Making New Friends in Crisis

The wrenching images of immigrant children separated from their parents reminded me of several articles about Girl Scout outreach programs. The Department of Homeland Security should take note:

Girl Scouts have a long tradition of welcoming newcomers. They have created innovative programs to welcome girls moving across the country or across town; girls moving into overcrowded boom towns, as well as refugees from all corners of the world.

They have established and operated Girl Scout troops in challenging, high-security settings, such as the Japanese internment camps of the early 1940s. Since 1992, the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program has formed troops in women’s prisons so that inmates can participate in troops with their daughters. They even sell cookies to prison staff!

Early in the Cold War, troops were encouraged to seek out Displaced Persons arriving in their communities.

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Item from January 1949 issue of Leader magazine.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Girl Scouts in the United States reached out to children in Europe and Korea, sending care packages and school supplies to communities ravaged by war.

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Hugh M. Milton, II, Undersecretary of the Army (left) and Frank G. Millard, General Counsel of the Army, are presenting school kits to Vietnamese Girl Scouts on December 3, 1959, at CARE headquarters, Saigon. Thousands of kits donated by GSUSA troops (including 339 from Southern Maryland) were distributed in India, Vietnam, and Hong Kong between December 1959 and February 1960. (GSCNC Archives)

The Girl Scout way of Making New Friends continued in the 1980s. A February/March 1981 article in Leader magazine highlighted programs designed to help newcomers integrate into their new communities.

Leaders in the Girl Scout Council of Tropical Florida … visited Cuban mothers to assist them with grocery shopping, cooking and coping with the trials their new and confusing lives, while the Riverland Girl Scout Council in LaCrosse, WI, held a five-day cross-cultural “get acquainted” day camp with some of their new Cuban neighbors.

When community members in Fort Smith, Arkansas, were less than welcoming toward a group of Cuban refugees, Mount Magazine Council staff greeted the newcomers. The council CEO went on local television to challenge Girl Scouts to be friendly, prompting more residents to come forward with donations.

The article highlighted efforts in my own council, Nation’s Capital, to warmly welcome Vietnamese and Laotian families to the Washington region. Council staff first recruited high-school aged Vietnamese girls into Girl Scouting, then used their language skills to form multi-level troops for each community. The best sign of the program’s success—the girls soon were bringing more friends to the meetings.

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The current refugee crisis in the United States, with children desperate for friendship, attention, activities, and caring adults, provides a critical opportunity for the Girl Scouts to put decades of experience to work.  We have the skills and a proven track record—if we are allowed to use them.

© 2018 Ann Robertson

 

Girl Scouts Answer Call to End to Social Unrest

Fifty years ago today, the Girl Scouts of the USA released this telegram:

GSUSA Kerner Telegram copy

From Leader magazine, October 1968

Copies were also sent to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Judge Otto Kerner, every member of the Kerner Commission, every member of Congress, and every Girl Scout council president.

Two months earlier, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder released a landmark study on race relations in the United States. President Lyndon B. Johnson had convened the 11-man panel of experts following riots in Newark, NJ, Detroit, MI, and 23 other cities the previous year. The violent uprisings, concentrated in African-American neighborhoods, were responsible for the deaths of 69 people in Newark and Detroit.

Known as the Kerner Report, as Judge Kerner of the US Court of Appeals chaired the panel, the report’s conclusion was concise and alarming:  The United States faced such deep social and economic division that

Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.
—Conclusion of the Kerner Commission

 

The Report called for massive investment in housing and jobs to improve living conditions for African Americans and an end to segregation in urban neighborhoods, among other recommendations.

GSUSA received many responses to the telegram, including one from Judge Kerner:

Your message of the action of the Board of Directors of the Girl Scouts of the United States should be hailed by all throughout the United States. I am a great believer in using existing organizations to work on the greatest social problem the country has ever faced. I am sure that through the Girl Scouts you can reach into the economically deprived areas and give new experience and opportunity there as well as to those people outside the depressed areas by becoming acquainted with the conditions. Please extend my congratulations to the officers and the Board of Directors.

—Judge Otto Kerner

 

President Lyndon B. Johnson ignored the Kerner Report’s advice, mainly due to the cost, but the Girl Scouts paid attention.

