Girl Scouts express uniqueness in recruitment push

Submitted Photos A Girl Scout displays her rappelling ability at a local camp. The Girl Scouts of Western New York serves more than 15,000 girls and 7,000 adult volunteers in a nine-county area.

“We call it fun with a purpose.”

Those were the words of Girl Scouts of Western New York CEO Judy Cranston, who talked about the successful marketing initiative called the Girl Scout Difference Campaign that has helped recruit new members and volunteers and express the skill-based learning opportunities the Girl Scouts can provide.

The acronym GIRL has been used as a way to express how Girl Scouts as a program can provide girls in the area with new experiences that help make them Go-getters, Innovators, Risk-takers and Leaders.

Since Aug. 1 and until Nov. 30, local media have been collecting statements from those who have felt the impact of Girl Scouts in their life. Various professionals have taken to social media to share how Girl Scouts has improved their lives and helped shape them into better leaders.

“The activities of girl scouting brings girls to have real experiences where they learn those qualities themselves,” said Virginia Horvath, president of SUNY Fredonia, regarding how girls can learn how to exemplify GIRL characteristics.

Submitted Photo Youth members of the Girl Scouts of Western New York learn archery. Outdoor skills are emphasized along with other leadership-building skills and learning opportunities, and various alumni have shared how Girl Scouts has impacted their lives in the ongoing Girl Scout Difference Campaign.

Horvath said she learned confidence early on in Girl Scouts after being taught how to repel and tie knots, and skills she learned as she matured through the program, such as planning and budgeting skills, have followed her into her professional life.

“There’s an array of women from different backgrounds who can speak to the girl scout difference,” Cranston said.

She attested to how other successful women, including Deborah Hughes, CEO of the Susan B. Anthony House; Jennifer Parker, president of Jackson Parker Communications; and Nina Heard, community relations manager of GM Tonawanda Engine, have shared their experiences growing up in Girl Scouts and how it has prepared them for life after youth membership.

Cranston said the Boy Scouts of America’s plan to provide programming to serve girls starting Feb. 1, 2019, in Scouts BSA, providing girls ages 11-17 with the opportunities to earn merit badges and the rank of Eagle Scout for the first time, actually provides a chance for Girl Scouts to show why they are unique and tailor-made for girls. She mentioned that Girl Scouts has a 106-year history of understanding how girls learn.

Girl-led learning, learning through doing and cooperative learning are said to be the fundamentals of the leadership experience in the Girl Scouts. Programming allows girls to develop a strong sense of self, seek out challenges for themselves, display positive values, maintain healthy relationships and solve problems in the community.

“We have the dynamic environment girls require,” Cranston said.

Programming has also evolved in the 21st century. Recent years have allowed for an increased focus in outdoor skills such as camping and wilderness survival; science, technology, engineering and mathematics, otherwise known as STEM; entrepreneurship and financial literacy; and social skills such as bullying prevention.

Girls Scouts has partnered with NASA for advice on science-based instruction, and Palo Alto Networks’ knowledge of cybersecurity has contributed to the curriculum of web-related badges girls can earn in subjects like internet safety and coding. In 2018 alone, the number of STEM-related badges offered has doubled.

“We really have so much programming and so many resources across the nine-county area,” Cranston said.

Resources in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties include four camps within the nine-county area, amounting to almost 3,000 acres of property featuring high and low rope courses, horse riding arenas, SCUBA diving programs, STEM camps and opportunities for primitive camping and hiking.

“(The Girl Scout Difference Campaign) has been so successful, and people have been so embracing,” Cranston said. “We’re just getting wonderful feedback.”

She said that while the marketing campaign ends by the end of November, the GIRL expression will continue to be used, much like how the goal of crafting girls into go-getters, innovators, risk-takers and leaders has been a staple of Girl Scouts programming for years.

This western New York campaign has allowed current Girl Scout members and volunteers to speak out on behalf of the program as well.

Kimberly Scott, co-leader of Troop 20029 in Jamestown, is enjoying her sixth year as a leader in Girl Scouts. She now mentors 22 girls, ranging from Kindergarten to eighth grade students. She became a leader because she wanted her daughter to have a similar experience of learning new things that Scott had when she was a child.

“Every girl should be able to experience this,” Scott said.

Scott mentioned highlights for the troop have included a trip to Washington, D.C., in April 2017 with a tour of the White House, learning songs, working on teambuilding skills and more.

“My girls love STEM activities,” said Scott, noting how the program has changed over the years. “It’s more than just selling cookies. It’s nice to see them helping each other out.”

She said her girls are learning how to help support each other, as October is anti-bullying month. Scott also said troop members are learning how to leave environments better than they find them.

“Girl Scouts is important because you can learn how to do a lot of things; I personally learned how to speak English the best I ever could,” said Maria Santos, Girl Scout Ambassador. “When I first came here, I had no clue how to say anything, but I made friends, and they taught me, and I have teachers to help me when I struggled and right now I’m going to college, and I did it. I learned it.”

The overall mission for the Girl Scouts of Western New York has been to take the potential of girls and combine it with skill-building programming and adult mentors who are strong role models, in order to achieve a result of young women who exemplify GIRL. Cranston said this is something Girl Scouts has continued to accomplish, with 50 percent of female business owners, 80 percent of female tech leaders and 90 percent of female astronauts in the U.S. all having been girl scouts.

“We very much believe (the campaign’s) been a success,” Cranston said.

She noted a 3.5 percent increase in youth membership in the Southern Tier compared to last year, which has also accompanied overall membership growth in the Western New York council as well.

Parents and guardians can register their girls for Girl Scouts by visiting gswny.org or calling 1-888-837-6410. Girls ages 5-17 can become scouts, and adults ages 18 and older can become volunteers.