Girl Scouts Celebrate 100 Years of Service & Scholarships

Girl Scouts Celebrate 100 Years of Service & Scholarships

June 20, 2012 

For many women, our fondest childhood memories often include those special years we spent as Girl Scouts, telling stories around the campfire, singing songs of friendship, earning merit badges to showcase our new skills, volunteering in our communities and, yes, of course, selling those delicious cookies. Over the past 100 years, Girl Scouts has provided a unique and unifying leadership experience that has been shared by more than 50 million American women in more than 90 countries, making it the largest voluntary organization dedicated solely to girls in the world.

As Girl Scouts celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2012, Lipstik is proud to salute an organization with a rich tradition of service in Southern Illinois that continues to live out its mission to build “girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.”

Cati Cronin, 16, and her mom, C, are two of the 14,000 girls and 5,000 adult volunteers served locally by the Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois (GSSI).

“These girls are like rock stars to the younger girls; they’re role models and mentors,” said C, who leads Cati’s troop in O’Fallon/Shiloh with her longtime friend, Jeanne Judge. Jeanne and C first met at Scott Air Force Base when their eldest daughters, Shannon Cronin, 24, and Cynthia (Judge) Baird, 29, were Brownies. The two families have been actively involved in Girl Scouts-and each other’s lives-ever since.

“We all love to volunteer more than anything,” said Cati about her tightly knit and highly active troop, which has already taken on a multitude of service projects. An aspiring elementary school teacher, Cati has been a Girl Scout Day Camp counselor for the past five years and is one of the first girls to participate in the GSSI’s new Girl Scout Apprentice Program. She is currently at work on her Gold Award project, which represents the highest achievement in Girl Scouts.

In 2011, a Gold Award winner helped catapult GSSI into the national spotlight when Carbondale native Dara Weaver-Holmes, 20, was chosen from among the 2.3 million Girl Scouts across the country as one of the organization’s 10 National Young Women of Distinction.

Now a sophomore psychology student at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, Weaver-Holmes earned this elite honor after successfully completing her Gold Award project in 2009 for which she planned and executed a career fair at Carbondale Community High School. The event boasted 60 presenters and more than 300 attendees and featured a “virtual” counterpart that received more than 1,300 hits.

“So many times I’ve heard, ‘I don’t want to go to college-they don’t have what I’m interested in’,” she explained. “I knew that I couldn’t teach everyone individually, but if I could help open their eyes to opportunities that involve something they’re already passionate about, I knew they would be inspired to get involved and would want to gain more knowledge.”

Since receiving Girl Scout’s most prestigious title, Weaver-Holmes has been offered numerous opportunities to share her inspirational story. Among her favorite experiences was the invitation to speak at the Girl Scouts 100th Anniversary National Convention in Houston, where she met Katie Couric and Robin Givens.

“Scouting introduced me to everything I am today,” she stressed. “That’s definitely something you want to pass down.”

The roster of Girl Scout alumnae in Southern Illinois reads like a virtual “Who’s Who” of lawyers, business owners, nurses, engineers, teachers and more, who, like Weaver-Holmes, credit their experiences in Girl Scouting with helping them become the people they are today. Among them is Belleville’s very own NASA astronaut, Dr. Sandra Magnus.

“One of the great things about Girl Scouts is the ability to expand a girl’s horizons,” Dr. Magnus wrote in an e-mail interview for this story. “I really enjoyed earning merit badges because every time I went through the process I learned something new... I spoke at a Girl Scout event in Alabama eight years ago and had a chance to catch up on the types of merit badges available to Girl Scouts now. I was so impressed and a little envious... Having this kind of opportunity to delve into new [subjects] really opens girls’ minds as to what the possibilities are for their own futures.”

When asked which qualities she feels are most critical to developing young girls into tomorrow’s leaders, Dr. Magnus replied, “Self-confidence and hard work. With each badge a girl earns, she develops more and more self-confidence in her ability to tackle new and unknown tasks and successfully complete them. Since this is basically what life is about, taking on the unknown with confidence and learning from each experience, I think activities that develop that skill are important. To earn a merit badge takes dedication, hard work, and the ability to plan and execute that plan. These are all important life skills!”

