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 the mid-1980s.

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

 

 

 

Farewell to Our Piper and Our Princess

The sudden loss of both Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds this week reminded me of a moment when my teen troop visited the GSUSA museum in 2015. Staff showed them a display on the Piper Project.

“That’s Debbie Reynolds,” said the archivist, pointing to a photo. “Star of Singing in the Rain.”

Blank stares.

Portrait of Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds in her Girl Scout uniform (notice she earned the Curved Bar!)

“Aggie, from Halloweentown,” I translated.

That they understood. The Disney Channel movies are beloved by young women of a certain age. Cheers ensued.

Girl Scouts of a slightly older vintage remember Debbie Reynolds as the face of the Piper Project. Launched at the national convention on October 25, 1966, this three-year program sought to improve retention levels among current Girl Scouts, in part by recruiting more adult volunteers. Reynolds was to shoot a color television spot and film a short movie as part of the adult recruitment effort.

Reynolds explained the role Girl Scouting played in her life in the January 1967 issue of Leader magazine:

All my life I’ve been a Girl Scout, from that day long ago when I first said, “On my honor. … Like so many of us here, I have my mother to thank for one of the finest things that ever happened to me. She was my Girl Scout leader. Today I couldn’t begin to count the many ways Girl Scouting has influenced my life. … But we all know that the true values, the real values of Scouting, have to grow on you. You have to be a Scout long enough for them to take hold and endure. First it’s the fun — the songs and games, the being together with other girls, the belonging! And most of all, the chance to try out for yourself all the adventures in self-discovery Girl Scouting has to offer.

But you and I know that the fun, the games, the adventures are only a means in Girl Scouting — a means to a most important end. These are the tools we use to help girls grow into happy and resourceful citizens …

This doesn’t happen in a day, or in a year, or maybe not even in two of three. For that reason Girl Scouting should be a special ingredient in the lives of girls — seven through seventeen. And it can … That’s why I’m a Girl Scout leader.

Reynolds carried on her family tradition by leading a troop for her daughter, Carrie Fisher. While numerous Girl Guide organizations around the world can claim a princess or two as members, only GSUSA can claim Princess Leia as one of their own.

I don’t think I can add much to Reynolds’ comment. Girl Scouting is cumulative. The longer you’re a member, the more you get out of it. Perhaps the most fitting tribute would be for today’s leaders to take a deep breath, remember the year’s best moments, and commit to another year working with girls.

You never know which of today’s Brownies will grow up to save the galaxy from evil.

©2016 Ann Robertson

GSUSA Focus on Western Kentucky

Who remembers Bear Creek Girl Scout Council?

Show of hands? Anybody?Bear Creek patch

I certainly do!  I grew up in Paducah, Kentucky, the headquarters of the council. I joined Bear Creek council as a Brownie in 1973.

Five years later, in 1978, the Bear Creek, Caveland, Pennyroyal, and Kentuckiana councils merged into one large council, Kentuckiana. My Cadette troop took a spring break trip to Louisville soon after and camped out in the loft of the council’s main office at 730 West Main St. While most of my troop spent summers as staff at nearby Camp Bear Creek, I worked at day camps and the field office in Paducah.

Flash forward several decades…..I found a copy of the 1951 GSUSA Annual Report to Congress recently and was thumbing through it.  I was stunned to find a page devoted to Paducah and Bear Creek Council!

The 1951 GSUSA Annual Report

The 1951 GSUSA Annual Report

According to the report, the federal government had defined 277 “critical defense areas”; that is, regions where a sudden, massive influx of new residents working in the defense industry had overburdened the local infrastructure. Shortages were everywhere: housing, classrooms, sanitation, health care, milk, day care for working mothers, and recreation. Paducah made the list as it was the home of a new $505 million atomic energy plant.

GSUSA noted that one of its main challenges in 1951 was bringing Girl Scouting to girls living in such crowded conditions. The report highlighted efforts in four areas: San Diego, Colorado Springs, Savannah River, and Paducah, Kentucky, where the population had suddenly doubled:

One of the largest critical areas is that centering on Paducah, Ky. … By November 1951, some 20,000 workers and their families had moved into the area.  Schools were overflowing, living quarters were at a premium, and workers were commuting from 100 miles away.

To provide desperately needed recreation services for these families, GSUSA merged the Paducah and nearby Mayfield councils, as well as lone troops from seven surrounding counties, creating Bear Creek Council. Girl Scout professionals were busy organizing troops and training leaders for the teeming population.

Postcard from the 1950s.

Postcard from the 1950s.

The impact of the plant on Paducah was not news to me. Growing up, I knew of numerous neighborhoods, schools, stores, churches and more that dated to “the boom.” Many of my friends’ parents worked at “the plant.” And, since my father is Paducah’s unofficial historian, I’d heard plenty about the plant over the dinner table, too.

Some of my father's books on Paducah's history.

Some of my father’s books on Paducah’s history.

But the connection between the plant and the Girl Scouts was new to me.

The Paducah gaseous diffusion plant and the better-known Oak Ridge, TN, plant were part of the same project. I know the Tanasi (now Southern Appalachia) council did badge and patch programs related to their plant, I don’t believe the same was done for the Paducah plant. Perhaps it’s time to write one!

Tanasi Council's Own and current Southern Appalachia programs.

Tanasi Council’s Own and current Southern Appalachia programs.

Registration Woes

It’s back-to-troop time, which means paperwork to make sure all girls, adults, and troops are registered.

I just received a stack of documents from the Hoover Presidential Library that includes materials related to District of Columbia Troop 8, led by none other than Lou Henry Hoover.

Looks like no one is exempt from registration deadlines!

Troop 8