Girl Scouts, Cookie Quotas and A Scarlet Trefoil

I had a much different life before I got sick, had brain surgeries, and faced disability.  I worked. I was dedicated and worked hard for some pretty amazing organizations. Most of my professional life was spent  in the nonprofit sector as a nonprofit strategist. My focus was mainly in development, but I also spent a large amount of time with volunteers. Volunteers ARE donors – they give of their time, and most often decide to give of their money as well. I understand the intricate workings of a nonprofit system.  An organization cannot afford to ignore their volunteer base and supporters questions without impact. I would think an organization who struggles to obtain and retain volunteers would pay special attention to this fact.

A role that I am so proud to have is that of a Girl Scout leader. It is a volunteer role that has kept me going and focused on something other than myself. I love my group of girls and go above and beyond in this volunteer role. Having this in my life has done more for me – it is incredibly fulfilling. Dealing with my major health issues has made it challenging at times, but I made a big promise to the girls in my troop the day they registered – as long as they wanted to continue I would be with them through the long haul.

I understand the importance of being a good, qualified, and dedicated leader. You see, finding and keeping qualified adults who are willing to volunteer as troop leaders is an issue that has been plaguing Girl Scouts for some time now. It is just one of the reasons I became a leader.  My oldest daughter had the most incredible experience with Girl Scouts mainly due to her leaders. Since she had quality guidance she felt driven to remain active, and she worked so hard to reach the highest level in Girl Scouting – The Gold Award. I wanted the same for my youngest, and I realized it was not going to happen because of a lack of leaders. So I volunteered – I made it happen. I’ve been with my small, but awesome, troop for five years now and we are now in the midst of completing our Bronze Award project.

Girl Scouts has changed quite a bit since my oldest daughter was involved. GSUSA has since developed and required a curriculum of sorts and changed their emphasis quite a bit.  There is a great article by Linton Weeks on NPR  that addresses both volunteerism and the new emphasis. In addition to the curriculum,  I spend a great deal of time working to help further discussions and strengthen the experience for my girls.  We have engaging conversations on bullying, we talk about true role models like Malala Yousafzai, and even discuss the very thing I talk about with my own daughters – using your voice to make a change.  Standing up for change in community is a major topic highlighted in the GSUSA program portfolio materials.

So what happens when I, one of Girl Scout’s  own volunteers, uses her voice to  stand up for change and ask questions within her local Girl Scout Council? I get a canned answer that really gives no insight into why a major change is being made. When I dig deeper and go to Girl Scouts USA I am ignored. My questions are never answered and I am left feeling as if my voice and concerns have no interest to them. See my first paragraph.

Here is my issue:

The Girl Scout program portfolio was “designed to help girls develop as leaders and build confidence by learning new skills. It also ensures that Girl Scouts at every level are sharing a powerful, national experience—girls together changing the world!” (Notice I placed words in bold). There is a national emphasis that is beautifully laid out and pulled together for all Leaders and Girl Scouts to use. The same goes for the three highest awards in Girl Scouts – Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards. Every Girl Scout in every area has these guides to use as their pathway to the major awards. When girls purchase their “Girl’s Guides To Scouting” the specific level requirements are even  included.

If this is a national program and the awards are national awards – how can one council alter requirements to suit their purpose? We have three councils in North Carolina, and my council is the only one who has altered the national award requirements.  So what has me up in arms?

My question to the area council: Why do we have a cookie quota in order to work to obtain the Bronze, Silver, or Gold Awards? Note: Each one of the national guides has been changed and new requirement wording has been added by the council!  Here is the actual cookie quota message:

Quota

In essence, a girl must sell 48 boxes of cookies to ask for any assistance, both monetary or in-kind, for the awards.  The easy loophole is that parents, or girls with jobs, can foot the bill for materials needed for a specific award. My scouts cannot ask Sherwin Williams for a simple can of paint for a project without selling 48 boxes, and I have parents who cannot afford to fork out money. I know my family could not have personally funded the amazing Gold Award project for my older child. Sure, I completely get all the skills and merits of the cookie program. I know my troop gets .57 from every box sold (be real and do the math).  I am a realist who understands that fundraising of some sort will have to help support great projects.

