When Ginny Hill and Rachel Holland joined Girl Scouts in elementary school, they had no idea a lifetime of opportunities and community involvement lie ahead.
And after their firsthand experiences with how Girl Scouting helps young girls grow into leadership roles, they jumped at their respective chances to reconnect with the organization.
Hill is CEO of Girl Scouts of Central & Southern NJ (GSCSNJ), the local chapter of the national organization that has been uniting and empowering girls since 1912. More than being annual purveyors of cookies, Girl Scouts earn badges, learn about the world around them and develop Bronze, Silver and Gold Award projects either with troop members or individually, all while strengthening critical thinking, outdoor, life and entrepreneurial skills.
“I joined Girl Scouts when I was in the third grade and, through my experiences as a girl in my troop, I built a strong sense of self-confidence,” Hill recalls. “I had opportunities to travel … that opened my eyes to a wide world of possibilities.”
She got away from Girl Scouts but her career path led her back. While Hill was running YWCA Delaware, it partnered with Girl Scouts so girls living in YWCA’s shelters could enjoy Girl Scouting.
“When an opportunity presented itself to become a Girl Scout professional, I jumped at the chance to lead an organization that also provided so much to me,” she says.
Holland, GSCSNJ chair, became a lifetime member as a senior in high school. She, too, got away from Girl Scouts but volunteer work led her back, highlighting myriad ways she can still be involved.
“I came back into the fold as a volunteer, as a voting member and then as a member of the board development committee, whose job it is to find board members, which started my own service on the board,” says Holland. “It was during this service that I gave birth to two girls and ended up being the leader of both of their troops.”
Becoming a mother underscored Holland’s place as a role model, for not only her own girls but also their peers.
“The whole model of Girl Scouts is encouraging women to lead,” she explains. “They see their mothers and fathers volunteer to organize and lead a troop, and watch them engage with the girls to encourage them to eventually take the troop in the direction that they want it to go.”
That empowerment to personalize their own experience within the organization is a prevailing constant of Girl Scouts, both Hill and Holland agree. It helps girls find their voices, advocate for both themselves and others, and unite for common causes, while also offering positive examples to learn from.
“Girls have found their voices in Girl Scouting,” Holland says. “They have found a way to connect to others to be confident in their goals as Girl Scouts. They gather together with the goal to learn new things, to serve the community and to make the world a better place.”
“A fundamental part of Girl Scouts is to show girls what they can become through interaction with women who hold a diversity of roles,” adds Hill. “The first role model is the troop leader … with our troop leaders as guides, girls learn from the onset how to use their own voice.”
Even though the pandemic has canceled a number of trips and events facilitating Girl Scouts’ hands-on, community-immersive education, it’s encouraged members to get creative in how they stay connected and actively engaged; in fact, Hill points out that remote activities eliminate the transportation barrier, making more programs accessible to a wider audience.
“Virtual offerings are here to stay,” she affirms. “Membership in Girl Scouts connects girls to a worldwide sisterhood of like-minded individuals … During the pandemic, the worldwide movement was more interconnected than ever before because, as we launched virtual Girl Scout experiences, they were able to participate well outside of their local community.”
Girl Scouting in the time of COVID gave members a much-needed network in challenging times, including a few socially distanced in-person events, while also immediately emphasizing how much one person can do.
“Connecting girls for a common goal is so important in normal times but was crucial over the last year to give them an outlet to the world,” Holland says. “The focus of so many of the girls’ service and Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards have focused on the pandemic and the community’s needs.”
After all, helping others amidst unprecedented challenges is exactly how a Girl Scout should rise to the occasion.
“Our Girl Scout Leadership Experience is a one-of-a-kind leadership development program with proven results,” says Hill. “[It helps] girls take the lead and thrive as they develop a strong sense of self, display positive values, seek challenges and learn from setbacks, form and maintain healthy relationships, and identify and solve community problems.”
Girl Scouts of Central & Southern NJ
20 Brace Road, Cherry Hill
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 2021).
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