By SARA ARTHURS
Carly Smith finds that most of her classmates at Findlay High School react with surprise when she tells them she’s a Girl Scout.
“You’re still in that? High schoolers can still do that?” is a typical response. When she replies in the affirmative a common question this time of year is “Can I buy cookies?”
Smith is in a small minority of girls who stay active in Girl Scouts into their teens. They may not be as well known as their male counterparts who work on Eagle Scout projects but these girls, too, contribute community service.
Carly’s mother, Kris Smith, is one of the two women coordinating efforts for the “service unit”, or geographical region, in Girl Scouts of Western Ohio.
She said most high school-aged Girl Scouts have been involved since they were quite young. Girl Scouts are divided into six age categories: Daisies are in kindergarten and first grade, Brownies in second and third grade, Juniors in fourth and fifth grades, Cadettes in sixth through eighth grades, Seniors in ninth and 10th grades and Ambassadors in 11th and 12th grades.
Locally, there are 131 Daisies, 154 Brownies, 121 Juniors, 86 Cadettes, 27 Seniors and 14 Ambassadors. These numbers also include the adult leaders.
Kris is troop leader for Carly’s troop, which has five Ambassadors. Rikki Youngpeter, the other Hancock County “service unit” leader, leads a troop of two Seniors and three Ambassadors.
In the past, Kris was volunteer coordinator for Findlay and St. Michael’s schools and Rikki for Hancock County schools. Recently, however, the two regions merged and now both are in charge of the whole area, with Kris having the data coordinator and registrar’s role and Rikki in charge of programming and recruitment.
Carly, now a high school junior, has been a Girl Scout since second grade. She has switched troops over the years but there are two girls in her troop that she has been in Girl Scouts with since elementary school.
She thinks it’s natural that a lot of girls drop out when they get older, as other activities may take up girls’ time. But for her it’s about determining priorities and Girl Scouts is one of hers.
“I think it’s a really good program,” she said.
Rikki Youngpeter’s daughter Alexis, 16, and a junior at Van Buren High School, has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten. Sisters Charlotte, 10, and Johanna, 14, are also in Girl Scouts.
Alexis said it’s about “learning life skills” such as public speaking and the business sense of selling cookies.
As for Johanna, “I like meeting new friends,” she said.
Charlotte intends to stay in Girl Scouts as she gets older. She’s envious that her older sisters got to travel to Savannah, Ga., the birthplace of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low.
Alexis said a lot of girls drop out of Girl Scouts by high school as athletics or other activities take up their time. But for her, it’s not just because her mother is active in Girl Scouts that she has stuck with it.
“It’s hard to quit when you fall in love with something,” she said.
It’s often in middle school, Kris said, that girls drop out.
“It’s not seen as cool,” Rikki said.
Kris said the older girls do have many other activities and so meeting schedules are flexible. Sometimes the troops are more active in the summer when the girls have more time.
Local teen scouts belong to the Association of Cadettes, Seniors and Ambassadors, who do activities together.
Girls who stay in Girl Scouts through the Senior or Ambassador level can earn the Gold Award, equivalent to the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout award. The girls must take on a project and spend at least 80 hours planning and working on it. Kris said earning a Gold Award can also make a high school student eligible for more college scholarship opportunities.
In the teenage years, especially, Girl Scouting focuses “quite a bit on community service,” Kris said.
Girl Scouts of Western Ohio is a United Way agency and has a satellite office at the Family Center, meaning Kris, Rikki and other leaders are often in touch with other nonprofit organizations about what their needs might be.
For her Gold Award, Carly is “looking into doing a two-day sewing project” related to Dress a Girl Around the World, an effort to create dresses for needy girls around the world.
Her career goal is to go into forensic science or genetics.
Alexis is also working on her Gold Award project. In October, she plans to collect Halloween costumes for children who cannot afford them, in partnership with the Christian Clearing House.
Johanna is already thinking ahead to what her Gold Award project might be. She is thinking of becoming a nurse and is considering a project that involves something like making onesies for sick babies.
Kris said it’s particularly rewarding to see the older girls work with the younger ones. Girl Scouts can also be a multigenerational event with adults who are Girl Scout alumni interacting with the girls, including one woman in her 90s, Rikki said.
Carly, 16, is an only child but she said Girl Scouts has helped her get to know younger girls. She particularly enjoyed teaching younger Scouts at a camp outing held last fall at Camp Berry. When she was a young girl, she looked up to older girls and now is happy to get to work with the littlest Girl Scouts.
Kris described Girl Scouts as a “sisterhood.” When a local Cadette was diagnosed with leukemia and sent to Columbus for treatment, the Girl Scouts banded together and collected money for gas cards for her family, as well as throwing a card shower for her. Rikki said it’s an example of how Girl Scouts rally around one another.
In February and March, Girl Scouts are busy selling cookies, which Carly described as “everyone’s guilty pleasure at this time of year.” They’re not just a fundraiser but a chance for girls to learn skills, such as how to set goals and handle the profits, Kris said.
Another opportunity for older girls is to travel on Girl Scout activities, Rikki said. A girl could travel to Hollywood to learn filmmaking, immerse herself in fire and police service in Arizona or sail a tall ship in the Virgin Islands.
On Feb. 21, the Girl Scout’s “World Thinking Day” was observed. There are 144 countries around the world that have Girl Scouts or, as they’re often known in other countries, Girl Guides. Locally, a former Girl Scout who had served in the Peace Corps in Albania came and spoke to area girls. Rikki said this got many girls thinking they’d like to join the Peace Corps some day.
Kris said everything in Girl Scouts is “girl-led,” meaning that while adults help, the projects are the girls’ own ideas. One example was a group of girls who decided they wanted to create a “princess” booth to sell cookies, complete with magic wands.
Girl Scouts have changed with technology. There is a cookie app that lists all cookie booths nearby. There is also a Facebook page for local Girl Scouts and a closed Shutterfly account where troop leaders can post photographs, as well as a message board for comments.
Girl Scouts of Western Ohio is recruiting girls as well as adult leaders. Parents and other community members are also encouraged to volunteer in other ways such as teaching girls about careers.
Anyone interested in volunteering or becoming a troop leader should contact Peggy Emerson, who is in charge of recruitment for Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, at email@example.com.
NOTE: Girl Scout cookies will be delivered on Tuesday with cookie booths scheduled March 7-30 throughout the area. The goal is for the county’s 45 troops to sell about 53,000 boxes of cookies. They have sold 41,000 boxes to date.