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Girl Scouts: It's not just about the cookies

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Patricia Carroll, the CEO of Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey.
Patricia Carroll, the CEO of Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey. - (Patricia Carroll)

If you are a woman reading this, the odds are good that you were (at one point in your life) a Girl Scout.

I personally didn’t make it past the Brownies, but after speaking with Patricia Carroll — who began her role as the new CEO of Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey two weeks ago — I wish I’d stuck with it.

Carroll, a leader in New Jersey’s health care industry for 25 years (most recently as chief operating officer and senior vice president of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System), was herself a Girl Scout for 10 years.

“My background in health care had been extremely rewarding,” Carroll said. “So when I saw this opening, I thought what a great way to advocate the mentoring of young women in our community and build their character and confidence.

“Girl Scouts engages girls to discover themselves, connect with others and take action to make the world a better place. They will carry these skills throughout their lives.”

Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey is a huge undertaking, with this organization alone serving  more than 22,000 girls and 9,000 adult volunteers in the counties of Hudson, Essex, Union, Somerset, Hunterdon, southern Warren and parts of Middlesex.

“We are committed to providing exciting programs and events — such as STEM, financial literacy, Girl Scout award workshops, health and fitness, outdoors, arts and culture, and more — with the opportunity to develop leadership skills while having fun,” Carroll said.

Today, there are 3.2 million Girl Scouts worldwide — 2.3 million girl members and 890,000 adult volunteers — that have joined the century-old organization.

And according to Inc.com, 80 percent of women business owners and more than two-thirds of the female members of Congress in 2012 were also, at one time, Girl Scouts.

Here’s what I wish I would’ve known 17 years ago, when I was a 9-year-old and begging to quit:

You can join the Girl Scouts at any age — and you can’t really use “I’m too busy” as an excuse. To participate in events, earn awards and sell cookies on their own time as an individual, “Juliettes” simply need an adviser to join the organization without a troop.

Girl Scouts provides scholarships, awards and grants — that’s right, free money — to members attending institutions such as Rutgers Douglass Residential College in New Brunswick, one of the many participating schools across the country.

Girl Scouts selling Tag-a-Longs at your front door aren’t just looking to fund their organization — they’re also learning how to set goals, make decisions, manage money, practice people skills and business ethics. Here’s how the program works:

  • Daisies (Kindergarten through 1st grade) can earn the “Count It Up” badge after analyzing how “cookie money” adds up.
  • Brownies (2nd through 3rd grade) can earn the “Meet My Customers” badge after becoming comfortable selling cookies to others.
  • Juniors (4th through 5th grade) can earn the “Cookie CEO” badge by managing all facets of their cookie businesses.
  • Cadettes (6th through 8th grade) can earn the “Think Big” badge by setting big goals for cookie sales and brainstorming creative ways to reach them.
  • Seniors (9th through 10th grade) can earn the “My Portfolio” badge by showing college admissions officers and employers what they’ve learned from their sales experience.
  • Ambassadors (11th through 12th grade) can earn the “Profit and Loss” badge by analyzing the financial aspects and business ethics of the “cookie business” before passing on their customer list and knowledge to younger Girl Scouts.

Girl Scouts isn’t all about the cookies — their other programs, such as Financial Literacy, teach young girls lifelong skills that even the education systems seem to sometimes pass over. Here’s an example:

  • Daisies can earn the “Money Counts” badge after learning about money and its worth.
  • Brownies can earn the “Philanthropist” badge after learning about basic human needs, hunger and homelessness, and ways to help.  
  • Juniors can earn the “Business Owner” badge after creating basic steps to plan for and create a new business.
  • Cadettes can earn the “Budgeting” badge by keeping track of money, saving for the future and contributing to charity.  
  • Seniors can earn the “Financing my Future” badge while planning for their future education by comparison shopping and researching financial aid options.
  • Ambassadors can earn the “On My Own” badge by creating a budget for where they’ll live, their daily needs, how much can they can afford to have fun and unexpected events, and ways they can still continue to give back.  

Most importantly, Girl Scouts is a great way to educate young girls about STEM: “You can look anywhere in the world right now — Google, Verizon — and find a big emphasis on encouraging young women to pursue professions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics because girls can do anything and Girl Scouting gives them confidence to be a representative and a working woman in these fields,” Carroll said. “A STEM program may mean going out and looking at the stars and identifying constellations during a night hike, or it might be going to the aquarium to learn about ocean life. The important piece is to start encouraging girls to explore and continue to follow their passion.”

So while I may not be able to rethink my second-grade decision, I will continue to purchase Girl Scout cookies (even though I’m gluten-free) and sign up to volunteer for my little sister’s next camping trip — in hopes that she’ll finance her own college education and become the next, great, successful female entrepreneur or Congresswoman.

Also on NJBIZ's Women in Business "Breaking Glass" blog:

Hobby Lobby: A ‘supreme’ misunderstanding

“Math is tough!”: Barbie in the 21st Century

Meet our new 'Women in Business' blog contributor: Andrew Sheldon

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Meg Fry

Meg Fry

Meg Fry covers manufacturing and retail. Meg joins NJBIZ with past production experience in the arts, film and television. She continues to write and market her own spec scripts and screenplays. You can contact her at megf@njbiz.com or @MegFry3 on Twitter.

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