Pages from GSL 1970-01 January (1)

Leader (Jan 1969)

At the 1969 National Council Session, GSUSA launched “Action 70,” a program to improve race relations within Girl Scouting. Within Nation’s Capital, the leaders of the Southwest Montgomery County and Mid-Eastern Washington Associations took up the challenge of fostering good relationships within the council. Mary Ann Claxton, of Southwest Montgomery County, invited Field Vice President Ethel Harvey to a discussion on “The Kerner Report and Its Implications for Girl Scouting.”

 

This discussion evolved into the Inter-Association Friendship Committee, a series of joint events between the Girl Scouts from the urban Mid-Eastern Washington and upper-middle class Southwest Montgomery County Associations spanning more than three decades. The Friendship Committee brought together troops for camping, swapping program ideas, service projects, and fun. One of the Committee’s most popular annual traditions was polishing the brass on the carousel at Glen Echo Park, once a whites-only establishment.

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Nation’s Capital troops polishing the brass on the Glen Echo carousel (GSCNC Archives)

A half century later, the United States remains a sharply polarized society.  The Girl Scout’s persistent determination to be inclusive is still a model worthy of consideration.

For more about the 50th Anniversary of the Kerner Report, follow the link to an interview with the last surviving panel member.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Revisiting Boypower 76

The Boy Scouts plan to admit girls into their ranks. Again.

The national office of the Boy Scouts of America recently announced that girls will be able to join Cub Scout packs this fall. Under a new program category called “Scouts BSA,” girls will be able to rise through the ranks in the coming years, all the way to Eagle (in other words, the Gold Award for boys). The expansion campaign will be known as “Scout Me In.”

 

 

But while proclaiming the move as a victory for inclusion, equality, and parental convenience, Cub Scout packs will be single-sex only.  This paradox either confirms the value of single-gender group or indicates that Cub Scouts are afraid of girl cooties.

Including Some Girls

This is not the first time that the Boy Scouts have provided a participation option to girls.

 

On October 17, 1968, the Boy Scout organization launched a new membership initiative called “Boypower 76.” The ambitious program set national goals to be achieved by the US Bicentennial Celebration of 1976. Specifically, (1) Expand membership so that one of every three American boys is enrolled. That would require adding 2 million new Boy Scouts by 1976. (2) Double council budgets to a combined level of $150 million.

New members would be recruited through two efforts: establishing troops in inner cities and retaining older boys by allowing girls to participate in the special-interest, career-focused segment of the Explorers program. In other words, girls and ghettos.

The Girl Scouts outlined this new initiative in the October 1969 Leader magazine. According  to the article, potential female Explorer participants must be:

  • registered Girl Scouts or Camp Fire Girls
  • invited to join by a post sponsor
  • in high school, unmarried [!!], and at least 14 years old

In addition,

Participants will not become members of the Boy Scouts of America and will not pay a membership fee to the Boy Scouts of America. (They may pay post dues and “pay their own way” for activities and events.)

Leader (October 1969): 55.

The national slogan for Boypower 76 was “America’s Manpower Begins with Boypower.”  What girl wouldn’t feel welcomed by that greeting?

A key difference between the 1968 announcement and those of 2017 and 2018 is that the earlier expansion news was delivered in a joint statement from the national presidents of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Camp Fire Girls.  Furthermore, the cooperation proposal originated with the Girl Scouts.

 

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Cincinnati Enquirer Sun (November 3, 1968)

 

Not everyone was pleased with including girls in 1968, prompting a Boy Scout spokesman to reassure the faithful, “We are not going to try to build girls. Our business still is boys.”  Then why add girls? According to BSA chief executive Alden Barber, it was to improve older boy retention.

Young men are interested in young women.

–Alden Barber

This statement makes girls sound like recruitment incentives, not a group worthy of program initiatives.

Membership Quotas

Councils were given strict monthly and annual membership goals to keep them on track to achieve the expansion envisioned in Boypower 76. As the girls were only Explorer “participants,” not members, presumably the main source for new members would be high-poverty pockets in both urban and rural areas.

 

The strategies mentioned in the press reeks of racism and do-goodism. A widely syndicated New York Times article from February 1970 discourages block-by-block recruiting for new Boy Scouts because it might trigger gang conflicts; a new handbook in comic book format appropriate for “youngsters with a minimum of education”; and badges that include treating rat bites.

By April 1971, girls could be full members of Explorer posts, thereby contributing to the overall membership goals.

