The Girl Scouts of the United States of America celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, and the organization continues to see strong interest from girls. But it has struggled to meet demand because of a dearth of adult volunteers willing to become troop leaders.
In the 18-county area served by the Sacramento-based council, Girl Scouts Heart of Central California, there are 28,276 girls in 2,200 troops, with 10,000 registered adult members. Out of the adult members, about 3,000 work directly with the girls, while the remainder – mostly parents – help out occasionally.
In 2012, the number of girls joining the local Sacramento-based council dropped by 5 percent for the first time, which officials said was mainly due to a lack of troop leaders.
Two weeks ago, the Girl Scouts launched their “I can’t wait to ... ” national recruitment campaign, and first lady Michelle Obama appealed to adults to help the organization in an online video.
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The Sacramento Bee talked to Sarah Sanford, director of membership for Girl Scouts Heart of Central California, about the recruitment effort.
Why is there an increased need of volunteers for the Girl Scouts this year?
We’ve always had this need for volunteers, since we do lose 28 percent of our adult members each year. In our last recruitment drive, we already had 3,000 girls express interest, and by the end of this year, we will have 5,000. We’re in the process of recruiting volunteers to serve these girls. But to truly serve the 3,000 girls already recruited, we need close to 600 volunteers.
Why can’t you just place the new girls in existing troops?
These troops meet in people’s homes and may be really small. The average troop size is eight to 10 girls, and some volunteers don’t want to take on more girls, so we need to create new troops. We really want the adult troop leaders to feel comfortable with what they’re doing, so we let them decide on the size of their troops.
Why are there fewer volunteers willing to become troop leaders?
We feel that today people don’t have as much time to volunteer. People are busier, and more moms are working. They don’t know the support and resources that are available and there are other people who can do it with them. They think it’s more of a time commitment than what they are able to give.
What is the time commitment for troop leaders?
They have to meet the girls on a regular basis, but that could be once a week or every other week. It involves a couple of hours of planning time, so five to eight hours a month at the minimum. They can do more if they want to – if they are very active, they could go on a lot of trips. But they spend as much time as they would like to.
What qualifications do you look for in volunteers?
Any adult over the age of 18 who enjoys working with girls and is a positive role model for youth. We do background checks of volunteers who apply to become troop leaders to ensure the safety of the girls. We do require that they take troop leadership training, either online or in a classroom. It’s a three-hour training class.
Are there misconceptions of who can become troop leaders?
Anybody can be a troop leader, male or female. It could be parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents. If there is a male troop leader, we ensure that there is an adult female co-leader. You don’t have to be a former Girl Scout – it’s a great opportunity if they weren’t a Girl Scout before; they can join now and be a troop leader or assistant troop leader. You don’t have to be a mom, and you don’t have to have children of your own. People believe that they have to have a daughter in Girl Scouts before they can apply, but they don’t. There is a misconception that it’s not for every racial or ethnic group, or for all socioeconomic classes, but it’s truly open to everyone.
The Boy Scouts of America made a controversial decision earlier this year to allow gays to join as Scouts, but banned them from serving as scout leaders. What is the policy of the Girl Scouts toward gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered members becoming troop leaders?
We do not discriminate against anyone. We’re all-inclusive.
Why should people volunteer for the Girl Scouts? How is it different from any other youth group?
We are the premier leadership organization for girls. For the girls and the adults, it’s a safe place to belong, and the volunteers can make a difference in the lives of a girl. The Girl Scouts is an amazing model for leadership and makes a difference in the next generation. It is fun – there are as many benefits for the volunteers as there are for the girls.
If people are interested in volunteering for the Girl Scouts Heart of Central California, they can call (916) 452-9181 or (800) 322-4475.
They can also email the local council for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out their website at www.girlscoutshcc.org/join.