They preside over companies and lead governments. They teach and strengthen communities. They share knowledge and understanding.
And, oh yeah, they sell some cookies.
Across the nation, Girl Scouts of the USA celebrates its 100th anniversary this spring. Its current members and alumnae will commemorate the milestone with a series of special events, mostly planned by the girls themselves.
That includes a gigantic celebration Saturday at Cal Expo for more than 12,500 Girl Scouts from 18 counties.
"It blows my mind what these girls can do," said Melanie Glover, a former Scout who now works with the Girl Scouts Heart of Central California council. "I can't believe what the girls say; they're so prepared to speak in front of people. They're really organized but what would you expect? They're Girl Scouts."
That poise and polish is evident during rehearsals and brainstorming sessions before the 100th birthday party, the biggest event the Sacramento-based council has ever hosted.
Called Celebrating Green Forever, the big party features Radio Disney's Coco Jones, who will lead a massive singalong. There also will be horse shows, bounce houses, contests, swaps, rock-climbing walls, a fashion show, a dance party and the largest display of Girl Scout history in Northern California.
To make all this happen smoothly, about 20 girls grades 7 through 12 gathered on a recent Sunday at the Girl Scouts program center on Elvas Avenue. They came prepared with very specific timelines, budgets, supply lists and outlines. In committees, they fine-tuned the details including traffic flow within individual Cal Expo venues and keeping thousands of girls entertained for six hours (and on schedule).
Nicknamed "Gabbers," these scouts are members of the volunteer Girl Ambassador Board, an outlet for developing leadership skills. For this assignment, they followed their basic formula for teamwork success: Research ideas; plan, plan, plan; then be ready to present ideas to the larger group.
"You've got to have that personality that makes it fun," program specialist Nakeya Bell told the girls about their individual assignments. "Remember: This is your time to shine."
That fun attitude extended into each task, from planning a teen fashion show (with clothes courtesy of Kohl's) to organizing a dance contest for 1,100 girls.
"They're learning confidence," said image consultant Stephanie Hunter-Ray, who gave the girls pre-show pointers. "Just think how it will help them in their everyday lives. They can take on any challenge."
Each Gabbers has her own reason to participate.
What do they like best?
"Freedom," several answered in unison.
"You get to say an idea without being judged," said Leah Patterson, 13, of West Sacramento. "I don't feel ashamed of Girl Scouts when I do this."
Peer pressure forces many Scouts to drop out when they reach seventh grade, the girls said.
"People say, 'You're still a Girl Scout? Got cookies?' " said Erika McCall, 14, of Rancho Cordova. "We put up with a lot of that. But (Scouting) is fun."
They do sell a lot of cookies; members of the local council sold more than 2.5 million boxes in their just-completed campaign.
But Girl Scouts is about more than cookies.
Added Roseville's Ashlyn Broomhead, 14, "I tell them I'm going to have a career someday; what about them?"
Scouting often leads to success. According to the Girl Scouts' national statistics, 80 percent of female business owners were once Girl Scouts. In Congress, almost 70 percent of female U.S. senators are former Scouts.
In the Central Valley, about 29,000 girls are current Scouts. Local membership continues to grow.
"We still offer the traditional parts of Scouting such as camping and crafts, but we're always looking for more opportunities that fit with today's girls," explained Glover.
The local council, for example, launched an initiative to get Latinas more involved with Scouting. And a 100th anniversary "green" badge awards eco-minded projects.
Saturday's all-day event at Cal Expo is just part of the Northern California celebration. On May 5, about 50,000 Girl Scouts are expected at "One Hundred Fun Hundred," a gigantic Girl Scout festival at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. On May 6, Girl Scouts from around the world will march across the Golden Gate Bridge in a show of unity and "bridging" generations.
Then, adult alumnae and supporters will have a chance to salute the Scouts and their 100-year legacy at a June 22 gala at the California Museum in Sacramento.
Barby Pulliam, 86, will play a part in the Northern California festivities. The El Dorado Hills woman recently received her 75-year membership pin for a lifetime of Scouting.
"Once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout," Pulliam said.
Saturday, Pulliam will portray Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low at the Cal Expo event. Next week at Pleasanton, she'll field questions from current Scouts about what it was like to be a "pioneer."
"One hundred years; that's wonderful," Pulliam said of the milestone. "Juliette Low would never have believed it could last this long. But what's not to like?"
Pulliam joined the Scouts as a 10-year-old, growing up in Inglewood. "It sounded like fun; nothing profound," she recalled.
But Scouting shaped her life. As a teen, she became a camp song leader. That grew into an avocation. She has literally led songs around the globe, including a chorus of 100,000 Girl Scouts on the Washington, D.C., mall.
While a student at Stanford University, Pulliam was invited to sing with former First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, the Girl Scouts' national president. Soon after, Pulliam was recruited to become a troop leader. She decided, "I'd rather become a troop leader than anything else in the world."
Among the troops she led is Sacramento's Troop 5050, which Pulliam founded in 1974.
"My career has been volunteer work," Pulliam said. "It's been so rewarding."
During the 1980s, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts gave Pulliam a special assignment: Teach African girls and boys how to cook using solar power. The children then could help their families during the cooking fuel crisis that had engulfed several nations.
"I went to Africa 12 or 13 times," Pulliam said. "I taught solar cooking and trained others so they could teach more girl guides. In all, I visited about 40 countries.
"I was surprised to get this opportunity," she added. "Of course, I took my songbook along. It's been a really exciting life."
The same assets that made Pulliam want to be a troop leader still ring true today, she said.
"Girl Scouts have lasted so long because of what we offer."
That's a chance to lead, to grow and to have fun.
Said Patterson, "I love Scouting. It's like my second family. I love the atmosphere and the things we get to do. You never feel left out when you're a Girl Scout."
Girl Scout galas and more
Saturday's Girl Scouts 100th anniversary party at Cal Expo is sold out, but the event still needs volunteers. If interested, contact the organizers via the volunteer sign-up link on the Heart of Central California council's website, www.girlscoutshcc.org.
Tickets ($50) are still on sale for an adults-only Girl Scouts gala, celebrating 100 years of scouting, leadership and girl power. For supporters and alumnae, the event will be held June 22 at the California Museum, 1020 O St., Sacramento. Tina Macuha of Channel 31 (KMAX) will emcee the evening, featuring seasonal appetizers and desserts from Mulvaney's B&L paired with local beer and wine. Among the highlights: a fashion show of Girl Scout styles over the decades. For tickets or more information, click on http://girlscoutshcc.org/gala.asp or call (916) 452-9181.
Want to learn more about Girl Scouts and local opportunities? Call the organization's local hotline, (800) 322-4475.