The Controversial Collapse of Boypower

BSA canceled the Boypower program two years early, amid widespread reports of inflated membership numbers.  Articles in the New York Daily News, the Central New Jersey Home News, and many other newspapers enumerated the problems. The Chicago council was accused of selling one-month memberships for ten cents; other councils for inventing names to register. At least 13 major cities were discovered to have falsified records, involving some 30,000-40,000 “phantom” scouts.

Furthermore, only about half of the $65 million fundraising goal was met, and much of that was from long-time donors who directed their gifts to the national organization instead of the local council.

Looking Ahead

I will be watching the rollout of “Scout Me In” closely. This initiative also comes at a time of falling membership among the Boy Scouts, and I certainly prefer enrolling real children who will actually participate instead of inventing new members.

It is also important to note that the Boy Scouts are enrolling girls, not necessarily Girl Scouts. I have not seen any statement preventing girls from being members of both organizations. There have always been “bi-Scoutal” girls enrolled in both Girl Scouts and Venturing, the current incarnation of the Explorer program.

Personally, I’ll stick with Girl Scouting. I have a hard time seeing myself as a welcome, valued member of any organization whose very name fails to include me. Girls are more than just membership statistics. Girls, and especially Girl Scouts, are great!

Girls Great

© 2018, Ann Robertson

 

 

Who’s that Girl Scout? Dolly Parton

COMC-Dolly-Patch-e1496687078189-202x300Yesterday, the Library of Congress honored country singer Dolly Parton and her Imagination Library project.

Since 1996, Dolly has arranged for new books to be sent to young children every month. She launched the program to honor her father, who never learned to read or write. The event yesterday marked Imagination Library’s 100 millionth book.

To mark the milestone, Dolly read (and sang) from her own book, based on her beloved song, “Coat of Many Colors.”

Nearly 10 years ago, Dolly partnered with the Tanasi Girl Scout Council (now the Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians) to create a Coat of Many Colors patch program. The patch, which can be earned by non-Girl Scouts, teaches resilience and self-respect in the face of bullying.

As Dolly said in 2008,

Be proud of who you are, and be kind to everyone you meet. That’s what Girl Scouting is all about.

Today, the need for building such resilience is even greater than when she wrote her song in 1971.

Dolly Parton is a lifetime Girl Scout, and I am proud to be her Girl Scout Sister!

© 2018 Ann Robertson

Conventions, Co-Eds, and First Ladies

Yesterday, the International Day of the Girl, the Boy Scouts announced that girls will be able to join Cub Scouts, beginning in fall 2018. BSA will introduce a pathway for girls to earn the Eagle Scout award in 2019.

The new policy, first floated in August, is a response to falling numbers of registered Boy Scouts nationwide. Girl Scouts of the USA (note: we are NOT Girl Scouts of America or GSA) President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan weighed in on the proposed co-ed membership in a letter to Boy Scout President Randall Stephenson:

Rather than seeking to fundamentally transform BSA into a co-ed program, we believe strongly that Boy Scouts should instead take steps to ensure that they are expanding the scope of their programming to all boys, including those who BSA has historically underserved and underrepresented, such as African American and Latino boys.

GSUSA President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan

On Monday, October 9, newly elected GSUSA board member Charles Garcia made his objections clear:

The Boy Scouts’ house is on fire,” Garcia wrote. “Instead of addressing systemic issues of continuing sexual assault, financial mismanagement and deficient programming, BSA’s senior management wants to add an accelerant to the house fire by recruiting girls.

Charles Garcia, GSUSA Board Member

 

I’ve just returned from the 54th National Council Session in Columbus, OH, October 4-8, 2017. Every three years the Girl Scouts’ National Council convenes to vote on proposals that affect the entire movement, such as dues and composition of the national board of directors (Garcia was elected to the board in Columbus). While not on the official agenda, the possible Boy Scout change prompted considerable discussion between panels.

Boys have frequently participated in Girl Scout events, especially high-school-age members. Local Senior troops staying at Rockwood National Center might invite boys for an evening of (closely supervised) dancing.

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A co-ed event at Rockwood National Center in the 1950s (GSCNC Archives).

 

In the earliest years of Scouting in Washington, DC, troops frequently held joint meetings and events. Perhaps the first assembly of all of the Girl Scout troops in Washington was on  May 23, 1914, when troops from both movements held an all-day picnic at Wildwood Boy Scout Camp in Takoma Park, MD.

