Girl Scouts of the USA, American Organizations, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Girl Scouts of The USA
Founded in 1912 by in Savannah, Georgia by Juliette Gordon Low, the American Girl Scout movement today counts more than three million young people and adult members. Girl Scouts of the USA, chartered by the United States Congress in 1950, operates as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization out of headquarters in New York City. The 400 permanent employees oversee more than 300 local Girl Scout councils or offices, 236,000 troops and groups and nearly a million adult volunteers. The organization coordinates its activities with other girls’ organizations all over the world.

The goal of the organization, the world’s largest dedicated to the welfare of girls, is to encourage girls to “build character and skills for success in the real world” and to help them “develop qualities that will serve them all their lives, like leadership, strong values, social conscience, and conviction about their own potential and self-worth.” Through Girl Scouts, girls enjoy field trips, community-service projects, educational and skill-building activities, and cultural exchanges.

In conjunction with its leadership activities the Girl Scouts organization conducts a wide range of research projects that deal with issues of concern to girls today: obesity, eating disorders, self-image, sexuality and dating, health and physical activity, and major social issues. The organization publishes Leader magazine for adults. It published American Girl for its young members from 1917 to 1979.

The Girl Scouts open their membership to girls ages 5 to 17. Daisy Girl Scouts are the youngest, 5 and 6 years old, Brownies are 6 to 8, Junior Girl Scouts 8-11, full-fledged Girl Scouts 11-17. The 11-17 year old scouts are eligible to participate in the organization’s newest program, Studio 2B, in which scouts team with adult advisors for various projects.

Through revisions to its charter and modernizations to its procedures, the Girl Scouts organization has largely been able to avoid the various legal controversies that have often plagued the Boy Scouts, particularly regarding the word “God” in the promise, and the practice of prayer at meetings. The organization has been proactive in avoiding legal problems relating to discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, though it has attracted criticism that it has not done enough to actively discourage such discrimination. A number of regional Girl Scout councils have begun cooperative and educational relations with the Planned Parenthood organization, a move that has generated objections and even boycotts from other groups within the Girl Scouts.

Like most organizations, Girl Scouts have their own customs and traditions. “Thinking Day,” a tradition each 22nd of February since 1926, gives the scout a chance to contemplate her place in the organization and her relation to her sister scouts throughout the world. “Girl Scouts' Own,” according to the organization, are “girl-planned inspirational ceremonies held in the troop/group or at camp. It is an opportunity for girls to express their feelings about Girl Scouting or a topic of their choosing, such as friendship, being courageous and strong, or nature.”

The “Girl Scout Promise” is ritually recited at meetings. It reads: “On my honor, I will try: To serve God and my country, To help people at all times, And to live by the Girl Scout Law.” The use of the term “God” is now optional. The Girl Scout Handshake uses the left hand; the scout will hold up the three middle fingers of the right hand to simultaneously show the “Girl Scout Sign.”

The Girl Scout Law reads: “I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout.”

The Girl Scout experience allows its participants to earn many levels of awards and distinctions: the “Lead On Badge,” the “Leadership Interest Project Award,” the Girl Scout “Gold,” “Silver,” and “Bronze” awards, and many others. The “Girl Scout Gold Award,” the highest level, requires a commitment of at least 70 hours of community and leadership work over the course of several years. It entitles award winners to scholarships at over 100 colleges and universites and a higher pay level for those entering the American military.

Perhaps the activity most associated with Girl Scouts in American life, and indeed critically important to the scouts themselves both as a character-building activity and as a generator of funds to support local group activities, is the sale of “Girl Scout Cookies.” The national organization sets the standards for the manufacture of the cookies (“the cookies are produced by American labor union members from American-grown agricultural products and wrapped in American-made packaging materials”) and facilitates the program for the 300 or so local councils. Individual scouts will contact family and friends and schoolmates to take orders for the cookies for later delivery; occasionally scouts (and their parents) may arrange sales tables outside supermarkets and shopping centers or at community organizations.


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