Valley Voices

So why did an Olympic Gold Medalist choose Girl Scouts?

Girl Scout Kasey Justesen talks to local kindergarteners about the importance of knowing your surroundings and safety. Kasey recognized that this class had children waiting right near an open road where cars fly by. She worked to put a bench in front of the class to give the children a place to sit and wait.
Girl Scout Kasey Justesen talks to local kindergarteners about the importance of knowing your surroundings and safety. Kasey recognized that this class had children waiting right near an open road where cars fly by. She worked to put a bench in front of the class to give the children a place to sit and wait. Girl Scouts of Central California South

Fifty-seven percent of women in the 115th Congress are Girl Scout alumnae. Seventy-six percent of current female senators are Girl Scout alumnae. Fifty-two percent of women currently in the House of Representatives are Girl Scout alumnae. Five of the six current female governors are Girl Scout alumnae. Every female secretary of state in U.S. history was a Girl Scout in her youth.

Recognizing that more than half of women in business and almost every female astronaut who has flown in space were Girl Scouts, it’s safe to say the Girl Scout mission of building leaders of courage, confidence and character is being accomplished.

As an Olympian, I like to be on the winning team. Girl Scouts has not only been the winning team for girls since 1912, but continues to be the premier leadership organization for girls.

Girl Scouts build these traits through programs such as our Outdoor Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), agriculture education and our infamous Girl Scout Cookie program. The cookie program gives girls a sense of accomplishment by offering them the opportunity to create their own sales pitch and run their own business as young as 5 years old.

They are able to evaluate what works and what does not work to make effective changes for the following year. However, there is an unfortunate misconception that once girls put on that iconic vest or sash, all they do is sell cookies.

With a new school year upon us and parents looking to enroll their children in enriching programs, our council believes it’s vital the community realizes one thing: Girl Scouts is way more than cookies.

The Girl Scout cookie program allows girls to fund their activities, trips and passions throughout the year. Through this fundraiser, any girl is able to participate in the Girl Scouting program regardless of her financial background. But cookies are only six weeks of the year – what about the other 46 weeks?

For starters, we know girls love exploring. Girls love innovating and creating, climbing and doing new things that might not be offered in other programs. That’s one of the many reasons Girl Scouts has released 23 new STEM, and Outdoor badges.

Through these badges, Girl Scouts can create algorithms, design robots and racecars, go on environmentally conscious camping trips, collect data in the great outdoors, try their hand at engineering, and so much more. How do we know these programs are an interest to girls? Simple – we asked them.

At the 2014 Girl Scout National Convention, Girl Scouts stood up in front of their peers, National Girl Scout staff, and Board of Directors and voiced their opinion. Not only were Girl Scouts the motivation behind the new badges, but we witnessed hundreds of girls feel confident enough to speak their mind.

Locally, our girls lead robotics teams, participate in BitWise coding classes in Downtown Fresno, explore 3D printing at the California State University, Bakersfield Fab Lab, all while finding their passions in fields that women currently only make up 26 percent of the workforce.

Studies show at age 15, girls lose interest in STEM. Some speculation around the justification for this loss of interest is credited to lack of role models in the field. This becomes clear when six in 10 girls admit they’d feel more confident pursuing a STEM career if they knew men and women were already equally employed in these fields.

For Girl Scouts to explore STEM fields surrounded by other girls interested in STEM is, without a doubt, world changing; and Girl Scouts gives them this opportunity.

Through Girl Scouts, local girls not only explore passions and the outdoors, they expand their horizons to include the world. In 2016, 12 Central Valley Girl Scouts traveled to England, France, Switzerland and Italy. In 2017, seven Central Valley Girl Scouts explored Washington D.C. and New York City. In 2018, Girl Scouts will have an opportunity to venture off to Australia and New Zealand.

These are opportunities many people wouldn’t have in a lifetime. Yet, local Girl Scouts are able to immerse themselves in a variety of other cultures – all before they even graduate high school.

However, Girl Scouting isn’t all fun and games. Many girls take pride in giving back to their community. A majority of local Girl Scout Troops use funds raised through the Girl Scout Cookie program to host community service projects throughout the year.

High School girls also work to earn their Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can earn. Not only are there local college scholarships available to Gold Award recipients, but Gold Award recipients who join the armed services enter at one rank higher than other recruits.

In addition, university research indicates that adding Gold Award to a college application is a critical element in the admissions-decision process. The Gold awardees from our council have done everything from creating sustainable food producing gardens to creating port pillows for those going through chemotherapy to creating curriculum to study astronomy.

These girls become a role model to the girls that follow them and give back to our council in many ways. Our girls have become teachers, astrophysicists, filmmakers, technology experts, forest rangers, farmers, musicians, homemakers, physicians, university administrators, athletic coaches, and political leaders. They are true G.I.R.L’s (Go-getters, Innovators, Risk-takers, Leaders).

So as this new school year kicks off, I encourage parents to consider the benefits of Girl Scouting for their daughters. After 105 years, it’s undeniable that becoming a Girl Scout encourages girls to discover their passions, connect with others, take action within the community and share their discoveries to help make the world a better place.

Sports and my Olympic experience taught me many things. Mostly, how to follow directions from extraordinary trainers, coaches, and mentors. It is through strong female mentors that I found my voice, and that’s exactly what Girl Scouts does. It takes it to the next level. “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, Honorary President of the Girl Scouts.

And… that’s why I am a Girl Scout!

Cathy Ferguson of Fresno is CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central California South. Connect with her at 800-8653, Ext. 129.