Girl Scouts Look For A Way Out Of The Woods

October 23, 2014

The Girl Scouts organization wants s’more — members and leaders, that is.

Membership in Girl Scouts of the USA is on the decline. In the past year, according to the group’s official blog, there has been a significant drop nationwide — down 400,000 girls and adults — from 3.2 million to 2.8 million.

But perhaps even more alarming, those who do want to sell cookies and wear sashes — an estimated 30,000 young girls — do not have enough qualified adults who are willing to volunteer as troop leaders or cookie moms.

The New York-based organization offers several reasons for the downward trends. Girl Scouts spokeswoman Kelly Parisi says of the membership spiral: “There is an increased demand and competition from other organizations, school, and extracurricular activities for the attention of girls. It’s an exciting time to be a girl — with so many choices of how to spend their time, it would be impossible to do everything.”

And of the shortfall of adult leaders: “To me that is heartbreaking. These girls are looking for fun opportunities that will help them throughout their lives, and our society is not able to provide it. We all understand the unfortunate effects of the 2008 financial crisis and its lingering impact on the time and resources adults have today, but girls need this.”

Do they?

Change Of Emphasis

Long known for promoting camping skills and cookie sales, the Girl Scouts underwent a makeover a few years ago. The group developed STEM, an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and a revamped “National Leadership Journeys” program.

“The redesign eliminated some traditional badge pursuits and relegated others — like painting and simple meal preparation — to ‘legacy status,’ ” the New York Times recently reported. The Scouts also “added a host of new pursuits, including digital filmmaking, financial literacy, eating local, social innovation and business etiquette. Outdoor activities and skills development did not entirely disappear — there are still badges to be earned in camping, hiking and adventure sports — but many believe the role of the outdoors in fostering leadership was diminished.”

Some people are uncomfortable with the change. In fact, an online survey posted by the Girl Scouts shows that fewer than 50 percent of about 2,000 respondents — people who identify as members and supporters of the Girl Scouts — are satisfied with the direction of the organization. Nearly one-third of respondents say the Journeys, as designed, are horrible and should be scrapped. Many of those surveyed want more emphasis on outdoor activities.

Smart Cookies

So where will the necessary volunteers come from? Parisi tells NPR: “In a world where more than one-third of Boy Scout volunteers are women, we at GSUSA believe it is important to look outside the box for adult volunteers.”

Adult guides “come from all walks of life; they are women, men, young professionals, retirees, college students, and more. You don’t need to be a mother or a father of a daughter to be a volunteer — you just need to be a responsible and fun adult who wants to impact the next generation of female leaders.”

Recent data, she says, show that “88 percent of volunteers believe their life is better because they volunteer with Girl Scouts. And an astounding two-thirds believe that their volunteer experience has helped them professionally.”

The group must be doing something right. After all, a significant number of influential Americans were members, including Laura Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Martha Stewart, Venus Williams, Katie Couric, Natalie Morales, Lisa Ling, Taylor Swift, Mariah Carey and Sandra Day O’Connor.

Scout’s honor.

The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers — Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers — of NPR. @NPRtpj

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit