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Empowering young women since 1912, Girl Scouts transcends cookies


Girl Scouting has influenced the lives of more than 50 million women since its founding by Juliette Gordon Low in 1912 in Savannah.

They are women of varied talents — women as diverse as Taylor Swift, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Lucille Ball, Katie Couric and more than 20 female career astronauts who once wore the uniform and collected badges.

Yet, when you say “Girl Scouts,” people think “cookies,” and right off the bat can tell you their favorite kind.

But Girl Scouting is about a lot more than cookies. Not only do the annual sales fund local troop activities, but they also offer early training in entrepreneurship and money management, helping girls hone their leadership skills and develop their full potential.

That’s a welcome benefit in a vast organization designed to encourage girls to take risks and build the courage, confidence and character to become true leaders.

The local council unloaded 300,000 cases in January, distributing them to individual troops.

Girl Scouts nationally sell up to 200 million boxes of cookies a year and 100% of the net profits — or about 65% to 75% of the cost of each box — stays in the community, providing valuable training and fun for this new generation of energetic young women.

The Girl Scouts of today will most likely be working moms, a fact not lost on Kim Fraites-Dow, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania. This formidable young woman, a self-proclaimed “Air Force brat,” who fondly recalls her Brownie days, is helping the 25,000 girls in her care to step into a constantly changing future. Now married and the mother of a Brownie, she has clear views — both professional and personal — of the program’s beginnings, its growth and its results.

Hers is a challenging job. She oversees 2,017 troops.

“During the pandemic we lost 30 percent of our membership,” she said. “The girls met in churches, schools, community centers. Suddenly, we were not allowed into those places, so we formed a virtual learning strategy.

“We set up Girl Scouts at Home and Summer Camp at Home programs, used social media and even mailed boxes to the girls. Their parents were all ordering things online so we decided each girl should receive a box, too. We included program materials and little treats,” she said.

Since the pandemic, she said, membership has begun to climb, by as much as 13% last year, and some of those virtual initiatives have been incorporated into standard programming.

Fraites-Dow said, “The Girl Scouts have added 42 new badges — from cybersecurity to space science and outdoor adventures — to the more traditional badges.

The CEO is based at Shelly Ridge, headquarters for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania in Montgomery County.

Shelly Ridge is also a camping getaway that provides outdoor adventures such as climbing and bouldering, an archery range, a low ropes course, rollerblading, a swimming pool and walking trails.

Girls can plan either a week or a half-week stay in a 64-bed lodge at the camp, which is situated near Lafayette Hill. Some of the activities are offered year-round. Girl Scout programs are divided into six grade levels beginning with “Daisies” for kindergarten and first graders and rising to Ambassadors in grades 11 and 12.

Girls who do not belong to troops are called “Juliettes.” The program allows them to be included in special events, outdoor experiences, leadership projects, travel opportunities and to earn badges and awards while they pursue their own interests.

Although girls are now permitted to join the Boy Scouts which has re-branded itself as Scouts BSA, Fraites-Dow insisted the Girl Scout program offers better opportunities for young women.

“Studies show girls opting out in a coed environment due to unconscious bias,” she said.

She cited more potential for growth when boys are not on board.

“The studies show girls will try all kinds of things in an all-girl environment,” she said.

Those kinds of experiences lead to empowerment and prepare the girls for leadership, she said.

The national organization has many corporate partners, including Amazon, AT&T, the Ford Foundation, Coca-Cola and Toyota.

Last year billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $84.5 million to the Girl Scouts. The gift from Scott, who was previously married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is the largest single donation in the organization’s history, a spokesman said. Scott’s gift will go to Girl Scouts of the USA and 29 local councils that Scott selected, according to the organization.

The money will be used to create more equitable membership opportunities in underserved areas; expand programming in career readiness and mental health; and explore STEM fields.

This article has been supported by a grant from Foundations Community Partnership.

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