Stepping back in time to kick off 100 years of Girl Scouting

by Jim Boyle
Elk River Star News

Girl Scout Camp Elk River helped kick off what will be a year-long celebration of Girl Scouting’s 100th anniversary.

Sara Schwinghammer, an 11-year-old Andover girl, put together a Swap, otherwise known as Some Whatchamacallit Affectionately Pinned. This tradition of Girl Scouts making and exchanging keepsakes started long ago when Girl Scouts and Girl Guides first gathered for fun, song and making new friends. Photo by Jim Boyle

More than 200 area Girl Scouts from 24 troops took a “Step Back in Time” at the winter encampment in Zimmerman that was designed to bring the girls back to the early days of Girl Scouting.

Girl Scout troops this past weekend took to playing Lummi sticks and Whizzer, and made keepsakes to exchange and hats of tissue paper they wore for an old-fashioned tea party.

Leaders, many of whom were Scouts when they were girls, helped keep things moving along. But most of the activity was led by the older Girl Scouts who have become leaders and role models to their peers.

“I love working with the little girls and seeing their faces light up,” said Girl Scout Steffanie Quick, a junior at Andover High School.

She and some of her fellow Scouts seemed to have as much fun leading as the younger ones had participating. They described themselves as five-year-olds at heart.

In the early days, girls broke out of shells that society had placed them in. Today, Girl Scouts have fewer societal restrictions but there are still challenges.

“I like it for the all the opportunities they get,” said Jennifer Stangret, a volunteer troop leader who helps with communications. “It opens doors to new experiences, friendships and skill-building.”

Stangret was in Girl Scouts herself as a young girl. She’s now a project manager for Target Corp. She says she’s amazed at how much she learns at work and being involved in scouting that translates back and forth. She says the program teaches leadership.

Girl Scouts in high school agree going to camp year after year and the fun that comes with it is one of the best parts about their scouting experience.

“We plan it, and we run it,” said Amanda Weiss, another Andover High School junior.

In celebrating 100 years, Girl Scouts took time this past weekend to reflect on how Girl Scouts has changed.

“The content has changed, the badges have changed, the uniforms have changed, the girls have changed — for the good,” said Alyssa Weiss, who dreams of being a doctor of pediatrics.

In developing the Girl Scout movement in the United States, Juliette Gordon Low, the founder, brought girls of all backgrounds into the out-of-doors, giving them the opportunity to develop self-reliance and resourcefulness.

Low encouraged girls to prepare not only for traditional homemaking, but also for possible future roles as professional women — in the arts, sciences and in business — and for active citizenship outside the home.

Girl Scouting welcomed girls with disabilities at a time when they were excluded from many other activities. This idea seemed quite natural to Low, who never let deafness, back problems or cancer keep her from full participation in life.

Modern day Scouts seem to have an appreciation for the trails girls before them blazed.

“Things are better, but there are still stereotypes,” Quick said.

Middle school presents some of the toughest challenges for modern-day Girl Scouts.

“It’s harsh,” Amanda Weiss said. “You have to be tough as nails just to make it through middle school, let alone stay in Girl Scouts. Everybody’s trying to grow up.”

To stay in Girl Scouts took a thick skin at times. But Girl Scouting itself built the kind of confidence that it took to stay in the program, according to Quick and the two Weiss girls.

“Girls are trying to figure out who they are,” Quick said. “Girl Scouts guided us and helped us learn good traits.”

And for women like Strangren, that’s why she volunteers her time. “That’s our reward —helping build girls up,” she said.

The beginning

Low gathered 18 girls to register the first troop of American Girl Guides. Margaret “Daisy Doots” Gordon, her niece and namesake, was the first registered member. The name of the organization was changed to Girl Scouts the following year.

She had spent several years searching for something useful to do with her life. Her search ended in 1911, when she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and became interested in the new youth movement.

Less than a year later, she made her historic telephone call to a friend (a distant cousin), saying, “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!”

From the original 18 girls, Girl Scouting has grown to 3.7 million members. Girl Scouts is the largest educational organization for girls in the world and has influenced the more than 50 million girls, women and men who have belonged to it.

Girl Scout Camp Elk River is one of many hubs of activity.

It is a year-round destination located just outside of Elk River on 1,200 acres, including forests, wetlands, prairies and lakes. With sleeping space for 300, Camp Elk River is a great destination for single troops or larger groups.

It has both modern and rustic facilities. Guests enjoy nature hikes, boating, archery and low ropes in the summer. And when it’s wintertime they enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding and ice skating.

It was the perfect backdrop for a 100th anniversary celebration. There will be more this year, as there is Great Girl Gathering at the Mall of America on March 10 and 11, and there are also plans for a Take Action Project on Oct. 13.

Girl Scouts and volunteers of all ages will be helping their communities improve water resource conservation and protection. The council-wide environmental service project is designed to reduce phosphorus levels in lakes and rivers.

Together, Girl Scouts across the region will work to prevent the growth of 10 million pounds of algae by removing 20,000 pounds of yard waste before it enters lakes and rivers, saving $6 million in clean-up costs.

Their efforts will make for a better world when they go to celebrate their 150th anniversary.

For more on the history of the Girl Scouts, visit: http://www.girlscouts.org/who_we_are/history/low_biography/jgl_history.asp.

Jim Boyle is at jim.boyle@ecm-inc.com

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