Samoas or Do-Si-Dos?: Girl Scouts at it Again

The Girl Scouts are back with their signature cookie sales. Moms Jolene Ivey, Cheli English-Figaro and Davina McFarland talk about their love for the scouts. The women are joined by Gloria Randall Scott, the first African-American president of Girl Scouts USA.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Ordinarily today, you would hear from our money coach, with personal finance expert Alvin Hall, but we're going to hear from him on Friday for a fuller discussion about the economy and get his take on the various plans for jump-starting the economy. So we'll look forward to that.

And as usual, we remember that African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few mocha moms. We visit with members of this mother support group each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice.

Today, we want to talk about scouting, and you know if they haven't darkened the door of your home or office already, they will. It's cookie season. I'll have a word or two to say about that a little later, but there's a lot more to say about scouting than just Girl Scout cookies.

We were talking a couple of weeks ago and realized that one of the things our mocha moms have in common is that they are all former scouts or scout leaders, something they have in common with Hillary Clinton, First Lady Laura Bush, track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee and news anchor Katie Couric.

So today, we decided to talk more about scouting with our regular mocha moms, Jolene Ivey, Cheli English-Figaro and Davina McFarland, and we're pleased to have with us our special guest, Dr. Gloria Scott, the first African-American president of Girl Scouts, U.S.A. Welcome, ladies, moms.

MARTIN: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: Hello.

MARTIN: How are you?

D: Hello.

MARTIN: So Cheli, let's just tell our stories. You were a Girl Scout.

MARTIN: I was a Girl Scout, and my mom was a Girl Scout. And she insisted that I came home and wanted to be a Brownie, and I said to her mom, I don't know how that's possible. I wouldn't have known about Brownies because I'm an only child. There were no Brownies at my church, no Brownies at my school, so I don't know how I would've figured that I wanted to be a Brownie, but she insisted that it was my idea. I saw it somewhere, and there was no troop. So she became a leader. She got her training, and she started the troop that I belonged to.

MARTIN: And what do you think you got from that experience?

MARTIN: I know that my mom, at least in her troop, it was all about leadership skills, and so everyone had to be the president for like a month. Everyone then had to be the secretary and take notes for a month, and so that was really interesting because it was only seven-, eight- and nine-year-old girls. So that was like I think the first time I ever got to lead something.

MARTIN: Jolene, you were a Girl Scout.

MARTIN: Yeah, I loved being a Girl Scout, and my step-mom was my troop leader, and it was great. We really enjoyed the activities that we did together, but I think my favorite part of scouting was the camp in the summer. I'd go for two weeks, and I just thought that was so much fun.

And you just got so much out of not taking too many showers and learning how to start a fire and taking all those hikes.

MARTIN: But it made you feel competent? What, it just took you out of your regular world?

MARTIN: Right, yeah, I lived in Northeast D.C., so to go out into the mountains and spend all this time with nature, it was such a great bonding experience with other girls. I just thought that it was the most fun.

MARTIN: Davina, you were not a member growing up, but you are a Girl Scout troop leader now, and you're also involved with the Boy Scouts, right, because your boys are also scouts? So talk to me about that.

MARTIN: I have two Boy Scouts, a Cub Scout and a Brownie. So my family is a scouting family. And I'll tell you, my daughter decided when she was two. She could barely speak, but she had been to many, many, many Cub Scout meetings. And she said well, when I grow up and I'm a Hub Scout - and we kept saying well, Farrah(ph), first of all it's Cub, not Hub, and secondly, you're going to be a Girl Scout. And she was like whatever. When I am, I'm going to wear my uniform and my hat, and I'm going to do - so she was all excited about the uniform. That was the big thing for her.

MARTIN: But this is a big time commitment for you, and so I'd like to ask you why you think it's worth it.

MARTIN: I love the program. I believe in scouting. I think it just gives kids opportunities that they would not get in any other arena. You know, my kids have chosen scouting over a lot of sports and a lot of other things they could do. You get leadership opportunities that you don't get anywhere else.

MARTIN: Dr. Scott, you made history as the first African-American president of Girl Scouts in 1975. Why did you want to do that?

D: The truth is I didn't - I was not pursuing to be the president. I really wasn't. I was doing what I considered to be I guess a good job with girl scouting because I'd had a commitment to that. I was a girl Girl Scout in Houston, and I only joined as I was a teenager because my family couldn't afford the membership dues when I was very young.

But as soon as I started working at a drug store, and I was making 50 cents an hour, I figured out I was going to pay membership dues and join girl scouting...

MARTIN: But when people say leadership skills, what are they talking about?

D: Well, they're talking about the ability to really be able to interact with other people. That's critical, and to know how to - I would say lead, and then also how to follow. Lead and following go directly hand in hand, and you do that in a safe environment, and then it also helps them to build responsibility areas, for example, when they go to camp.

They have things called a (unintelligible) chart, where all the activities to be done in the camp are divided up, and then girls are assigned each day to do those, and they realize that they are responsible for that particular thing, but it is important to all of the other girls. And if each group doesn't do its job well, then everything else does not move.

And that whole interaction and relationship is a critical skill that girls learn early and practice, and then later, of course, it crosses over to college, to school, and everything else.

