- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

Girl Scouts USA officials say membership is up in troops in the Washington area and across the country because the organization is reaching out to urban families, especially minorities — and because parents are returning to traditional, values-based activities.

“We have a very nice increase in membership this year,” said Courtney Shore, senior vice president of marketing with Girl Scouts USA. More than 72,000 girls joined troops nationwide in 2003,she said, bringing the total membership to more than 2.9 million girls.

“We are not the only people who understand children,” Miss Shore said, “but we certainly do know girls.”

Girl Scout membership, which peaked in the late 1960s at 4 million, had fallen steadily until about 10 years ago, when the organization began reaching out to ethnic groups.

“Parents and communities are returning to values-based activities,” Miss Shore said.

The national organization distributes pamphlets and recruiting materials in English and Spanish, and recruiters go to Hispanic communities to make sure they understand what the scouting program offers to girls ages 5 through 17.

That effort has had a big impact: The number of Hispanic members across the nation was up by 35,700, or 13.9 percent, in 2003.

The Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, one of the largest in the country, has members from the District and five counties in Maryland and Virginia and is breaking records in membership and in cookie sales.

“We have been actively recruiting, and girls are joining,” said Mary Layton, director of public relations for the Girl Scout Council.

More than 550 new scouts — a 16 percent increase — joined the organization in 2003, leading to the formation of 14 new troops.The council has 50,074 members in 4,038 troops throughout the area.

Miss Layton said the increase is the result of active recruitment and troop formation in schools, churches and housing developments.

“Lots of councils don’t do the kind of troop formation in inner cities that we do,” she said. “They drop off brochures and fliers, but our field staff members actually go out and work on troop formation.”

Because of the diversity of the Washington area, the council also publishes pamphlets in Korean. Miss Layton hopes the council soon will have pamphlets in Farsi, a modern Iranian language, and Urdu, a southern Asian language. The council has at least one all-Muslim troop, which participates in the same activities as other troops, but gives special attention to the girls’ dietary restrictions.

Many troop leaders are bilingual, and the council has a Hispanic outreach specialist and a Korean linguistic specialist.

“We pride ourselves in being inclusive,” Miss Layton said. “Languages are not a barrier.”

Special projects also account for the growth in membership across the country.

In Palm Beach, Fla., Troop 2900 consists entirely of residents of a juvenile-detention center. At semimonthly meetings, the girls engage in arts and crafts, conflict-resolution skits and other activities.

The monthly program began in November 2001 and became so popular that a second meeting time was added.

“Basically, we try to assist [the girls] in identifying and cultivating their talents,” said Renalda Mack, board president of the Palm Glades Council. She said all of the girls living at the center volunteer to participate in the scouting program.

The Palm Glades Council has about 650 troops and 9,000 girl members, an increase from 7,000 members at this time in 2003, Miss Mack said.

Some councils reach out to recruit girls from homeless shelters. The council in the metropolitan Washington region recently started raising money to enable girls from low-income families to participate in camping and other Girl Scout activities.

The annual cookie sales cover part of the fund raising. With so many girls on hand, scouts in the District set ambitious goals for their cookie sales. Last year, they sold 4,150,976 boxes of cookies. This year, they raised their goal slightly to 4.2 million boxes — a number they already have exceeded. Sales end on March 27.

Khaya Carter, 9, is a top cookie seller in her troop of 15 girls, which meets at People’s Congregational Church, 4704 13th St. NW.

Last year, Khaya sold more than 1,000 boxes, and she is well on her way to doing it again.

“Cookies, I suggest them,” she said. “You can buy them and freeze them, and they last a long, long time.”

In 2003, the troop sold 4,332 boxes. So far this year, the troop has placed an initial order for 3,829 boxes.

Although she’s a top-notch cookie seller, Khaya said she most enjoys the community-service projects and recalls when she helped her troop hand out blankets to the homeless.

“I was crying,” she says. “It was heartwarming, and I liked it.”

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