As a Girl Scout, I was disappointed by the article written by Jackie Glosniak (“Not just a boys club,” News March 13), which supports Boy Scouts’ decision to recruit and admit girls. Instead, Pack 24 should seek to actively recruit all the boys in our community who are not yet Boy Scouts – boys who could benefit from the leadership experience offered by BSA. Meanwhile, I strongly encourage all the girls in our local towns and villages to join the organization that was formed and exists solely for them, or the Girl Scouts.
The article ran just days after the International Day of the Woman, and actually, on the 107th birthday of the Girl Scouts organization. Instead of lauding the accomplishments of all our current girl scouts for their Gold Awards (the highest award in Girl Scouting for projects that have changed the world), or our Cookie Entrepreneurs who continually think outside of the proverbial cookie box, or our Girl Scout alums who make up 73 percent of the current women U.S. Senators and 58 percent of the women in the U.S. House of Representatives, the article seemed to suggest that girls should sign up for Boy Scouts because they cannot enjoy outdoor experiences or whittling, in Girl Scouts. This is disturbing, to say the least, and deceives the public into a view of Girl Scouts that could not be further from the truth. Please let me take this opportunity to clarify the realities that not only does Girl Scouts prepare girls for a lifetime of leadership, we also camp and enjoy the outdoors through robust programming, every bit as much (and in my case, far more than my sons did) as Boy Scouts in Pack 24.
In 1912, even before women had the right to vote in this country, the Girls Scouts was formed with a mission to build girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place. The same is still true today. The Girl Scout Handbook from 1929 described why we are called Girl Scouts. It said that “in the days when our pioneer ancestors left the settlements on the eastern borders of our continent and went far westward, the most resourceful and hardy and experienced of the number went ahead to find the best way for the others to follow. They were called the scouts of the expedition. They had to have courage and perseverance and endurance, an understanding of the ways of animals and plants, of the meaning of the winds and the water, and the lay of the land. Their success meant the success of those who followed-they made the best trails through the land. And incidentally they had great fun doing it. Adventure was theirs and the joy of accomplishment and the satisfaction of great service to others.” This is still true today of the experiences (and fun) that can be had as Girl Scouts.
So you can understand concrete examples of the life changing benefits of Girl Scouting, let me tell you about the experiences of one local Girl Scout troop, Troop 4590 from Riverside, that was run by Cathy Louthen, Deb Gardiner and me for 13 years. Hold onto your seats, because this ride is, in a word, amazing. Our Girl Scouts planted trees on Arbor Day with our wonderful village forester, Mike Collins. We cleaned parks from the triangular Riverside ones to a local senior’s lawn to one in the outskirts of London by the Girls Scouts World Center; the village of Riverside even planted a serviceberry tree in front of Hauser School, in their honor. They caroled at the British and Scottish Homes and made thousands of cards for seniors, active soldiers and veterans.
They cooked and fed countless folks through Jen’s Care and made thousands of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the Riverside Presbyterian Church, worked at the Ronald McDonald House, the LaGrange Lutheran Church soup kitchen, and packed food at Feed the Starving Children. These Girl Scouts were the volunteer labor force for the Junior Women’s organization in Riverside for a decade; helping [wo]man everything from the Bike Rodeos and Breakfasts with Santa to being joyful and adorable elves on the Christmas Train and setting up and then fanning guests as they entered the King Tut Field Museum annual dinner fundraiser extravaganza.
These Girl Scouts volunteered countless hours in all forms of weather to work in freezing temperatures at Holiday strolls to hotter than hot Cruise days and nights, selling everything from cookies, pop, and caramel apples, to glow sticks, and did so with smiles and good cheer. And they painted reindeer, angels, candy canes and even penguins on, by my count, over 2,200 smiling Riverside kids’ faces at local Riverside events.
In addition to all their meaningful and significant volunteer service, and like our Handbook indicated, our Girl Scouts also had incredible adventures and fun along the way. When asked by local Boy Scout Pack leaders what venues Troop 4590 visited, I somewhat jokingly answer that it would be easier to respond with those that we did not. From Chicago to Europe, and even Canada, we visited cultural institutions and had unbelievable outdoor experiences. These lessons and tours include, locally, the Riverside Police and fire stations and lockup, the Village offices, the Riverside Bank to learn saving and international currency exchange, the Brookfield Zoo (not only decorating Christmas trees but even adopting a dolphin), visiting the Harlem Avenue and Riverside portages, the local bakeries and nurseries to make mother’s day plants, fabric stores to learn embroidery and button sewing, and quilting to make blankets for the Linus Charity.
We dined on fine foods from diverse locales and countries, including Benihana’s, the University, Tower and Riverside Golf Clubs, the Marshall Field’s and then Macy’s Walnut Room, Ed Debevic’s, the Greek Isles and Tea at the Four Seasons, among countless other venues.
