamwork, customer service, and budgeting.

The Girl Scouts Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards

Finally, in addition to the Gold Award, which is the Girl Scout equivalent of the prestigious Eagle Scout Award in Boy Scouts, there is a Silver award and a Bronze award. To earn these awards, girls must plan and execute substantial and sustainable community action plans.

For example, the Career Cafe program of Girl Scouts West Central Florida was established in 2017 as a Girl Scout Gold project. The Career Cafe empowers women to be strong, bold and successful. The Career Cafe is a free job hunting skills workshop for all young women in High School or College. The entire event was conceived, created, and continues into the future because of the efforts of a bright teenage Girl Scout doing her Gold project.

In addition to the Gold program, Girl Scouts can do Take Action projects at a much younger level. Beginning in 4th and 5th grade, Girl Scouts can plan and execute a community project to earn the Bronze award. Middle school Girl Scouts can earn their Silver award. They receive training at the leadership center in team building, working together and planning. My co-leader and I saw the training this past year. We knew at that point why so many Girl Scouts go on to become CEOs, Judges, and leaders of all types in the community. In addition to requiring a substantial activity in terms of hours and impact, the Bronze, Silver and Gold award projects all involve a sustainability component. (Sustainability is not a requirement of Boy Scout Eagle projects.)

The level of sustainability and the hours required for each gradually increases as the girls get older. All projects, whether Bronze or Gold, must be approved at Council Level before being awarded. The Juniors in our troop are going for the Bronze award next year.

Boy Scouts Taking Girls—Happy 🙂 then disappointed 😕

When the Boy Scouts first announced that they were accepting girls I was happy—because I thought the intention was to make life easier for parents with boys and girls close to the same age. Had my daughter and son been close in age instead of 9 years apart, it certainly would have made my life easier to have them both in the same program.

Instead, what I see are moms who don’t have a son in Boy Scouts signing their girls up for that program. I also see uninformed people (like my friend) encouraging people like me to leave Girl Scouts.

Because of my gratitude to the Girl Scout volunteers that have helped me, I began volunteering at the Service Unit level this past year. In fact, I am over recruitment and new membership for the Service Unit.

So it was ironic that I, the membership volunteer for our Service Unit, was being recruited to quit Girl Scouts and become a Boy Scout Leader instead.

When I finished telling my friend all I have told you here in this article her reply was, “I didn’t know! Now I do. Thank you.”

And now you know too.

For more information about becoming a Girl Scout call 813-281-4475 or visit the Girl Scouts West Central Florida website.

P.S. Everything in this essay is based on my own experience as a mom and volunteer. Troops vary based upon their leadership in both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Service Units and Leadership Centers certainly do as well. If I had another son (which I won’t because my husband would have a heart attack) I would most definitely get him involved in Boy Scouts. I simply encourage anyone with a daughter to fully check out the opportunities available in Girl Scouts before making a decision either way.

Boy Scout Founder Lord Robert Baden Powell and Girl Scout Founder Juliette Gordon Low

Historical Context of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts

I wrote all of the above in one sitting and thought I was done. However, there is a bit more.

First—the decision for Boy Scouts to accept and recruit girls was made a national level. At a local level, Boy Scout members and leaders I know support Girl Scouts and their goals (although they may not always understand the Girl Scout program). I was very pleased when leaders from my son’s former Boy Scout Troop supported a fundraising event that we did locally for Girl Scouts.

The truth is, Juliette Gordon Lowe, the founder of Girl Scouts here in the U.S., was inspired greatly by Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. Juliette’s friend Lord Robert Baden Powell founded Boy Scouts in England in 1908. Lord Baden worked with his sister Agnes Baden-Powell to establish Girl Guides in 1910. Juliette, upon learning about the work they were doing, was so inspired that she brought the concept back to the U.S. where she founded Girl Scouts in 1912.

So historically, Girl Scouts owes a lot to Boy Scouts.

Since that time, Girl Scouts has evolved in a way that I think Boy Scouts could learn from. Frankly, there is a lot of potential for the organizations to help one another increase their membership. Membership is an issue for both organizations in a world that has changed a lot since they were founded over a hundred years ago.

There is a lot of evidence of the benefits available to both girls and boys when given the opportunity to learn and thrive in a single gender environment. It was with this idea that Boy Scouts and Girls Guides/Scouts were established.

The Boy Scout and Girl Scout Law—more relevant than ever

Rather than attempting to solve their membership problems by recruiting girls into their organization (and thereby taking them away from a program specifically designed with girls in mind), Boy Scouts should reach out to Girl Scouts and figure out how the two organizations could work together to increase the membership of both. There are several ways this could be done.

And that brings me to my final point, and then I really am done.

In Boy Scouts, young men recite the Boy Scout Oath and Law at the beginning of every meeting.

