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Where Girls Go, Girl Scouting Follows
Girl Scout councils are reaching girls in unconventional places. The result: many at-risk girls get support and connection they may not find anywhere else.
Homeless shelters, public housing facilities and women's prisons may seem like unlikely places to hear girls recite the Girl Scout Promise. Nonetheless, through Girl Scout initiatives, that's exactly what's happening. Girls not only recite the Promise, but also spend time with incarcerated mothers, solve conflicts without fighting and get to visit a college campus for the first time.
Councils bring the Girl Scout program to local communities, serving thousands of at-risk and under-served girls. The numbers are impressive but the real sum of Girl Scouting's funded initiatives can't be quantified. The success lies in lives affected.
Girl Scouts Beyond Bars
"My daughter was at a crossroads," expressed an incarcerated mother in Seattle, Washington, "but the Girl Scouts Behind Bars program helped her decide to stay a positive and loving young lady."
Created by the National Institute of Justice in collaboration with the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, Girl Scouts Beyond Bars helps maintain, and in some cases re-forge, the bond between girls and their incarcerated mothers.
Through council-facilitated prison visits, mothers and daughters join for troop meetings and traditional Girl Scout activities. At one meeting, girls and their moms made jewelry and planned a holiday party.
Said one girl whose mother is an inmate at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, "I've learned that my mom is special." Many participating mothers also receive parent education.
Girl Scouting in Detention Centers
The Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program led the way to Girl Scouting in Detention Centers, a program that reaches girls who have been adjudicated, are wards of the court or are court-referred delinquents. Sadly, girls comprise the fastest-growing segment of the population being detained in correctional facilities in the United States. Girl Scouting in Detention Centers seeks to serve this group.
Jodie Ann, a Girl Scout at the Arizona Juvenile Court Center, served by the Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, wrote the council: "I appreciate you coming to let us know that even though there are a lot of people who don't care about us and think we are worthless and bad, you showed me that just 'cause I'm in here doesn't mean I'm a bad kid. I just made wrong choices and you didn't judge me for the way I look. You judged me by what is on the inside-my mind, heart and soul."
P.A.V.E. the Way
P.A.V.E. the Way (Project Anti-Violence Education) aims to help girls ages five to 17 learn to recognize and address violence at home and in their neighborhoods. The goal is to lessen girls' chances of becoming victims of violence and/or perpetrators. Whereas Girl Scouting Beyond Bars and Girl Scouting in Detention Centers are intervention focused, P.A.V.E. the Way is largely preventive in nature. Program activities cover such topics as conflict resolution, anger management and personal safety.
Eleven-year-old Taira, new to her middle school, became involved in a P.A.V.E. the Way project that welcomed her into what she called "a good clique." It was conducted by the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, "In P.A.V.E.," said Taira, "if someone says something bad, you can talk about it and learn how to solve it so you can become friends again. In other kinds of cliques, they fight, get suspended, have detention and are never friends again."
Girl Scouts in Public Housing
Councils have served girls in public housing developments for over 30 years. Girl Scouts of the USA entered into a formal partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to establish "youth development initiatives" that focus on academic excellence and the prevention of substance abuse, violence and teen pregnancy.
The Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama has the longest history of collaborating with public housing authorities. Since 1967, the council's partnership has helped hundreds of girls grow into successful young women.
Case in point: When she was a girl, Vivian became a Girl Scout while living in Birmingham's public housing community. "I was taught that it was acceptable to be different," Vivian recalled about her experiences in Girl Scouts, "and to strive to be the best I could be." Vivian credits Girl Scouting with helping her obtain an M.B.A. from Birmingham University. She now supervises a human resources department for a school district with 13,000 employees.
Girl Scouts in Rural Communities
Girl Scouting in Rural Communities is an initiative that targets girls from the plains of the Midwest to the tundra of Alaska, from the swamplands of South Florida to the peaks of the Smokey Mountains.
"Rural America is just as diverse as anywhere," explained Lynn Smith, from the Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland. "Generally a farm girl comes from a two-parent family, but rural life has changed drastically since the 1980s. As family farms compete with larger corporate farms, money problems and accompanying depression and domestic turmoil have increased. Meanwhile, teenage pregnancy and alcohol abuse are common because, as the kids joke, 'There's nothing else to do.'"
Councils based in rural areas have worked to reach girls in remote locations for years. "All of our programs are rural," explained Douglas Campbell, membership marketing director for Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians in Johnson City.
A group of girls from Mountain City, an isolated mountain town in Tennessee, made an overnight trip to the Eastern State Tennessee University campus as part of a P.A.V.E. the Way activity. The girls had not been on a college campus before and had never seen girls as students beyond high school.
Closing the Gaps
To close gaps in service to girls, several Girl Scout councils run a combination of these initiatives. As a result, more girls have more opportunities to be served and to thrive.
Most importantly, all these initiatives introduce girls and women to the Girl Scout community, its values and its program goals, all of which can help girls lead healthy, productive lives.