As the new kid years ago, Felice Ehrlich joined Girl Scouts as a way to meet people and make friends.
She gained more than she imagined, went places she might not have gone otherwise and developed her self-confidence.
Because of the experience, Ehrlich, who lives in Hoffman Estates, stepped up to lead both of her daughters’ troops, comprised of girls from Elgin School District U-46.
She’s been their leader since both girls, now ages 11 and 7, were in kindergarten.
“It’s really an interesting ride to watch them going from kindergarten to then actually becoming leaders and self-confident,” she says. “We enjoy introducing the girls to new opportunities their families might not necessarily do.”
Making an impact Ehrlich’s two daughters, Eve and Alison Baumgartner, are among 4,389 Girl Scouts in Kane County.
With a determination to build girls of “courage, confidence and character,” the national organization celebrates its 100th anniversary this March.
It has grown and evolved since its official beginning March 12, 1912, when founder Juliette Gordon Low hosted her first troop meeting with 18 girls from Savannah, Ga. — a time when women weren’t even allowed to vote.
Through the years, Low’s goal — to give all girls the opportunity to develop physically, mentally and spiritually — lives on in an organization that now has a membership of 3.2 million girls and adults throughout the country.
“It’s just an incredible opportunity for all of us to be part of the 100th celebration and to know that Girl Scouting is still strong and vibrant today,” says Vicki Wright, CEO of Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois. “We’re constantly changing so we are meeting the needs of the girls of the current time,” she says.
While tremendous strides have been made, fewer women than men still head Fortune 500 companies and elected and government positions, Wright says.
The leadership void represents numerous leadership opportunities for girls, she says, and filling that void has become one of the organization’s top goals.
Through a wide array of projects and activities, Girl Scouts learn to work with other people as they achieve business, volunteerism and leadership skills.
“What we try to do is help girls learn about themselves, help them explore new things [and] help them get involved in their communities so that becomes a life-long choice they make — being a volunteer, having an impact on their communities,” Wright says.
Ranging in age from 5 to 17, girls now learn from guide books called “Journeys” that spell out various projects they can complete concerning the environment, health and fitness, leadership, community organizations, animals and numerous other topics.
And, of course, they continue to sell their famous Girl Scout cookies.
Along with teaching them life and business skills, the annual cookie sales help them earn money toward troop activities as well as designated community charities.
Today’s Scouts Ehrlich’s troop members have read to pre-schoolers, visited nursing homes and helped at food banks.
They’ve also gone camping and horseback riding and attended theater and musical events. Girls in the older troop recently led a meeting for girls in the younger troop.
“They like to be active, and they like to be involved,” Ehrlich says.
The number of girls in her troops has remained steady through the years, with all enjoying the experience, she says.
“As a leader, I find it to be very rewarding and a very important job,” she says. “I’m able to teach and develop girls as a leader.”
Though it can be tough to recruit volunteers and retain members through their high school years, Girl Scouts saw an increase in membership nationwide this year for the first time in 10 years, Wright says.
“We think we’re on an upswing, and that’s going to continue to grow for us,” Wright says.
Scouts, such as Elaine Eggert of Montgomery, a junior at Oswego East High School, have gone on to become Girl Scout Ambassadors, the highest level that can be achieved through the organization.
Among their achievements, ambassadors must share their talents and skills by teaching younger Girl Scouts and network with other ambassadors. Some have shadowed professionals, visited colleges and traveled to learn more about the world around them.
Along with the community service they provide, such experiences help Girl Scouts earn college scholarships.
“We couldn’t do what we do if we didn’t have over 5,000 volunteers,” Wright says. “We’re never for want of girls who want to participate. It’s contingent on us to find volunteers.” kc
How To Celebrate 100 Years Of Girl Scouts
• The Geneva Service Unit will host a roller-skating party from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 9, at Funway, 1335 South River St., in Batavia. For more information, contact Brenda Carlson at email@example.com.
• The historical exhibit “A Century of Girl Scouts: Then and Now,” will be on display through March 30 at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center, 20 E. Downer Place, in Aurora. The center is open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. Free admission and tours are available. For more information, call 630-906-0652 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
• An exhibit celebrating 100 years of Girl Scouts, entitled “Girl Scout Century,” will be on display through June 23 at the Geneva History Center, 113 S. Third St., Geneva. The center is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Tours are available after school Monday through Friday. Staff will stay later than 4 p.m. for tour groups. The center charges admission, with a minimum $25 fee for tour groups. For more information, email email@example.com.