Truth be told, participation in the cookie program is not an issue to me. It is the quota placed by my council that bothers me. I do know there are other councils in the US who require participation, but I have discovered that selling quotas are not implemented. Most of the information I have found actually says a quota is never placed by troops or other parties. I have girls who sell 150+ boxes, and girls who work very hard for 20-30 boxes. There is so much pressure on kids today, and I believe Girl Scouts is a forum to build leaders and applaud the variety of skills each girl has. Some girls may be natural sellers, and others may struggle deeply with the idea of it. I always make sure my girls feel like equals, and are treated like equals despite the number of boxes of cookies they sell.

Here is the answer I received from the council when I asked the hard questions:

If a girl or troop plans an additional money earning project to accomplish a higher award, there is a requirement that the girl/troop participate in the cookie program and sell a minimum of 4 cases of cookies. In some instances, girls working on their Gold Award need substantial funding to accomplish their goals. The cookie program provides a way for troops to help fund a girl’s project. If a girl or troop needs additional funding to carry out a project, the girl or troop may apply for approval for a money earning project. Participation in a money earning project does require a minimum cookie  sales amount.  Our cookie program is so well recognized and valued by the communities that we serve, that the Board made participation in the cookie program a prerequisite to any additional money earning projects. Additional money earning projects for a girl or a troop working on a Girl Award – Bronze, Silver or Gold, must have approval from our Resource Development department prior to the proposed money earning project.”

Soooo the cookie program is so well recognized and valued by the community and THAT is why they made this a requirement to fundraise?  I would have much more respect for an honest answer that said something like  “we need some additional budget help, and this helps guarantee a little extra for specific program costs.” I may not agree with it, but it is not some lame, flowery, spun answer that makes NO sense.

It is incredibly sad that I am hearing other leaders say they have girls who will not achieve Gold Award status because of cookies! I know some of these girls personally and know at 16 they sell to their families only. They simply do not have time to sell 48 boxes with AP classes, focusing on grades, and other extracurricular activities.

We see Girl Scout numbers dwindling and we struggle sometimes to keep girls beyond a certain level. I do not believe we should be putting up walls – we should be breaking them down. Right now  my council is building a cookie barrier for some pretty incredible girls!

Girl Scouts USA

All of this was not sitting well with me so I went to GSUSA for answers. I wanted to know if one council can actually alter a NATIONAL program guide. If I had gotten a yes, I would have followed the rules and moved on about my way accepting the changes. However, I did not hear a word. I haven’t for weeks! I left voice mails, I sent detailed emails and even went to social media private message (where I was asked to follow up again if I had not heard in a week). Guess what? Crickets. Nothing. Again, see my first paragraph about ignoring volunteers.

Not hearing from GSUSA gave me time to think beyond quotas – If one council is allowed to adjust requirements who is to say other councils won’t do the same?  If this becomes a trend are the awards ( Gold Award in particular) really a nationally recognized achievement?  Why would councils even have committees in place to ensure that girls’ Gold projects meet the national guidelines?

I stumbled upon an AP article from October 2014   Why are fewer girls joining the Girl Scouts?  The piece has many quotes from CEO Anna Maria Chavez and a few really jumped out at me. One in particular:

A crucial challenge, she said, is supporting the current ranks of volunteers and recruiting more adults to join them.

I wonder what she would say about the support I have been given? She may feel as if my questions and concerns are of no value – who knows? I do know there have been others before me who felt the same frustrations when asking pointed questions to GSUSA. Each moment I do not receive communication simply creates more questions and more concerns arise…What about Girl Scouts in areas of poverty? How would they work around this imposed requirement? In changing the national guidelines – the playing field is changed.

Issues within my council may emerge as a result of my post – directed toward me, of course. The last person who spoke up was marked with a scarlet trefoil. I decided to come here, not to create controversy or to get anyone in trouble, but to see if there are other Girl Scout leaders out there who may like to weigh in and shed some light. I’m not arguing the value of the skills learned through the cookie program at all, just an imposed quota tied to major awards. My post may not reach a soul, or yield any results. Nevertheless, it  has been a vehicle for me to try to draw attention to an issue.

I must end by saying all of my girls sold above the requirements my council put in place, but this  is a big picture issue for me.  All I know is that I’m doing what I encourage my troop to do – work to bring about change. I will go back to my troop duties, and I will be able to hold my head high knowing I practice what I preach – even if I am wearing a scarlet trefoil.

 

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