In Girl Scouts, young women recite the Girl Scout Promise and Law at the beginning of every meeting as well.

Though they are different, both contain foundational character traits that no one would argue with—traits promoting honesty, respect, and kindness.

There is a line, however, that is virtually identical in each. It is a line that should be applied at the national level of Boy Scouts. If applied, this would set a stellar example for the young members of both organizations.

“To help other people at all times.”

Boys Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of the USA should help one another.

As a mom and volunteer, I will always promote both programs—Boy Scouts for boys and Girl Scouts for girls.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
(or 3000 in this case)

Below are some pictures of activities our troop has participated in this year. Some of it was organized by myself and my co-leader. Other activities were organized at the level of our Service Unit (Gulf Sands). Still others were organized by the Girl Scout West Central Florida staff at the Leadership Center in Tampa. Because of the support at the leadership and service unit levels, Girl Scout Troop leaders can make a huge amount of amazing activities available to troop members without having to organize them all ourselves.

Activities of Girl Scouts West Central Florida

Girl Scout Festival happens at the beginning of the school year. It features hundreds of activity and showcases what is available to Girl Scouts in the upcoming year.

Girl Scout Festival happens at the beginning of the school year. It features hundreds of activity and showcases what is available to Girl Scouts in the upcoming year.

Innovation Saturday: Mechanical Circuitry

Innovation Saturday: Mechanical Circuitry

Journey Through The Mangroves

Designing Robots (With University of South Florida Students)

Tampa Bay Rays Girl Scout Day

GIrl Scouts holds an annual STEMapalooza event attended over 700 Girl Scouts. The past two years it was at Florida Polytechnic and included STEM activities provided by many local sponsors.

GIrl Scouts holds an annual STEMapalooza event attended over 700 Girl Scouts. The past two years it was at Florida Polytechnic and included STEM activities provided by many local sponsors.

GIrl Scouts holds an annual STEMapalooza event attended over 700 Girl Scouts. The past two years it was at Florida Polytechnic and included STEM activities provided by many local sponsors.

Activities Organized by the Volunteers of Gulf Sands Service Unit

Dunedin Holiday Parade: Many Girl Scout Troops walk together with the banners they create each year.

Clearwater Airport Event: Girls earned badge learning about aviation (Event organized by another Pinellas County Troop)

Say No to Drugs Race: Girls ran, cleaned up, and received a donation for Girl Scouts.

Father Daughter Dance: This event was organized by teen Girl Scouts to raise money for a trip to Europe their troop is taking.

World Thinking Day: Girl Scouts from many troops learn from one another about countries from around the world.

World Thinking Day: Girl Scouts from many troops learn from one another about countries from around the world.

Girl Scout Encampment at Camp Wai Lani: A weekend of activities completely organized by older Girl Scouts for younger Girl Scouts

Girl Scout Encampment at Camp Wai Lani: A weekend of activities completely organized by older Girl Scouts for younger Girl Scouts

Girl Scout Encampment at Camp Wai Lani: A weekend of activities completely organized by older Girl Scouts for younger Girl Scouts

Girl Scout Encampment at Camp Wai Lani: A weekend of activities completely organized by older Girl Scouts for younger Girl Scouts

Troop Activities and Fun Patches!

Camping at Camp Indian Echo.

Camping at Camp Indian Echo.

Camping at Camp Indian Echo.

Camping at Camp Indian Echo.

Etiquette Class with the Florida School of Etiquette.

Sailing with the Tall Ship Lynx.

Sailing with the Tall Ship Lynx.

Sailing with the Tall Ship Lynx.

Sewing our flag ceremony sashes in the sewing room at Camp WaiLani (and hanging out!).

Sewing our flag ceremony sashes in the sewing room at Camp WaiLani (and hanging out!).

Sewing our flag ceremony sashes in the sewing room at Camp WaiLani (and hanging out!).

Making “swaps”. Swaps are exchanged with Girls from others troops at big events as a way for them to get to know one another.

Welding at Chroma Studio with owner and Girl Scout alumni Kate Gausche.

Welding at Chroma Studio with owner and Girl Scout alumni Kate Gausche.

Welding at Chroma Studio with owner and Girl Scout alumni Kate Gausche.

Welding at Chroma Studio with owner and Girl Scout alumni Kate Gausche.

Early morning bird watching with Clearwater Audubon Society.

Fashion Show with footwear by Hannah’s Shoebox followed by a vision board activity directed by Hannah’s Shoebox founder Colette Glover-Hannah.

Door-to-door sales!

Cookie Booths!

Girl Scout Alumni shows her support by buying cookies!

Recognition given through a special trip to Tampa Zoo for girls achieving Cookie CEO level (sales of 650 boxes or more).