Mary C. Hartfield
The Girl Scouts of the USA
prides itself on building girls of courage, confidence, and character, and makes the world a better place. Most importantly Girl Scouts is for girls of all backgrounds, said Mary C. Hartfield, Director of Community and Corporate Collaborations for Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore
“They need to know that this organization is for all girls, and parents need to know the benefits of their girl being a part of this organization,” Hartfield said. “I know the benefit of Girl Scouts and my daughter has benefited from being in Girl Scouts.”
This past summer, though, an African American parent approached Hartfield with the concern that more minority girls were not involved in Girl Scouts.
“Her daughters were not seeing other girls that looked like them at different events,” Hartfield said.
It’s not that the interest in scouting isn’t there, but the infrastructure tends to be lacking.
“We find that the girls are interested, but it takes volunteers to run the troops and this is where we lack in their involvement with Girl Scouts,” Hartfield said. “The girls are confident about wanting to lead, but sometimes situations at home distract them from being that leader or taking on that role. They are confident leaders that are ready to conquer the world, but are not always given that opportunity.”
The new “Urban Initiative” put forth by Girl Scouts of the USA is aimed at bringing scouting into tighter urban areas where, according to Gloria Lara, CEO of GSMISTS, a tradition of scouting isn’t present despite a higher population of girls. Lara said she has spent the last 20 years studying why certain populations are heavily involved in Girl Scouts, now over 100 years old, while others aren’t for about 20 years now.
“When people think of Girl Scouts, they think of traditional troops, led by a mom,” Lara said. “A lot of girls in scouting are because their moms or sisters or grandmothers were scouts.”
And that cycle is broken when multiple generations miss out on the experience.
“In Detroit, there are programs in the inner city and projects, but they were funded,” Lara said. “When the funding went away, the girls stopped being active. We want to build up the (scouting) community so it can be self-sustaining and we don't have to rely on funding. It’s a lot more accepted by the community and we want to raise the capacity of the volunteers there.”
According to a discussion paper by the Girl Scout Research Institute
, “The Resilience Factor: A Key to Leadership in African American and Hispanic Girls,” it is the very populations the Girl Scouts have been notably absent from that contain the most motivated leaders, Lara said. This “Resilience Factor,” shows up in girls that grow up without all the resources a lot of girls in the suburbs have.
“The leadership field has emerged from thinking that individuals are born with leadership traits to a model in which leadership is shaped by experience and social interactions,” the discussion paper states. “One concept that stands out in the work of intergenerational leadership researchers Bennis and Thomas (2002) is the idea of the ‘crucible of experience’—that going through a transformational experience that strengthens them can set people on a new path to leadership. The idea that some leaders go through an ordeal or test, surviving and acquiring new skills, character, and resolve, parallels the concept of resilience building in the youth development field.”
And this phenomenon is even more acute in females, Lara said.
“Girls have an innate capability to be leaders but they also see a leader as someone who motivates and helps people,” she said. “That's more and more prevalent in business and the world, and the study showed that African American and Latino girls thought themselves more as leaders than white girls.”
Lara relates the resilience factor to her personal experiences growing up in a lower-income home on the south side of East L.A.
“I had classmates that were girl scouts in the second or third and fourth grade. They did things that were just for girls and I thought that was really neat, without the boys getting involved and taking the resources and attention,” she said. “One summer I went to the library, picked up the Girl Scout handbook and tried to do the badge work on my own.”
Lara was able to enjoy the benefits of Girl Scouts just through her own initiative, which is a spirit the Urban Initiative is hoped to emphasize in its push to bring volunteers and Girl Scouting to inner city areas.
“Our program is focused on having a safe place for girls to try new things,” Lara said. “Girls learn so many things that they don't realize they are capable of. The girls get together to work on a common community project, and they love to meet other girl scouts, realizing they're part of a larger thing.”
No matter their background, Girl Scouts prepares girls with the life skills, confidence, and global learning they need to be even more successful in the future, Hartfield said.
“They have the confidence and leadership, they just need a ‘home place;’ a spot where they feel listened to and where their opinions are valued,” Hartfield said. “The Girl Scouts’ Urban Initiative will give them such a place—a safe place and opportunity to travel to places they have not been before and to take action on things they feel passionate about in their community.”
For more information on Girl Scouts of USA, visit http://www.girlscouts.org/
For more information on Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore, visit http://www.gsmists.org/
Matthew Russell is the project editor of UIX Grand Rapids