 

Forty-two years ago, co-ed membership was the main issue at the Girl Scouts’ 1975 National Council Session, held in Washington, DC. The proposal came at a time of dropping membership levels across all youth organizations. Camp Fire Girls had responded by admitting boys aged 14-18 and the Boy Scouts opened Explorers (Venturing) to girls aged 14 to 21 in 1974.

Backers of co-ed membership argued that the presence of boys would help girls develop social skills that would prepare them for the workplace. Critics cited the confidence girls develop in a single-sex environment and pointed out that boys mature more slowly than girls and could not be grouped with same-age girls.

Ultimately, after two hours’ of debate, a voice vote overwhelmingly defeated the motion to admit boys. The issue has not come up for a vote since.

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First Lady Betty Ford helped open the 1975 convention in Washington, DC.

The 1975 convention is also notable for having First Lady Betty Ford participate in the opening ceremony. Since Edith Wilson in 1917, every first lady has been honorary president of the Girl Scouts. While few can appear in person at a convention, they typically send video greetings for the opening session. Melania Trump was conspicuously absent from Columbus. Instead, former first daughters Barbara Pierce Bush and Chelsea Clinton chaired panel discussions.

 

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Chelsea Clinton fields questions from the National Young Women of Distinction, Columbus OH

 

 

Brenda Akers

The insightful Brenda Akers (AP Photo)

 

Researching the debate on boy membership, I was struck by how many press reports quoted Brenda Akers, a 17-year-old Senior Girl Scout from Indiana: “If we need boys to sell the Girl Scouts, we need to re-evaluate our program.”

The Boy Scouts should take Miss Akers’ suggestion to heart.

©2017 Ann Robertson

The Original Girl Scout Ambassadors

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Ambassador Program Patches

Who were the first Girl Scout Ambassadors?  If you said 11th and 12th graders, you’d be wrong.

 

While GSUSA did introduce the Ambassador program level in 2008, the name “Ambassador” was first used in 1975.

GSUSA introduced the first Ambassador program as part of a larger project to improve retention. Estimating that one out of every four families moves each year, this program encouraged girls who moved to a new town to join Girl Scouting in their new neighborhood. Instead of being the “new girl,” the traveling Girl Scout became a more prestigious-sounding “Ambassador for Scouting.”

To be an Ambassador, a girl must be helped to recognize that one of the most important things in the mission of Scouting is to be aware of the different customs and values of different groups in her community. That was one of the ideas Juliette Gordon Low had when she started the Girl Scout movement back in 1912. She hoped then, and we hope now, that Scouting will make girls more sensitive to differences in the way of life in our communities and our nation.

Leader Magazine (October 1975): 18.

The patch requirements had two parts.  First, the arriving girl would share something about her former community, such as a popular tradition or celebration, with her new troop.

Second, the girls welcoming her would then share a similar tradition or event celebrated in her new community. Together, they would prepare a report on these differences and send it to the former troop. Members of the new troop would then be eligible for the Ambassador Aide patch.

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Maybe a Girl Scout moving van would help us track members who move to new towns! (Van from Girl Scouts of River Valleys)

Leaders could request an Ambassador Program application form from their council. Girls entered their current and new address on the form and send it to GSUSA. New York would forward it to the appropriate council, which would invite the Ambassador girl to a new troop.

When introducing the new program, Leader magazine encouraged troop leaders to focus on the many holiday traditions celebrated in December and January.  Sample questions showed a deliberate effort at multiculturalism and inclusion:

  • On what day is Christmas celebrated? On what or days is Chanukah celebrated? Does the celebration begin some time in December, as it might in families with a Dutch or Belgian or Scandinavian background? Does it continue until January 6th, as it does in many families whose ancestors came from Italy or Mexico? And on what day to the children exchange gifts? When is the Chinese New Year?
  • Where do all the different customs connected with the holidays (lighted trees, mistletoe, reindeer, lighted candles, fireworks, dragons, and tribal dance) come from? Do all families everywhere observe the same customs? Why do some of them observe them differently?
  • What about different kinds of special foods prepared during the holidays?

The yellow ribbon patches were intended for the back of the badge sash and cost one dime each.

This first version of the Ambassador program lasted until 1979. A similar program, with a booklet and button pinback, was offered in 1985-1986.