At a time when many girls’ paths in life were limited to their social standing, Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low was determined to help create more opportunities for the average American girl. Her vision was to establish an organization where any girl could expand her personal horizon by having fun, while exploring new interests and contributing to society.

The first Girl Scout troops in Southern Illinois were organized in 1920 by a woman named Lizetta Hodson in an area of East St. Louis that was known as Edgemont. According to GSSI’s unofficial resident historian, Kim Jones of Caseyville, the East St. Louis Council oversaw scouting early on for Belleville, Waterloo, Collinsville, Trenton and a handful of other areas that did not yet have local councils.

“Scouting was very popular and well supported by the community,” Jones said. “Even during the Depression when there was a drop in overall membership, troops were active and pitched in to aid and assist.”

In 1961, seven local councils joined forces to create the Girl Scouts of River Bluffs Council, which served thousands of area girls and volunteers until 2009 when it merged with the Girl Scouts of Shagbark Council to form GSSI.

The newly integrated council has already demonstrated its commitment to remaining an integral part of the communities it serves. In its first two and a half years, GSSI has provided more than 350 programs and opportunities to girls throughout Southern Illinois along with almost $100,000 in financial assistance. The council has experienced new membership growth for the first time in several years, has increased retention rates to above the national average, and has introduced several new programs, including the Girl Scout Apprentice Program, Cookie Business College, and Girl Scouting in Detention Centers.

“Making the world a better place isn’t just part of the Girl Scout mission statement. It’s a real and lasting commitment to make Girl Scouting relevant for many generations to come,” said Villie M. Appoo, who joined GSSI as CEO in 2009. “It’s really a movement-to give girls what they need in ways they want.”

Appoo herself has overcome many of the educational and professional barriers that are common to women, especially in her native India. Born in Mumbai, Appoo joined Girl Guides, a sister organization to Girl Scouts outside the U.S., when she was in the first grade and remained an active guide for 11 years. Her early experiences in community service through Girl Guides sparked a passionate interest in social work, and after earning her MSW in Mumbai, she spent two years working in some of the city’s roughest slums. Appoo battled bias and discrimination in order to pursue further education in the U.S. but ultimately persevered, earning her MSW from Washington University in 1976. She spent the next 30 years as a community organization supervisor and then COO, executive vice president of development, for Grace Hill Settlement House in St. Louis.

“Girl Guides taught me perseverance, courage and confidence,” Appoo reflected. “It was one of the most amazing experiences, and I want girls throughout Southern Illinois to experience similar leadership and community service opportunities that I did.”

As the organization continues to adapt to meet the needs of each new generation, today’s Girl Scouts not only enjoy camping and crafts, but through the Girls Scouts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) initiative launched in 2009, they are building critical new skills in fun and practical ways.

Kayli Worthey, 12, and Heather Kistner, 12, of Neoga were part of the first Girl Scout troop in Southern Illinois to compete in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) robotics competition when the new merit opportunity was introduced three years ago. The troop’s incredible maturity and grace under pressure have already garnered the team awards in teamwork and core values.

“We’re learning to integrate Girl Scouts and FLL into our daily lives, and both groups are all about respecting authority and showing ‘gracious professionalism’,” Kayli explained. “We have to act like adults sometimes, and to do that you have to show yourself and be yourself. Through FLL, you’re asked to show what you know, what you’ve learned. It has advanced us in our science class and in many other ways too. It’s very rewarding to see the outcome of what we can do.”

As the 100th anniversary calendar of events rolls on, and the dedicated troops in Southern Illinois and across the U.S. begin turning their attention to the next 100 years, it’s really anyone’s guess as to just how high the Girl Scouts will climb. For their sake, let’s hope someone has Dr. Magnus on speed dial.

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