Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 7, 2012

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — As they have for the past 100 years, Girl Scouts still earn merit badges for sewing, cooking, camping and first aid.
But today, they can also earn badges with names like “Detective,” “Entrepreneur,” “Website Designer” and “Car Care.”
In its century-long lifespan, Girl Scouts of the United States of America has seen as many changes as the country where it was born. But the organization’s core mission and goals are virtually the same, said Katherine Lambert, executive vice president of the regional Girl Scout council.
“The reality is, over 100 years … it has always been about leadership,” Lambert said. “But a leadership opportunity for a girl in 1920, 1950 or even 1980 was radically different than what it is in 2012.”
When Salisbury resident Tricia Clement was a Girl Scout, her mother was her troop leader. Today, she leads Troop 926, which includes her 12-year-old daughter, Kierra Oles.
They sing the same camp songs, Clement said, and they still sell cookies — though several varieties have been added, and the price has gone up. And the Girl Scout motto is still, “Be Prepared.”
“It teaches an attitude that girls can do whatever they set their minds to,” she said. “I never had anyone tell me ‘No, you can’t do that because you’re a girl.’ ”
Clement said she sees a sense of confidence and independence in her daughter that she may not have had without the Girl Scouts.
Oles said she thinks being a Girl Scout has taught her to respect herself and others, and it’s helped her through “a bunch” in her life since she joined as a first-grader. She is now at the Cadette level of Girl Scouts for grades six through eight.
“It’s easier because you have people there with you, and they’re people you can trust,” she said. “I think I’m going to be in it for a long time.”
Oles, a student at Southeast Middle School, was one of four girls to join a centennial celebration in Washington, D.C., last month. On June 9, more than 200,000 people gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts.
Oles had fun meeting Girl Scouts from other states and even other countries across the globe, she said.
“Rock the Mall” featured singalongs of new and traditional Girl Scout songs, historical displays of Girl Scout books and pins, female performers and speakers.
Oles said she loves trying new things with a group of friends, and Clement said those experiences can really benefit the girls. Some have never gone out of state, or even really ventured outside the Rowan County area, until going on Girl Scout trips.
“Even some of the things that are as simple as cooking or camping in a tent, some of them have never done,” Clement said. “It’s neat to watch them grow in that aspect and make new friends.”
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On March 12, 1912, Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low brought together 18 girls for a meeting in Savannah, Ga. Inspired by the newly-created Boy Scouts of America, she decided to create an organization for girls. She wanted to bring them out of the home and into the community and the outdoors, giving them the opportunity to develop self-reliance and resourcefulness.
Today, Girl Scouts of the United States of America has a membership of more than 3.2 million girls and adults, according to its website. Its alumnae total more than 59 million women in the U.S.
Girl Scouts, Hornets’ Nest Council received its first charter from the national organization in 1935. The regional council now serves more than 15,000 people with over 5,000 volunteers in eight counties in North and South Carolina: Anson, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Rowan, Stanly, Union and York (S.C.).
Lambert said the Girl Scouts organization now faces a challenge of maintaining its history and legacy while also staying relevant.
“We’re really looking at, no matter what girls choose to do — from education to career to family — how do we prepare them for the future?” Lambert said.
She said the focus of the programs has shifted toward science, math and technology — traditionally male-dominated fields.
“The other thing I think has changed in the 10 years I’ve been here is a real focus on making sure our membership reflects the community where we live,” Lambert said. “There’s a perception that Girl Scouts is for a certain type of girl or girls.”
Partnerships with funding agencies like the United Way, she said, help the organization make sure every girl has the opportunity to be a Girl Scout.
Recently, Girl Scouts of the USA has been the subject of controversy. Some have said it supports abortion, birth control or homosexuality, while the national organization has replied that it doesn’t take a position on those issues.
But local girls and women don’t mention these topics when they talk about the Girl Scouts. For them, they say, scouting is about building friendships, gaining confidence and learning new things.
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Rockwell resident Deardra “Dee” Liddle said Girl Scouts doesn’t only benefit the young girls who join, but also their leaders and helpers.
Liddle, who serves as leader of Troop 543 and Troop 1316, is the Rowan County service unit manager for the Hornets’ Nest Council.
She said she once was a Brownie — the Girl Scout level for ages 7 through 9 — and she got involved with scouting again as an adult when her daughter, Sam, wanted to try it.
“I like helping develop the girls and seeing where they can go,” Liddle said. “It lets you realize, when you step back and take a look, that you’re developing your skills as well.”
Sam joined Girl Scouts in kindergarten as a Daisy, the youngest level. She is now a Senior Girl Scout and a rising ninth-grader at Jesse C. Carson High School.
Being a Girl Scout has helped her be more respectful of others and appreciate their differences, she said.
“I think if you do join it, it really makes you a better person,” Sam said. “It opens your eyes to new things, and you get to have fun on the way.”
Anna Leigh Shuping, a rising senior at East Rowan High School, said she’s been in scouting since she was a 5-year-old Daisy.
“I’m a lot more into volunteer work than people usually are,” she said. “I’m more aware of my surroundings — like what’s happening in the world and what I can do to help.”
For her Gold Award project, Shuping created a health camp at her church with the help of her friends and other troop members. Free of charge, they taught kids about the importance of health using hands-on activities.
The leader of Shuping’s troop, Troop 527 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, is Salisbury resident Joanne “Jody” McManus.
McManus said the biggest challenge troop leaders face is probably keeping the girls in scouting as their schedules fill up with activities.
She said she wants to encourage young Girl Scouts to stick with it, because the best and biggest experiences are in middle school and high school.
McManus has taken her troop to Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon and West Virginia on various trips and adventures. Next month, she said, they’re going white-water rafting and zip-lining in Tennessee.
“I want to make sure girls and young women understand that there is no limit to what they can do if they set their mind to it,” McManus said. “They can be CEOs, and they can be corporate heads, and they can go into acting or singing or whatever. Set your goals high and go for it.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.