One of my most vivid Girl Scout childhood memories is a troop trip to Washington DC. We learned about the US government, and I was inspired by the stately feel of the city with the Capitol, White House and Smithsonian. Around the same time, I realized that my parents were very active in local politics – the next year my father ran for State Representative, and my mother served as a Women’s Committee Chair. Perhaps somewhat unique at the time (and even now), was the fact that my father was a Democrat and my mother a Republican - although it certainly explains why our dinner table was often the place of spirited debate! Listening to my parents debate issues through somewhat opposing points of view and being inspired by their engagement in the local political process made an impression on me, and I believe partially fueled my own passion for community service and civic engagement.
Fast forward many years, and here I sit as the CEO of our Girl Scout Council in a time when the interest of girls to drive issues and change is exploding. We certainly saw a spike following last year’s election, but long before that we began to see the interest of our girls in issues – in wanting to not only take action via service but also understand the root causes of community problems and speak out when they saw injustice or disparity. Girl Scouting has a long tradition of community service and engagement, as well Citizen Badge Programs that deepen girls’ learning that today’s troops can certainly use. We felt a calling to do more.
Earlier this year, the four New Jersey Girl Scout Councils came together to address that calling, and in partnership, have launched two new initiatives designed to expand the ways Girl Scouts can share their voices on issues affecting women and girls in the Garden State. First, in the spring, we piloted a new program in partnership with the Center for American Women in Politics (Rutgers University) entitled “Women in Action! Becoming a Public Leader”. This program is designed to spark a girl’s interest in public service, and also expose her to the process of campaigning, skills that can be used to run for student council or President of the USA. The pilot was well received and our second event will be held this Fall. This program will continue to be open to girls from all 4 NJ Councils, as there is true power in a group convened from all across the state.
In addition, we’ve launched a Girls Social Action initiative, through which girls will have the opportunity to speak, advocate and effect change on issues they care passionately about. Over the past few months, a steering committee of girls has been developing the initiative to ensure that it has meaning and purpose for all girls. Keep an eye out for more on this initiative in the coming months, with details on how other girls/troops can get involved.
Girl Scouts truly is a movement – of voice, action and impact!