When one hears the words “Girl Scouts,” the most common thoughts that may come to mind probably include crafting, camping and those delicious and famous cookies.
However, over the last 25 years, Margaret Harris has worked to prove that Girl Scouts is more than just a fun organization. It’s also a true leadership program.
Last month the organization recognized those efforts, announcing that Harris’ years of dedication and influence on local girls had earned her induction into the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana’s Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame Award is bestowed by the Girl Scouts each year to 10 men and women who have been members of the organization for at least 25 years and have carried out services that have left long lasting impressions on both the Girl Scout organization and greater community.
This fall, the 36-year North Riverside resident kicked off her 26th year of leadership by serving as the head leader for a group of local seventh-grade girls.
While Harris has served as a leader for more than half of her adult life, her journey with the organization began when she joined the Girl Scouts in fourth grade as a Junior. She stayed an active Girl Scout all the way through high school and eventually made her way back to the organization when she became a mother.
From the mid-1980s when her oldest daughter, Nora, began school until 2011 when her youngest daughter, Veronika, graduated from high school, Harris remained the primary Girl Scout troop leader for her daughters and their classmates.
During that time, Harris served as a troop leader at Mater Christi but also served girls from other schools, including Komarek, Ames, Hauser, Riverside-Brookfield High School and Trinity High School.
While most of her scouts have lived in North Riverside, she has also attracted girls to her troops from suburbs such as Brookfield, Broadview, Westchester and even as far away as Elk Grove Village and Arlington Heights.
Out of the many different activities Harris has led over the years — from pancake breakfasts to charity drives and community service projects — her favorite memories include the countless trips from Wild Rose Program Center in St. Charles and outings in Washington, D.C., and Savannah, Georgia, the birthplace of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low.
“The camping trips we’ve been on and interacting with the girls and talking to them like they’re little adults are my favorite memories,” Harris said.
Harris says that while some things have changed with both the world and Girl Scouts over the years, she still thinks it is an invaluable organization for girls and adults to become a part of.
“I want to say [Girl Scouts] caught up to me, because I always had my girls lead stuff and now the national policy is ‘Girl Led,'” Harris said, explaining how she has always favored a leadership style in which she puts her girls in charge of activities. “And, adults should get involved to be mentors to kids, to help them figure out what they want to do in life and find a way to make it happen.”
Even though the Girl Scouts have continued to thrive over the years on cookie sales and regional popularity, Harris believes the future of Girl Scouts really depends on how willing adults in America are to step up and take the time to mentor young girls.
“The real problem is that parents don’t want to be the leaders,” Harris said. “They don’t have time. They have jobs, they have other kids and so were looking right now to find other people, like in colleges, to be our volunteers.”
Last month, Harris attended a Girl Scouts volunteer meeting at Morton College in Cicero, where she said some young women signed up to take on leadership roles in the area for troops in need.
“The girls are interested [but] our biggest problem would be finding people to lead,” she said.
Locally, Harris says she is grateful that many parents have generously lent helpful hands for meetings, projects and trips over the years. And, as for her future with the Girl Scouts, Harris says she plans on sticking around for quite some time.
“I plan on being part of Girl Scouts as long as I’m able to,” she said. “I’m a lifetime member.”