By LINDSAY OLIVIER
NORTH KINGSTOWN – The Girl Scouts of America, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this week, first came to Rhode Island in 1914 and since then have flourished throughout the state, with over 30 troops in North Kingstown and Jamestown alone that feature a total of 270 scouts and 75 adult leaders.
Within the past year, the troops have achieved a number of notable accomplishments, such as volunteering at the North Kingstown Food Pantry, Crossroads Apartments, organizing cemetery clean-ups, marching in parades, performing beach clean-ups, working at Meals on Wheels and volunteering at nursing homes, pet shelters, schools, historical sites and around the world.
From Daisy scouts planting community gardens, Brownies singing with the elderly, Junior scouts running food and clothing drives, Cadettes hosting community events, and Seniors and Ambassadors building awareness and taking action on community and global issues, scouts at all age levels have take away a plethora of lifelong skills.
“Where there is a need, you can find a Girl Scout ready to help,” said Karen King, Service Unit Manager for the Girl Scouts of North Kingstown and Jamestown.
Recently, 10 local scouts finished their Gold Award projects, which would help them achieve the organization’s highest rank.
All of the projects had a community service theme and ranged in topic from building an Osprey nest at a Quonset beach and collecting supplies to send to the Dominican Republic to building a closet for teens at Crossroads and holding a clothing drive to fill it,
Others, meanwhile, focused on notable causes like building a sustainable garden at Stony Lane Elementary School and educating students and the public about water conservation.
“Each of these projects require hours of work to prepare for,” King said. “The girls exhibit leadership skills and a dedication to serving their community.”
Monday marked the actual 100th anniversary of the organization and girl scouts were encouraged to wear their uniforms to school.
The state marked the anniversary by holding a rally Tuesday afternoon at the State House where Governor Lincoln Chaffee was present for a proclamation signing. The Girl Scouts of Rhode Island also welcomed all baby girls born on March 12, 2012 into the council with a gift certificate as membership into Troop 2012 when they reach the appropriate age.
Next Saturday, at the annual North Kingstown Spirit Day, girl scouts from around town will be distributing stickers at the event to anyone in attendence who was or is a girl scout. There will also registrations for alumni and new members. In addition, two troops will be collecting food for the North Kingstown Food Pantry.
On April 28, a formal 100th anniversary celebration event will be held at Camp Hoffman on Ministerial Road, Kingston, where North Kingstown troops have teamed up with East Greenwich to host a day of historical activities for over 300 girls called “Scouting through Time”. Some of the events include basketball in bloomers, camping through history, museum tours, quilt projects, SWAPS, interviews and a uniform fashion show. They are the only two communities in the state doing an event of this scale.
Elisabeth Hallene, leader of Girl Scout Troop 231 – which is comprised of 17 seven and eight year-olds and meets twice a month at Stony Lane Elementary School – decided to get involved with the organization to spend more time with her two daughters.
“It’s an amazing feeling to see your children begin to think about other things besides themselves,” she said. “They genuinely want to help the community and others and,it’s because of the Girl Scouts that they fell this way.”
Troop 231 helped make a garden in front of Stony Lane Elementary and at Christman time, not only sent cards to the troops but adopted a family and raised money to buy them gifts.
On March 31, the girls will participate in Earth Hour, where their families will turn off everything in their house, except for important items such as the fridge, to help conserve energy.
“I don’t think it’ll be hard,” said one troop member. “I’ll turn off the computer, lights, video games and take a nap.”
Cookie sales contribute to the majority of the fundraising efforts of the troop and the organization as a whole and most of the selling is done by word of mouth.
By celebrating 100 years, it’s hard to argue that the Girl Scouts of America must be doing something right. But in an age where young girls can get involved in sports, drama and arts which, like the organization, help build life skills, how is scouting still relevant?
To best answer that question, Cadette Troop 561 leader Abigail Addington-May referenced the Girl Scouts Promise which scouts recite and promise to “serve God and my country, to help people at all times and to live by the Girl Scout Law.”
The Girl Scout Law, meanwhile, says scouts will do their best to be “honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible” for what they say and do.
In addition, the scouts promise to “respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout.”
“Where else is the word ‘honor’ and the concept of behaving ‘honorably’ used in society today?,” Addington-May said. “The word crosses all faith traditions. It is the backbone of the behavior expected of each Girl Scout.”
Addington-May feels that Girl Scouts provides a place where girls can be themselves, without seeing themselves relative to boys and men.
“There are few places today where girls can have the freedom to do things their way,” she said. “The Girl Scouts is there for them.”
Each school in town houses numerous troops and every year Hallene and other troop leaders have to turn away girls because of the big enrollment.
“It’s the community involvement that help build self-esteem in the girls and that’s why it’s still very much popular today” Hallene said.
Addington-May was a girl scout, as was her mother. As a child, she couldn’t wait to go to camp because she loved singing camp songs, many of which she used to sing as lullabies or to entertain her daughter when she was a baby.
“So when my daughter was old enough, I signed her up andsaid I’d be an assistant leader,” she said. “When the leader moved I stepped up to take over the leadership for a few years.
“The joy of being with the girls and seeing them work things out for themselves and their pride in accomplishment and deep, long-term friendships is definitely was keeps me going as a leader”.
King says she realizes there are a lot of activities besides girl scouts that young girls are interested in but it’s the scouting events that keep them hooked.
Some of those events include the Senior Leadership Conference at Salve Regina College in Newport, a canoe team that competes in New York and competitive outdoor camping events in October and February. Troops also take trips, and the older they get, the bigger the trips tend to be. Some of the locations include visits to different parts of the country and various placed in Europe and Puerto Rico, among others.
“I think the main thing that keeps them in are the friendships they develop that they have had from early ages,” King said. “The girls can have very different personalities and not be friends outside of the troop but there is a connection made through all the shared experiences that provides a place for them to be themselves and grow together through their experiences.”
And it’s not just the scouts who are taking something away from the experience.
“The rewards that come from mentoring the girls to become the leaders of tomorrow are too numerous to describe.” King said.