Their educational tours included trips to the Berwyn Animal Hospital, Camp Saginaw Ravine in Lemont, the Fossil quarry, the Freedom Museum, Behind the Scenes Tours at the Lyric, the Auditorium Theater and the CSO, the Garfield Park and Oak Park Conservatories, the Morton Arboretum, the Spertus Jewish Museum, the Oriental Institute, the Chicago Surgical Society, the (Michigan Avenue) Bridge and Water Tower Museums and we took the Water Reclamation tours in Stickney and a sewer tour in Paris. We visited the Chicago Cultural Center and even Waldheim Cemetery. We took a trip across the pond to Paris and London (thanks to money our girls earned from cookie sales and car shows) and visited the Louvres, the Hotel des Invalides, the Army Museum, Napoleon’s Tomb and the Eiffel Tower to the London Eye, the National Art Museum and took a trip to the Crystal Maze and the birthplace of Girl Scouting.
As if these adventures were not enough, these young ladies went camping, simply put, everywhere. Through Girl Scouts, our girls camped in Wild Rose Girl Scout camp, Starved Rock, Kettle Moraine Park, White Pines and slept at the Museum of Science and Industry, under the sun at the Adler Planetarium, with the Fishes at the Shedd and among the animals at Dozin with the Dino’s at the Field Museum of Natural History. The leaders were beaten by my count, at both day and night hiking (including in Whistler, Canada), and at volleyball, tennis, tether ball, mini golf, archery, skiing, ice and roller skating, rock climbing, canoeing, mountain biking, swimming and horseback riding and even at dancercise lessons at a local School of Dance and went whale watching and boating in Vancouver.
Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouting, once said that “the work of today is the history of tomorrow, and we are its makers.” All of the Troop 4590 Girl Scouts obtained their Bronze and Silver Awards (organizing and running the Riverside Fall Festival for over 500 local residents) and three girls obtained their Gold Awards, the highest award in Girl Scouting. Many of their college interviews focused on their experiences in Girl Scouting and as adults, they have gone on to serve their communities. Let me assure you that these Girl Scout alums of Troop 4590 are incredible young women, of whom I am exceptionally proud; they have had a profound impact on the Riverside community, and will continue to inspire and improve the lives of others. Also, please remember, this is but one Girl Scout troop, in one Village. We have 122 Councils across the nation and over 50,000 girls are active Girl Scouts in the Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Council alone.
If I have not already impassioned you enough to sign your daughters up to be Girl Scouts from my daughter’s troop experiences, I will share my own, and end with the demonstrated and incontrovertible facts that single gender organizations are better for both girls and boys. Indeed, I believe Girl Scouting is even more critically important for girls today than perhaps it was five decades ago when I pinned on my first Trefoil and earned my first Girl Scout badge.
I was born in Garfield Park and lived in the top floor of my grandfather’s two-flat in Berwyn. No one in my family on either side ever graduated from college. When I registered for Girl Scouts, I was an introverted small girl with personal ambition and big drive, but a fear of never having any money to even take the train to visit downtown Chicago, let alone to go to college. My Girl Scout leaders, one of whom was a veteran of the Korean War, taught all of us in our troop that we could not only make campfires and S’Mores, but survive in the wilderness, build bird and later real houses, and even go to college. My Girl Scout leaders were the ones who told me that I could be anything that I conceived, and they made me believe my potential, too. They worked with me to pursue college and later law school, and were accomplished, hard working women, who were able to juggle families and careers. Without them and Girl Scouts, I never would have even dreamed of attending law school, let alone practicing for 30 years in Big Law, in the male dominated construction and engineering fields. Even more than contributing to my business success, however, they led by example, and I saw that we could have families of our own and that, if I was fortunate enough, could one day be the leader of my own daughter’s troop.
Since my early days in Girl Scouts, I have gone on to lead with Cathy and Deb, Shannon’s troop and to serve on the Board of the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana for eight years, four of which I was the chair, and now I serve on the National Board of GSUSA. Lest you think that I am biased, however, please let me share with you the research developed for over a hundred years, by the Girl Scout Research Institute and others, supporting the conclusion that girls are much better served in a single gender environment. The research proves that single gender environments provide more opportunities for girls to build confidence and excel. Further, girls in single gender environments are more likely to explore and pursue STEM subjects.
The research even establishes that boys are harmed by adding girls to the mix of the pack; the research shows that single gender environments can better address boy’s learning needs and boost enthusiasm for learning. So, for Boy Scouts to simply insert girls into programs developed for boys, does not benefit either the girls or the boys in the pack. Families can join many Girl Scouting events, as all the dads and brothers did in Troop 4590. Girls do not need to be a subclass, separated group in Boy Scouts. That is why I suggest that Pack 24 should implore the local boys to join their ranks and support their daughters, sisters, nieces, and girl friends and neighbors in signing up for the “Club” that is developed for and led by them; its name is Girl Scouts.
While I understand that there are many demands on families for their time, from careers to travel sports, and on their treasure, as well, registering a girl in Girl Scouts is the single best investment you can make. It is a proven investment that will pay you and your and our girls back for the rest of your and their lives. And you will all have fun along the way.
Karen Layng is a Riverside resident who serves on the Girl Scout National Board of Directors.