Beyond the cookies – Scouting helps develop leadership, all-round confidence

Junior Girl Scouts help with the trash and recycling at a community event.
Junior Girl Scouts help with the trash and recycling at a community event. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The modern Girl Scouts of the USA are not your grandmother’s Girl Scouts – and often not even your mother’s.

The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, now provide maximum individual attention and guidance through six age categories offered for girls of all backgrounds from kindergarten through high school.

There is also a continually growing interest and emphasis in activities related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), said Katie Johnston, troop program manager for the counties of Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan, which are part of the Girl Scouts of Western Washington Council.

Johnston says troop leaders and assistant troop leaders form a partnership with the girls under their guidance. As a result, Girl Scouts, including the youngest girls, are encouraged to offer ideas about activities and interests they wish to pursue

“We let girls in each troop decide where they want to take the program,” she says. “It really is a partnership.”

She vividly recalls the elementary school student who told her adult leaders how much she wanted to learn about bird house construction. As a result, the girl learned about wood, tools, design, feed and birds themselves.

At one time, moving from the Brownies to the higher level of Girl Scouts was called “flying up.” Now the term is “bridging ceremonies.” And bridging ceremonies occur often, since scouting starts with Daisies (kindergarten and first grade) and continues through Brownies (grades 2-3), Juniors (grades 4-5), Cadettes (grades 6-8), Seniors (grades 9-10) and Ambassadors (grades 11-12).

“We have about 40 troops in Whatcom County,” Johnston says. “They can range from five or six girls (in which case categories can overlap somewhat) to 30 (such as Bellingham-based Troop 1631, which she says is the largest in the county). We have about 25,000 Girl Scouts in the 17 counties of Western Washington.”

With an ever-increasing number of activities for girls in the past couple of decades, especially in a much wider variety of sports, many girls belong in the Scouts for part of their years of eligibility.

“Every year, at graduation time, about 300 girls have participated in scouting all the way through high school,” Johnston said. “I did that, and I’ll always remember how much scouting benefited me in so many ways. What I especially loved was the opportunity to develop leadership skills and to inspire younger girls.”

She said that developing leadership, mentoring skills and all-round confidence in all-girl environments are among the primary goals of scouting: “To develop girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.”

“We always have a need for adult volunteers to fill a variety of roles,” said Johnston, whose job involves supporting volunteers (for information, contact customercare@girlscoutsww.org).