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Girl Scouts seek new image in 21st century

BY MARY HARRINGTON | MARCH 27, 2009 7:35 AM

From modern T-shirts to Internet-embracing ideals, the 97-year-old Girl Scouts is getting a makeover after a dip in membership. And the females leading the way are getting younger, with college students targeted for new troop leaders.

“I think the girls sometimes feel more comfortable around younger leaders, more free to be themselves,” said UI junior Amy Haeussler. “This way, it doesn’t feel like a chore, like going to school or any other place where the older adults are always in charge.”

Every week, 21-year-old Haeussler leads a group of approximately 10 girls at Twain Elementary, 1355 DeForest Ave. The girls are enthusiastic about their leader, one of them yelling with cookie crumbs on her smiling mouth, “She’s just a girl, just like us.”

Haeussler, a former Girl Scout, is now a part of the new image of the Girl Scouts of the USA. And roughly seven other UI students have taken on the role in Iowa City, said UI senior Kendall Sater, a Girl Scouts outreach coordinator for the area.

“It allows the girls to have positive role models who are in a closer range of their age, and it’s a great leadership opportunity for the students as well,” said Sater, a former troop leader.

After attaining peak membership in 2002, the organization struggled to retain the recruits, losing many of them since then. So now, the national organization is taking a step away from its traditional persona, one associated with cutesy uniforms and campfire gatherings.

“We’re very excited about these changes,” said Michelle Tompkins, a corporate spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of the USA. “It’s rare that an organization steps back and admits that all these things need to change in order to remain relevant.”

As part of the new initiative, the group is reaching out more to minority groups and easing accessibility with flexible program hours. It is moving away from traditional uniforms, and even badges could soon be a thing of the past.

Girls are instead excited to pursue more long-term goals with a new badge-like program called Journeys. It functions with age-specific books, and achievements are rewarded by patches with a more modern look than traditional badges.

Lessons about Internet safety, contemporary outfits, and books and blogs about healthy relationships are favorable. Newer subjects include engineering and environmental awareness.

Though college-age women are all the rage with the new marketing scheme, mothers are still encouraged to get involved in the troop-leading experience.

“There’s no cookie-cutter Girl Scout program,” Tompkins said. “Flexible pathways are the ideal approach.”

Although Girl Scout membership has not yet increased since the changes this year, officials are confident younger leadership, contemporary content, and modern images will turn things around for the organization.


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