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VOL. 126 | NO. 167 | Friday, August 26, 2011

Girl Scouts Prepare to Celebrate Centennial

By Aisling Maki

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In the age of Photoshopped billboard images, teenage breast augmentation and “Toddlers & Tiaras,” the Girls Scouts of America is preparing to celebrate 100 years of countering the latest trends through building girls’ courage, confidence and character.

Girl Scouts Heart of the South, with headquarters in Memphis, covers 59 counties in West Tennessee, Eastern Arkansas and North Mississippi.
(Photo Courtesy of Girl Scouts of the USA)

“Issues of self-image are growing; they’re not getting any better,” said Angela Woods, CEO of Girls Scouts Heart of the South, whose headquarters are in East Memphis. “Self-image is self-image, whether you live in East Memphis or South Memphis. What I like about Girl Scouting is that it can be the great equalizer; we create opportunities for girls to leave those things at the door.”

Girl Scouts of America was founded in 1912 by Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low with the goal of bringing girls out of isolated home environments to enjoy the company of their peers in the great outdoors and through community service. A century later, the organization has a membership of 3.2 million girls and women, and more than 50 million American women today are Girl Scout alumnae.

The Greater Memphis area is home to about 3,500 current Girl Scouts, and Memphis-based Girls Scouts Heart of the South covers 59 counties in West Tennessee, Eastern Arkansas and North Mississippi. Programs are delivered at the local level by community volunteers and advisory boards.

The organization in January moved into the former AG Edwards & Sons Inc. offices at 717 S. White Station Road. Minimal work was needed, and Woods said the purchase, which came with a low interest rate, will save her organization about $50,000 in occupancy costs over the next three years.

In addition to finding a new home, the organization has embarked on a new strategic plan to reach young girls, especially those in areas such as North and South Memphis, where the organization hasn’t traditionally had a strong presence.

Most nonprofits over the last few years have worked to streamline their operations and cut costs. And one of the most obvious ways to avoid duplicating resources has been through collaboration.

“If we’re serving the same population, we need to figure out the things we’re doing that can line up together,” Woods said. “It provides a leverage point for all of us to pool our resources. We just want to serve girls. Quite frankly, we don’t care who gets the credit.”

Recent partnerships include the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis, Shelby Farms Park, St. Andrew AME Church, children’s performing arts organization Watoto De Afrika, and Girls Inc., another Memphis-based organization working to empower girls.

“We’re taking girls from Girls Inc. and other organizations out to our camps for the summer,” Woods said. “A lot of those girls have never left their ZIP code, and they’re coming out to an environment where they’re in a large group, having fun and doing all these things they thought they could never do.”

Girls Scouts is also accessing girls through non-traditional methods, most notably a program called Pathways, which allows girls to participate in specific activities such as camping, dance or golf without having to commit to the full traditional scouting program.

When people think of Girl Scouts, they tend to think of “camping, cookies and crafts. Those have been the historical pieces, and while those are important pieces for us, that’s not all we do,” Woods said.

In recent years, financial literacy and entrepreneurship have become a major focus and are delivered through programs such as My Business Academy, which brings in female business leaders to facilitate hands-on workshops in a fun and creative environment for girls.

On the cusp of its 100th anniversary, the Girl Scouts are actively seeking out alumnae in an effort to re-engage them in the organization.

Girl Scout alumnae include Shelby Farms Park Conservancy executive director Laura Adams; Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital president and CEO Meri Armour; longtime WMC-TV morning anchor Kym Clark; former MPACT Memphis executive director Gwyn Fisher; and civil rights activist Dr. Maxine Smith.

Girl Scouts played a significant role in the upbringing of Pat Kerr Tigrett, CEO of Pat Kerr Tigrett Inc. and founder of the Memphis Charitable Foundation, and her sister Jana Kerr Pettey, publisher of Justine Magazine.

Growing up in small town Savannah, Tenn., their mother was a Girl Scout leader and troupe meetings took place in the family home.

“It was a very important period of my life because it was very much about forming the values of volunteering, helping others and learning,” Tigrett said.

“Mother had such an incredible impact on both of us, teaching by example. The Girl Scouts really just fell right into her beliefs. We never even thought about not being in the Girl Scouts; it was just part of our lives. They’re as American as apple pie … and I love their cookies.”

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