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Courtesy of Annie Cutler CEO Cathleen Sparrow of the Girl Scouts of Utah, with a few of the thousands of boxes of cookies that girls are selling this year.
Girl Scouts working to boost membership — 21st-century style
Social media » Outreach campaigns aim to grow ranks.
First Published Mar 14 2012 04:49 pm • Last Updated Mar 14 2012 04:56 pm

Murray • The mission of the 100-year-old Girl Scouts remains the same: Build girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place. But the organization in Utah now is using 21st-century methods to boost its ranks.

For years, membership within the state’s scout troops has hovered in the 8,000 to 8,500 range with a retention rate of about 55 percent.

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For information on the Girl Scouts of Utah, go to www.gsutah.org.


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But the Girl Scouts program intends to increase those numbers during its second hundred years. Public-outreach campaigns already are underway through social-media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs to spread the word about the rewards of being a scout.

And this year, scouting will get extra attention through the Girl Scouts’ centennial bash.

"We’re doing it all," Cathleen Sparrow, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of Utah, said of the push to get members and volunteers. "We can’t rely on one method or another."

Scout officials now are forming focus groups to figure out why girls are staying, or leaving, the organization. They also plan to conduct a survey this year to assess why troop leaders and other volunteers don’t re-up.

It’s an effort to strengthen an organization that began little more than a century ago in Savannah, Ga., on March 12, 1912.

In Utah, volunteers started a troop in 1920 at a home in Ogden. The Girl Scouts now number more than 8,000 in Utah with 500-plus troops and 3,500 adult members (including 1,500 volunteers).

Sparrow, who took the state’s top Girl Scouts job in late 2010, said membership numbers are influenced by the number of choices girls and their parents face — namely school, jobs, sports and other activities.

And in Utah, with its majority Mormon population, it can be even harder to get girls into the program, she said.

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encourages young men to join the Boy Scouts and considers adult service within the organization a calling, Sparrow said. The church doesn’t lend the same support to the Girl Scouts. Mothers often don’t have time to be troop leaders with the Girl Scouts because they’re already working in some capacity — perhaps as a den mother — with the Boy Scouts, she said.

Scouting is just as important for girls, Sparrow said. Adult leaders provide positive role models for them. The activities prepare them to be leaders now and in the future, teaching them skills that are important whether they’re going to be the CEO of a company or the CEO of a home, she said.

Among the activities: camping and other outdoor adventures; the STEM program, which centers around science, technology, engineering and math; Miss Media, which teaches girls about public speaking and how to cover events; health and wellness initiatives, such as anti-bullying efforts; and, of course, cookie selling.

Sparrow said the skills learned in scouting will help girls throughout their lives, no matter what they do.

"You don’t know where your life path will take you," she said.


Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC

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