how being a Girl Scout changed my life

Today marks the 100th birthday of Girl Scouts of America. Happy birthday, Girl Scouts. Happy birthday and thank you, thank you, thank you.

I joined Girl Scouts in first grade. With it came a pint-sized brown vest — for Brownies, appropriately. My mom patiently explained about a dozen times that the group is called Brownies, but I was not getting brownies for a snack at every meeting. (Bummer.)

I also got a full-color Brownie Girl Scout handbook, with every badge and all its requirements detailed. Before my first troop meeting, I took a Crayola marker and put a star next to every badge I wanted to earn. Which ended up being almost every badge.

Girl Scouting was where I had many of my first experiences. Ice skating? Girl Scouts. Skiing? Girl Scouts. Camping? Girl Scouts. Hiking? Girl Scouts. Volunteering? Girl Scouts. 

All experiences were intimidating at first. And only through Girl Scouts did I do them. I dove in head-first and learned the joy in trying new things. Even when I tumbled down the bunny slope, trying new things taught me courage. Girl Scouts taught me gumption and bravery and spirit.

Our troop changed a little every year — some girls left and some new girls joined. It was a perfect environment for connecting with girls who were different. Our world isn’t homogeneous and it’s all the more beautiful for it. Girl Scouts taught me that.

Seling cookies every year for 12 years teaches you a little something about sales and never giving up. Sales, I learned from Girl Scout cookies, works when you have a quality product and a good pitch. Sales is about relationships and follow-through too. And, of course, it helps when you are the beneficiary of the product’s revenue.

According to the Girl Scouts, only one in five girls believes she has what it takes to lead. In part because of Girl Scouts, I’m that one in five. Girl Scouts taught me that I do have what it takes to lead.

Completing my Silver and Gold Awards helped me practice organization and leadership skills. For my Silver Award, my troop collaborated on a council-wide camp picnic for inner city Girl Scouts. For my Gold Award, I taught inner city children how to journal and write creatively. Neither experience was easy, but each gave me practice in dreaming big and then making that dream happen. Girl Scouts taught me that.

at my Gold Award ceremony, 2005

with my sister at her own Gold Award ceremony, 2011

A few years ago, my Girl Scout leader passed away. It was after a long journey with cancer and sadly, I wasn’t aware until it was too late. Mrs. O’Reilly meant more to me than she ever knew. She was a mentor and friend, an ally and encourager. She pushed me forward, especially in my writing. It is in part because of her that I came out of my shell and that I am no longer a shy, quiet, insecure Brownie, but a confident, well-spoken adult. 

with Mrs. O'Reilly, 2005

And today, I am a lifetime Girl Scout. According to the Girl Scouts, there are 3.2 million Girl Scouts—2.3 million girl members and 880,000 adult members working primarily as volunteers. It’s a privilege to celebrate this 100th birthday with all 3.2 million of my sisters.

Congratulations, Girl Scouts, and thank you again.

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