The Times West Virginian

January 3, 2013

Girl Scouts’ mission: Leadership, self-reliance

United Way funds outreach program

By Jonathan Williams
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The Girl Scouts of America do a lot more than sell cookies.

Not to say that the cookies aren’t important, because they make a big difference. They’re more than just a fundraiser, said Development Coordinator Suzanne Goralczyk of the Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council, which covers the state of West Virginia.

It’s a part of the Girl Scouts’ mission to teach girls leadership and self-reliance.

“Girl Scouts of America have a wonderful reputation as ‘cookies, camping and crafts,’” said communications director Morgan Robinson. They do all those things, she said, but their real mission is making girls comfortable with being leaders.

Goralczyk said that the Girl Scout Leadership Experience is all about discovery, connecting and taking action. More specifically, it’s about discovering problems, connecting with peers and the community and then taking action on meaningful solutions.

Selling Girl Scout cookies, which will begin Friday, is a great example of the leadership program in action.

“It’s an entrepreneurial program for girls to allow them to begin their first business,” Robinson said.

Girls learn about networking and marketing as they sell the cookies, she said, and financial and management skills when it comes to collecting money and distributing product.

Robinson said that about 80 percent of women business owners are former Girl Scouts, and many credit the lessons they learned selling cookies with inspiring them to go into business for themselves.

“I think the best way I’ve ever heard it put is that it’s the girl’s first business,” she said.

There’s more opportunities to learn and grow beyond the Thin Mints. Goralczyk said that, in order to get their medals, Girl Scouts have to work in the community to be a positive influence.

For instance, Marion County Girl Scouts have worked with the Family Resource Network to donate items to baby showers, knit and crocheted hats and mittens to Scott Place, helped to maintain Woodlawn Historic Cemetery and much more.

It can be a real uphill struggle for young women who are interested in moving into leadership positions.

“I think that girls are sometimes not given the credit they deserve,” Robinson said.

Goralczyk is confident that the girls she works with are getting what they need to be successful in life.

“They’re going to be the people that are in charge of our community in a very few short years,” she said.

The United Way funds the Girl Scouts’ outreach program, which Goralczyk called “the program that’s most important to me.” The funding allows a special staff member to bring the Girl Scouts program to areas that otherwise the girls wouldn’t be able to participate.

At this time, they partner with the afterschool programs of Blackshere, East Fairmont, West Fairmont and Rivesville middle schools and Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission sites throughout the summer. The United Way pays for the membership costs for these girls, craft supplies and mileage and helps to pay for them to go on field trips with the rest of the Scouts.

“It’s an expensive program to run, and we absolutely couldn’t do it without their support,” Goralczyk said.

The United Way allows an additional 250 girls to be Girl Scouts.

She said that they’re always looking for other places to partner with.

The Girl Scouts will soon start the “Be A Friend First” (BFF) campaign to combat bullying in local schools.

To give to the United Way and help organizations like the Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council, mail a donation or pledge to the United Way of Marion County, 112 Adams St., Suite 201, Fairmont, WV 26554; or call 304-366-4550.

Email Jonathan Williams at jwilliams@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @JWilliamsTWV.