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After 100 Years, Girl Scouts Still Thrive in US

Troop 1822 Brownie Scouts Aliya Gill, left, Lindsey Russ, center, and Natalie Rouse, canvass a Raleigh, North Carolina neighborhood selling Girl Scout cookies on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009 (file photo).
Troop 1822 Brownie Scouts Aliya Gill, left, Lindsey Russ, center, and Natalie Rouse, canvass a Raleigh, North Carolina neighborhood selling Girl Scout cookies on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009 (file photo).

More than 50 million American women were members of the Girl Scouts, an organization that began 100 years ago in the United States.

Singing campfire songs has always been a big part of Girl Scouts.  It is a key component of the outdoor activities, like camping and hiking that are central to scouting.

Those are activities that Girl Scout Cassidy Lee Brookes, 10, of New Orleans likes.

"We go canoeing, we go camping, we do sing-alongs, we do all kinds of stuff," Brookes said.

Like all the scouts, Brookes wears a vest that is covered in badges she has earned by learning new skills.  One she earned for going on a camping trip.

"If you do camping you get badges and all kinds of stuff for cooking and cleaning, because you have to do everything on your own," Brookes added.  "You have to cook the food, you have to serve it.  So it is really fun."  

The scouting focus on the outdoors has remained for 100 years, but as women's role in society has changed, so too have the Girl Scouts.

Mania Gaver, 15, says scouting helps her get on the career ladder.

"It is giving us all of these different job options," said Gaver.  "To get patches you have to interview different people in different jobs, you can shadow like museum curators and stuff like that.  There are a lot of trips you can go on, service-wise and a lot of volunteer opportunities."

Juliette Gordon Low founded Girl Scouts in the U.S. in 1912, a few years after the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides organizations began in England.  Her goal was to help girls develop physically, mentally, and spiritually by bringing them out of isolated home environments and into community service and the open air.

Girl Scout Council chief executive Lidia Soto-Harmon says the founder faced many challenges.

"There were people that did not believe that girls should do anything more than learn how to bake and be at home, and here she was taking girls camping," noted Soto-Harmon.  "We have pictures of her with girls and machetes because when they would go camping, they really went out into the wilderness."

Soto-Harman says the development of Girl Scouts has not been easy, but she says despite the odds, the movement has survived and thrived.

Today more than 10 million girls participate in 145 countries from Argentina to Zambia.  There are 3 million girls and adult volunteers involved in Girl Scouts in the United States.

As Girl Scouts in the U.S. mark their 100th year, she says it is time to celebrate the past and look to the future.

"As we approach this 100th anniversary we are just bursting at the opportunity we have to really inspire a new generation of girls with the message of leadership, with the message of caring for the environment, with the message of being kind to others, respecting country.  These are values that we all share and that we need to celebrate," Soto-Harmon added.

She says there is a whole new century of Girl Scouts on its way.

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