Girl Scouts centennial

Brownie Troop 856, based at Blessed Sacrament, gather in a friendship circle and sing at the end of their meeting.

Forget the Year of the Dragon. 2012 is the Year of the Girl. At least to the Girl Scouts of the USA, which recently celebrated its centennial birthday.

A century ago, Savannah-born Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of the USA.

Known by many as “Daisy,” Low was a creative type, one who enjoyed crafting poems, plays, paintings and sculptures. An avid swimmer who was well-known for standing on her head in front of crowds, Low was a woman way beyond her years.

After meeting the founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in 1911, Lord Robert Baden-Powell, Low returned from London and gathered 18 girls to create the first troop of the American Girl Guides. A year later, Low changed the name to Girl Scouts and the rest was history.

Many women remember their early days as a Daisy (grades K5-1) or a Brownie (grades 2-3). Still young and eager to learn, the Girl Scouts taught girls everything from science to camping. But as the years have gone along and technology has improved, the Girl Scout of today isn’t the Girl Scout of the past.

“We have tried to make sure we change as the girls change,” says Mary Erskine, marketing and communications director of Girl Scouts of Eastern South Carolina. “We have really evolved. So much of what we do today focuses on real-world issues like cyberbullying, literacy, how to save money and invest. For our older girls, we teach them how to save for a car and save for college. The programs reflect what’s going on in today’s culture.”

Unlike many extracurricular activities, any girl from kindergarten through the 12th grade can join the Girl Scouts at any time. And nowadays a girl doesn’t even need to join a troop.

“We have many ways girls can participate,” says Erskine. “We have ‘Juliettes,’ who have the opportunity to still participate in Girl Scouts if a troop setting isn’t quite right for them. They can do the programs on their own with the help of a field supervisor.”

Girl Scouting is about future female leaders spending time with other future female leaders without the pressure of the classroom, says Erskine. Without outside distractions such as boys or social stature, the girls come together in a safe environment to work together for a common goal and build a strong sense of camaraderie, she says.

With more than 10,000 Girl Scouts in eastern South Carolina and more than 3,000 adult Girl Scout volunteers, the foundation for Girl Scouts’ new centennial effort is to break down societal barriers and help girls achieve success in technology, science, business and industry, Erskine says.

During the 2012 Year of the Girl, they also will launch the “ToGetHerThere” campaign, which is dedicated to girls’ leadership of the nation.

For local mom Regina Keene, seeing her 10-year-old daughter, Phoebe, enjoy being a Girl Scout takes her back to the days when she spent six years as a Girl Scout.

“When I think about where I learned how to cross stitch or how I learned to make S’Mores or an apple snack baked in the fire, it all comes back to Girl Scouts,” says Keene.

Now a registered Girl Scout adult volunteer and troop leader, Keene brings in new ways for the girls to learn about the world.

“Girl Scouts encourages girls to become self-confident, courageous and people of character,” she says. “Before I had a daughter, I thought about that statement every time I saw girls in front of the grocery store selling Girl Scout cookies. Those girls were learning how to make a sale, count money, give change, manage inventory and earn their own money for trips and troop expenses.”

But it’s not all about the cookies, even though that’s usually the first thought to come to mind when Girl Scouts are mentioned.

“Some people seem to think the girls sit around making crafts and selling cookies. We do so much more than that,” Keene says. “Our troop focuses on giving back and helping the community.”

Keene and her troop are planning a trip to Savannah to visit the Juliette Gordon Low home to celebrate the centennial.

Along with new experiences, daughter Phoebe also has made new friends.

“Her favorite part is the friendship. She loves the activities with the troop: sewing, booth sales, ice skating, community projects,” says Keene. “When I was in a troop growing up, we never did World Thinking Day activities. This year, our troop learned about Mexico and made crafts to give out. My daughter is learning more about other cultures as a Girl Scout compared to my Scouting experience.”

For West Ashley mom Kelly Hylton, having committed troop leaders such as Keene is key to helping the girls grow.

Hylton’s 7-year-old daughter, Gabriella, and her entire second-grade class at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School have a troop that meets every other Monday. Leaders Dawn Todd and Jen Ross recently taught the girls the importance of conserving water so they could earn their patch for conservation. They strive to bring new topics to Troop 856.

“Gabby has been a Daisy and now she’s a Brownie. Being in Girl Scouts has definitely built her confidence and has taught her how to be a strong, independent girl,” says Hylton. “I think it’s great they’re all doing it together as a class and can’t say enough about how hard they work to help the girls grow.”

When Gabby goes into the third grade, Hylton knows she will continue with her Girl Scout troop.

As the Girl Scouts continue to evolve with the times, Erskine says the Year of the Girl kicks off 100 more years of women achieving gender equality.

“We want girls to be on the Supreme Court, taking on CEO roles and more. The Girl Scout program is designed to help them become that.”

Keene agrees and encourages moms to enroll their daughters in a troop. “Girl Scouts is a wonderful organization. I tell them to stop thinking about it and do it.”

Ryan Nelson is a local freelance writer and can be found on Twitter @Ryan_NelsonSC, Facebook and Google Plus. Email her at ryan@?nelwater.com.