“We’re pleased with any opportunities for girls.”
Those are Patricia Mellor’s thoughts on the decision earlier this year by the Boys Scouts of America to allow girls to join.
That upbeat outlook is a bit of a surprise, given that Mellor is CEO of the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains, the Vermont and New Hampshire organization that will now be competing directly with local Boy Scout troops for members.
Both organizations have been struggling nationally for numbers in recent years, and national Girl Scout leaders decried the October decision by the Boy Scouts.
Mellor’s taking a different approach.
“The Boy Scouts made a decision that they think is best for them,” Mellor said. She does expect some girls to be interested in joining the Boy Scouts, but she doesn’t think that will hurt Girl Scout membership in Vermont and New Hampshire.
“I strongly believe in our program,” Mellor said. “It’s provided girls with amazing experiences for 105 years, and I’m going to stand behind it.”
One reason she’s not worried is that plenty of girls aren’t currently in either organization. About 10,000 girls are part of the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains right now — only about 10 percent of the girls who are eligible to join. That leaves plenty of potential new Girl Scouts.
Mellor thinks her organization needs to do more to tell girls about the opportunities offered in the Girl Scouts, and not worry about what the Boy Scouts are doing.
“It’s in our best interest to continue letting people know that the Girl Scouts still exist as another opportunity for girls,” Mellor said. Since the Boy Scouts announcement, she has come to realize “how little people know about either organization.”
Membership has slumped in both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, but Mellor said that trend has started to reverse in Vermont and New Hampshire in recent years.
Many areas of Vermont have posted “30 percent growth” in Girl Scout membership over the last few years, and 2017 is the third year in a row the Girls Scouts of the Green and White Mountains has experienced overall membership growth.
“Even after the announcement by the Boy Scouts, we are still seeing growth,” Mellor said.
Some of that growth has taken place locally. There are 149 girls in 18 troops in Washington County, 27 percent more than the 117 scouts a year ago.
There are 79 girls in the six troops in Lamoille County, with several of those troops popping back up over the past few years.
Abigail Earle is one of the parents who helped restart the Morrisville Girl Scouts last year, and there are now 27 members from kindergarten through sixth grade.
“We’ve got Daisies, Brownies, Juniors and Cadets,” said Earle, one of the co-leaders of the troop.
The troop in Cambridge also added two new members this year, to a total of 11, and leader Tara Bredice doesn’t expect the Boy Scouts’ announcement to change things.
A Johnson troop was also revived two years ago, and Sasha Yazdzik, one of the lead volunteers, said enrollment reached 20 this year.
“It’s going really well; each year we get more girls,” Yazdzik said. The Johnson troop actually has some close ties with local Boy Scouts; they went caroling together at The Manor in early December.
Yazdzik could see expanding the troop a bit more, especially to include girls now in fifth grade who will move up to Cadet level next year, but more volunteers will be needed first.
The struggle to find volunteer leaders is the one way Mellor thinks her organization could be affected by the Boy Scouts.
“I do expect increased competition for volunteers,” she said. Both organizations are very volunteer-based, and many parents volunteer as leaders in both organizations if they have a boy and a girl. That could change if their daughters join the Boy Scouts.
“Troops come and go as leadership enrollment is there,” Earle said. She and several other women who started the Morrisville troop were all Girl Scouts as kids, and they wanted to offer that option to today’s girls.
In recruiting more leaders, “we need to spend more time letting people know what Girl Scouts do,” Mellor said.
More than just cookies
Many people associate the Girl Scouts with selling cookies and have no idea about everything else the troops do. The organization’s STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — initiative isn’t well-known, and there’s also a misconception that Girl Scouts don’t get to spend much time outside. The organization actually has a lot of different outdoor programs and badge-earning opportunities, from the Daisy-level “Buddy Camper” (help plan and pack for a camping trip, and go camping) to the Ambassador-level Ultimate Recreation Challenge, where the Scout must plan and complete five “ultimate” adventures.
There’s also paddling, trailblazing, woodworking, wilderness first aid and survival camping.
On the social front, Girl Scouts can earn badges in public policy, women’s health, social innovation, marketing, public speaking and even truth-seeking — how to evaluate sources for credibility, investigate experts’ claims and “uncover the truth in what we see and hear.”
Other pursuits range from designing robots and managing money to bugs, painting and photography, performing and more.
“That’s what the cookies provide funding for,” Mellor said.
The successes that many Girl Scout alumni have achieved in their careers and personal lives is another selling point.
“We need to get all that out there,” Mellor said. “We need to let people know the value of Girl Scouting, and what it brings to the community.”
Earle thinks more community involvement is a good thing, too. Her troop took part in a service trip to The Manor in Morrisville last Saturday, and she wants to see more of that.
“We’re looking forward to getting them out in the community more and doing more fun projects,” Earle said.
Hannah Marshall, managing editor of this newspaper, was a Girl Scout in Stowe with Troop 784 in the 1990s.
“Scouting definitely inspired me to get out in the community and volunteer,” Marshall said. She recalled her troop serving meals at chicken pie suppers, collecting donations, lending a hand at animal shelters and helping at Special Olympics and Relay for Life events.
Also, while people are often aware of the Eagle level of Boy Scouts — the highest achievement or rank attainable in the program, in which a Scout must complete a service project in addition to a range of leadership and merit requirements — the Girl Scouts’ Gold Award offers a similarly challenging and rigorous honor program to high-school-aged girls.
Raising more awareness about the Girl Scouts is the path Mellor wants to take, and she thinks letting each scouting organization concentrate on what it does best is the right way to move forward.
“We are really trying to just let Boy Scouts be Boy Scouts,” Mellor said, and she’s confident the Girl Scouts have the best offerings for young women.
“We’re not focusing on the negativity,” she said.
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