The foundations of these programs are still valid in the second century of Girl Scouting. We need to improve retention, and we need to encourage tolerance and diversity to truly “make the world a better place.”

As Juliette said over 100 years ago, “To put yourselves in another’s place requires real imagination but by doing so, each Girl Scout will be able to live among others happily.”

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

 

 

My Afternoon with Frances Hesselbein

FH Portrait

Frances Hesselbein (Hesselbein Institute)

I never met Juliette Gordon Low, of course, but last week I came pretty close. I had the privilege of spending part of the day with Frances Hesselbein at her office in Manhattan. Few individuals have had as great an impact on the Girl Scout movement as this gracious lady.

Mrs. Hesselbein was the GSUSA National Executive Director from 1976 to 1990. Her first day on the job, in fact, was July 4, 1976. Today she is the director of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute.

I had asked to interview her about the decision to sell Rockwood National Center in 1978. But we soon moved on to the many highlights and happier memories from her time at GSUSA.

She presided over many milestones, some more popular than others, including implementing circular management principles, introducing the Worlds to Explore program, reconfiguring the Edith Macy Center into a year-round training facility, and the introduction of the contemporary (three faces) logo. Some of her favorite memories include:

Halston Uniform

Mrs. H (“Frances” just seems too informal!) had just returned from visiting a Halston retrospective exhibition at the Nassau County (NY) Museum of Art. The famous fashion designer had created a stylish collection of adult uniforms in 1978, and Mrs. H vividly recalled participating in that process. She also let me borrow the gorgeous exhibit catalog.

Camping

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The diverse staff of Camp Blue Knob, circa 1952 (Hesselbein Institute)

I had submitted my resume, Rockwood book outline and synopsis, and several other documents in advance, and Mrs. H immediately noted that we both had experience as camp staff, making us both survivors of that trial by fire. She shared with me several staff photos from her time directing Camp Blue Knob in western Pennsylvania and pointed out the unusual racial diversity of the group for the early 1950s. She also had a photo from the summer 2016 camp out on the White House Lawn.

White House Honors

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Frances Hesselbein and President Bill Clinton (Hesselbein Institute)

While Mrs. H never camped on the White House lawn — that I know of — she has been a frequent visitor. But few visits can top one in 1998, when President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. (Juliette Gordon Low was posthumously awarded the medal in 2012.) The beautiful medal is prominently displayed in her office.

 

 

 

Diversity

While her Girl Scout camp was integrated in the early 1950s, society lagged behind. Mrs. Hesselbein recalled that she could not eat with her African-American staff members at any restaurant in any nearby town.

With that camp experience in mind, one of her priorities as head of GSUSA was to reach out to all girls, especially girls in historically underserved communities.  When she began at GSUSA, the organization was 95% white; fourteen years later, minority ranks had tripled.

As part of that effort, she sought to have a greater range of images in Girl Scout handbooks and other publications. She wanted any girl, of any background, to be able to find herself in a handbook. New handbooks depicted girls of all skin tones, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all physical abilities — in other words, all girls.

A Secret to Longevity?

Finally, as our conversation drew to a close, I brought up another topic: age. Mrs. Hesselbein is 101 — exactly twice my age.

Of course, many people remark on her extraordinary vigor. But my casual research in recent months has led me to a realization. We Girl Scouts seem to be an exceptionally long-lived group of women.

That holds true for volunteers and long-time staff. I just recently learned of a former Rockwood director who has passed away in February — and wanted it known in her obituary that she lived to 99 years and seven months.  At Nation’s Capital, we lost two past council presidents in recent years — Marguerite Cyr (101) and Bobby Lerch (104).

And the more I investigate, the more very senior Girl Scouts I find. Camping expert Kit Hammett (96); national board member Lillian Gilbreth (93). National presidents Henrietta Bates Brooke (89) and Grace MacNeil (92). But the record, so far, must be Executive Director Dorothy C. Stratton, who passed away at age 107!

 

I would love to see some data on the percentage of our membership over age 90 compared with the general population. That could be quite a retention incentive.

I asked Mrs. Hesselbein what she thought might be behind this possible trend. We came up with the same answer immediately — the girls.

The girls keep us young.

Postscript: No selfies from my visit, some memories are too precious to share. 

©2017 Ann Robertson