BURNSVILLE, Minn. - A group of high school juniors gathered at a church in the Twin Cities' south towns for a bi-monthly meeting as they have since the first grade. They are Girl Scouts, some of the millions of young women and girls who have worked and played under the trefoil emblem for 100 years and counting.
"I have been a troop leader for 11 years now," explained Molly Broman. "I started when I was a freshman in college. My friend and I had gone through Girl Scouts through 12th grade, had both graduated and went to a leader meeting that summer. We just thought it would be fun.
"There was a parent who stood up and said 'I have a troop of kindergarteners. They are going to be in first grade next year and I cannot be the troop leader anymore. Would somebody like to do it?' My friend and I looked at each other and said, 'Sure.' We raised our hands and, you know, never would have thought that 11 years later, we would have these same girls.
"It started when there were first graders and now they're juniors in high school and they can drive and they have boyfriends and both of us not having children at this point, they have kind of been our surrogate kids over the years."
Girl Scouting is the kind of organization that just gets into some people's blood. This year, Broman, who is also the editor ofLake Minnetonka Magazine is being feted as a "Woman of Promise" by the River Valley G.S. Council. The award refers to Broman, 28, as a woman under 35 who has distinquished herself in her profession or community.
KARE's Diana Pierce and Belinda Jensen are being honored, alongside Retired Hennepin County District Judge Pamela Alexander, as "Trailblazer Honorees", former scouts whose pioneering efforts have opened doors for other women.
Alexander noted the changes in Girl Scout goals and programs through the years. "I think that when I started in Girl Scouts, it was pretty much, it was kind of around what can make you a better woman, if you were going to be in the home. So, we looked at cooking and setting tables and that kind of stuff...Now, they are looking at leadership among girls. They are looking at entrepreneurship among girls. They are showing girls a lot of female role models that are doing many, many different things."
None of which downplayed the role of selling those iconic cookies once a year. It is a sales role that virtually all girl scouts learn to do at some point in their scouting careers.
"You know, I was very good at selling cookies," laughed Alexander from behind her desk as Executive Director of the non-profit Council on Crime and Justice. "It was pretty fascinating. I was great at it!"
She credits cookie sales with opening the eyes of young girls to the possibilities in life. "How can you be an entrepreneur? If you can sell cookies, what else can you sell? What is the next level that you can reach to? How high can you reach?"
Alexander thinks that the Girl Scouts put more emphasis on a variety of careers now, than was the case in her youth.
A beneficiary of those changes is Ava Whitthauer, 15, a sophomore at Roseville High School. Whitthauer has just qualified as a "Gold" Girl Scout, the highest award in scouting. It is equivalent to the Boy Scouts' better known "Eagle" rank.
"I think that everyone should become a Girl Scout because it really brings a lot of people together," said Whitthauer.
In fact, inclusion has always been a trademark of the Girl Scouts, back to the organization's inception in 1912. It was most evident in the tumultuous 1960's, during the Civil Rights era, when the Girl Scouts formally endorsed racial equality.
Judge Alexander, who is African-American, believes that the movement included the girls' parents by necessity. "(Moms) were the ones who ran stuff in those troops. My mom was cookie-chairman and it gave (others) and opportunity to network and to be together and to kind of see that they were much more the same, than different."
The Girl Scouts have demonstrated their willingness to include girls of all types, whether physically challenged, or of different religions or sexual orientations. This contrasts with the Boy Scouts who have been involved in controversial decisions, excluding boys and adults, unless they professed religions and were heterosexual.
The Girl Scouts adjusted their awards and programs to the needs and conditions of society. In the first few years of their existence, as World War I broke out, they sold war bonds and worked in hospitals. The Great Depression of the 1930's was also the decade when nationwide sales of the famous Girl Scout Cookies began.
Membership soared into the thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions, where it is today. Merit badges changed from "Child Nurse" in the early 1900's to awards for learning about world events and their part in them.
"We have done valentines for the (military) troops," recalled Ava Whitthauer. "We raised money for the Tsunami. It has really just helped me be more compassionate to others."
Some activities have been constant through the decades, like the meetings in Burnsville, the cookie sales and camping. The outdoors has been Whitthauer's favorite activities. "We get badges at camp, Girl Scout Camp and I am a 'caddy' at camp. That means you are a leader for younger girls. Basically, we get to teach the badges and I like all the Wilderness and the Hiking ones."
As part of her project for the Gold award, Whitthauer partnered with another scout for dozens of hours to design a presentation for her old elementary school. "We had a self-defense instructor come and talk about scary situations along with our Chief Deputy and Detective. They talked about what to do in scary situations, how to prevent them and how to protect yourself if anything ever were to happen."
The Girl Scouts were never an off shoot of the Boy Scouts, although founder Juliette Gordon Low did get the basic idea for her American organization from British Army officer Robert Baden-Powell who founded the Boy Scouts in England in 1907. From its humble beginnings with just 100 girls in 1912 to more than 2-million young women today, the Girl Scouts are marching into their second century with a full head of steam.
The River Valley Girl Scouts Council has planned a mall-wide series of events at theMall of America to celebrate the centennial on March 10th and 11th.
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