Girl Scouts Seek to Adapt to Changing Times

The Girl Scouts have been around for 94 years. But is the venerable organization prepared to meet the needs of today's girls? Courtney Shore, senior vice president of the Girl Scouts, talks with Debbie Elliott about the group's self-declared "crisis of relevance."

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

As one tradition ends, another marches on. The Girl Scout motto is be prepared, but the 94-year-old organization now finds that it might not be prepared to serve the girls of the 21st century. This week, the Girl Scout announced a plan to update their programs to address what some leaders describe as a crisis of relevance.

Courtney Shore is a senior vice president of Girl Scouts of the USA.

Ms. Shore, you were on the committee that interviewed girls and wrote a report about this crisis of relevance. What is this crisis of relevance?

Ms. COURTNEY SHORE (Girls Scouts, USA): The crisis of relevance in this country is about the issues facing girls in their real lives. This is not an issue that faces just Girls Scouts. It's an issue that faces any organization that works with girls. The crisis of relevance, it's really about how they use their time, the things they're being exposed to, and the fears that they have about their future.

ELLIOTT: What did they say about the Girl Scouts as an organization and where it was and was not meeting their needs?

Ms. SHORE: And most of all what girls said was that they loved Girl scouting. They just wished that it was more cool to stay in, that we had a lot of girls say that they were not telling their friends that they were staying in the program, even though they were. They liked the fact that they're safe, that they're in a nurturing environment where they get to learn. But the pieces that we were really very interested in were some of the rather worrisome issues that are facing girls as young as nine years old.

ELLIOTT: Was there one thing that really stood out for you that you found surprising?

Ms. SHORE: I think the thing that I was personally the most touched by was how many girls were talking about being overscheduled, about already being on very severe diets, about feeling like they would be bullied. Forty-five percent of girls in class said that they don't raise their hand even when they know the answer because they're afraid of being bullied as being too smart.

There's a new term called cyber-bullying, where people are already spreading rumors about you through IM-ing and text messaging. And so knowing that a young woman who should be focusing on schoolwork and her family activities, knowing that these issues were impacting her life, was terribly important to us and one of the bigger findings that I found surprising.

ELLIOTT: You know, I noticed one of the findings that you reported was that girls reported problems with things like self-mutilation. How do you go about addressing such an issue in a program for a Girl Scout troop? What do you do?

Ms. SHORE: Well, youth development experts tell us that at the heart of most of the issues that we found is really self-esteem. And so part of our new leadership development program is around building self-esteem in girls so that when they're affected with the stressors that might impact such things as cutting or anorexia or some of the other scary things that are facing girls today, they have a network to go to, they've got friends who help them build self-confidence so that they are not more prone to those activities.

ELLIOTT: When you were talking to girls, were there any core issues that came up relating to race and class and how the Girl Scouts might become more relevant to the full spectrum of American girls?

Ms. SHORE: Absolutely. I'm so glad you asked the question. One of the things that we looked at were first generation children in this country who don't have families that know the system, so to speak, and how to access programs and activities that can help their child. And so we are working very, very hard...

ELLIOTT: Like how to sign up for the Girl Scouts.

Ms. SHORE: Like how to sign up for the Girl Scouts. We think about programs like our Girls Scouts Beyond Bars, where we go into prisons so that parents who have children outside of the prison system can experience a normal relationship that benefits not just the child but the parent.

ELLIOTT: When the Girl Scouts first started back in 1912, what would you say were the values at that time that made scouting relevant to girls?

Ms. SHORE: Well, it's interesting. Juliette Gordon Low, our founder, was one of the first female aviators in this country. She cared very much about making sure that girls had an alternative to being either married or in the factory and made sure that Girl scouting from day one had badges around things like telegraphy so that they knew how to use a telegraph machine. So from the very get-go we feel that we've been a very progressive organization.

ELLIOTT: Courtney Shore is a senior vice president with Girl Scouts of the USA. Thank you.

Ms. SHORE: You're very welcome. Thank you, Debbie.

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