Sustaining Values, Embracing Change
by Lisa Y. Taylor
Recognized for their can-do attitude and volunteer spirit, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are full of tradition. While Girl Scouts of the USA marks its 100th anniversary and the local Alamo Area Council of Boy Scouts of America reaches its 100th birthday, both groups maintain their core values, but are also changing with the times.
Though Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts is a legacy in many families, leaders of both organizations are reaching out to communities where participation isn’t strong.
When Lisa Delgado started heading Troop 7775 eight years ago, about 20 girls met at Dolores B. Linton Elementary School in the Northside School District. Today, the troop boasts more than 60 members. In fact, the troop climbed to national fame when photos of some of its girls were featured on more than 8 million boxes of the Girl Scouts 100th anniversary cookie, Savannah Smiles.
“When I started, many of the families had not been in Girl Scouts, and it was overwhelming for them to think how much of a commitment it would take,” Delgado says. “In the last few years, parents have really stepped up to the plate. Our troop leaders have worked on finding where the strengths and limitations of our parents are in regards to their time, and we are able to tap into their resources so that everyone can do something.”
New Troop Formed
A middle school troop recently spun off from Troop 7775. But as girls move up in age and increase their extracurricular activities, staying involved with Girl Scouts can become challenging.
“There’s no question that girls and boys have much greater demands on their time than even just a generation ago,” says Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA who led Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas in San Antonio until 2011. “What I would say, however, is that there is so much a girl can learn about herself and what she can accomplish by engaging in community service projects. There is the sense of responsibility, of doing something meaningful, and the pride of accomplishing a goal alongside other girl scouts and community members.”
To accommodate girls who can’t or would prefer not to join a troop, the Girl Scouts created additional membership avenues called “pathways.” For instance, girls can be members by going to a Girl Scout camp, a domestic or international trip, or an event focused on a specific theme such as financial literacy.
These pathways have helped boost membership of the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas to 21,600 in 2011 – a 16 percent increase from the previous year, says Stephanie Finleon, a spokesperson for the local chapter.
“We don’t sell the troop, we sell membership, and the pathways are a guide,” she says.Membership is also growing at the Boy Scouts Alamo Area Council. In 2011, there were 28,100 youth members, up from 27,700 in 2010. To bring the Boy Scouts to areas that have large numbers of high-risk youth, last year the council launched “Project Aguila” (Project Eagle). So far, the program that provides financial assistance to pay staff leaders and expenses such as dues and uniforms, is in elementary schools in the Harlandale and Edgewood school districts.
“It is our belief that this investment of time and resources will lead to a rise in youth and parent volunteer participation,” says Michael de los Santos, CEO of the Alamo Area Council. “With more boys and parents involved, we will see a greater number of Cub Scouts cross into Boy Scouting to continue their scouting and character education.”
Just as membership has broadened in the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts, so have their programs and awards. Both organizations now place a strong emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) experiences.
Last year, in collaboration with NASA, the Boy Scouts launched a merit badge in robotics, and in 2010, it started offering a belt loop in video games to its youngest members.
For his Cub Scout pack to earn the loop, den leader Charlie Whelan had the boys bring their personal video game systems to a meeting to play with one another. While having fun, they learned how the video games rating system works, which rating is appropriate for their age group and how to schedule video games in with doing their chores and homework.
“The lessons were like a spoonful of sugar because the boys were really excited to be playing their video games,” Whelan says. “When I was a Boy Scout, it really was more about camping, but now the organization is trying to be more flexible in meeting boys where they are, rather than focusing on outdoor activities.”
As for the Girl Scouts, new patches include website designer, digital photographer and geocacher. Geocacher involves using GPS maps to go on a scavenger hunt. Delgado has been active in Girl Scouts for 25 years and will be teaching geocaching this summer at an evening camp at a local park. She says that opportunities for the girls have ballooned in the last few years.
“The experiences offered are not just about cookies and camping,” she says. “Girl Scouts change as the world changes to meet the needs of our girls.”
Lisa Y. Taylor is a San Antonio freelance writer and mother of three daughters.