MARTIN: I'd like to ask each of you, I think the image a lot of people have of Scouting isn't necessarily an image of women of color or men of color, even though there have been some sort of prominent men who have - and women, obviously - who have been Scouts. So I'd like to ask, do you ever feel any kind of a cultural distance in Scouting? Davina?

MARTIN: Not in my area, only because we live in a highly predominate African-American area, but when we go outside, sure, you can see it, but you know, I'm proud of that. I'm proud of the fact that, you know, my husband is the district chairperson and I'm one of the troop leaders, and my service unit manager is an African-American woman too.

D: May I just join in for a moment on that?

MARTIN: Sure.

D: When I joined the national board in 1969, there were two African-American women out of 65 members of the board, and so the board made a deliberate decision that it would create 15 positions so that a critical mass of African-American, Native-American and Hispanic-American women would join the board out of 65 and could therefore be influential.

MARTIN: Let me ask you this, though, Dr. Scott, though; why do you think it's important to the Scouting organization that it be diverse?

D: Because we all bring, as human beings, skills an abilities that are the same, and the color of the skin, and the background in culture means that this is the world, and certainly this is us in America, deliberately created for us in America.

It is important for all kinds of girls, white girls, Asian girls, Hispanic, black, to understand that the abilities of everybody is needed by Girl Scouting and that the color of the skin is a factor that they bring genetically with them.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News, and I'm having our weekly visit with the mocha moms, and we're joined by special guest Dr. Gloria Scott, the first African-American president of Girl Scouts, U.S.A. Cheli, you started as a Brownie, but you stayed in Scouting...

MARTIN: I stayed in scouting...

MARTIN: Until - how old were you?

MARTIN: I left scouting right as I got into high school, I think.

MARTIN: Well, I wanted to ask because I think a lot of people associate scouting with younger girls, and I wanted to ask what do you think it offers older girls.

MARTIN: The only reason I didn't stick with Scouting, I think, is because we didn't really have a senior troop in my area, because I thought it was wonderful. I mean, I thought that - particularly as I got older, the opportunities were heightened in terms of what the Girl Scouts had to do and what we were charged to do.

MARTIN: Davina?

MARTIN: The opportunities that Scouting offers for older children, you know, the travel opportunities, there are programs that aren't available to teenagers outside of Scouting, and I don't think that people really realize that. And they get caught up - you know, teenagers get caught up in other things. They're doing sports and all kinds of other academic things, and they don't think they have time for Scouting. The time you decide to put in is probably enough.

MARTIN: Jolene, I have to ask you, because you've got five boys, and you mentioned that your boys did not participate in Scouting, even though you had a great experience with it as a girl. Why is that?

MARTIN: Well, you know, and my brother was a Boy Scout, and my dad was involved in his troop, and it was hard for me when my kids - I have all these boys, five boys, and the youngest is in second grade right now. So in theory I could have quite a few Scouts, but I really, really don't like the Boy Scouts stance against homosexuals, and I just - I can't have my kids involved in an organization where that is part of their philosophy.

MARTIN: The stance is that if you are an out-of-the-closet person, you can't be troop leader.

MARTIN: I think it's mostly for the men. Right, yeah, you can't be a troop leader, and that whole thing bothers me, as if because you're gay you're a pedophile. Well, that's ridiculous, and I don't want to feed into it, I don't want to be a part of it, and I'm just sorry that the Boy Scouts has that as part of their platform.

MARTIN: Davina, where do you come out on this question?

MARTIN: Personally, I agree with Jolene. I don't agree with their stance on homosexuality, but I do agree with their stance on so many other things that I could not let that one thing outweigh all the good.

MARTIN: I've got to ask about the cookies though, which are fabulous.

MARTIN: On sale now through March 29.

MARTIN: But I think a lot of people experience the Girl Scouts from parents bringing the selling forms, the order forms to work, and so they say to themselves, okay, well, how is this leadership for the girls if the parents are the ones selling at work?

MARTIN: I wish the parents didn't do that, honestly. My daughter actually went and sold 150 boxes by herself. Our girls also do booth sales, and they are outside your local grocery stores probably right now. So you know, I wish that parents didn't do that because it doesn't give the girls the leadership opportunity. It doesn't give them any salesmanship. They don't have any ownership of that. Yes, they'll earn the patch - whoopty - but they didn't earn it; their parents earned it.

D: You know, back in the actual girl council, in the troop, though they get the experience of counting up and the financial experience of what they did, and they also are usually bound to it because they understand that this money especially goes to help in many local councils, the camperships. That's how I went to camp every summer, based on the cookie sales in our area.

MARTIN: And the cookies are delicious.

MARTIN: They are fabulous. I am going to go and ask everybody what their favorite cookie is before we go, but Dr. Scott, a final thought from you about your wonderful experience seeing - you know, helping young women become whoever they are meant to be. Is there something you can sort of point to in Scouting that you would argue kind of helps that process along, given all the experience that you have?

D: I would say about three things. One is the girl-adult interaction with the troop leader. The troop leader is critical. And then the girl-girl interaction. The interaction with girls as peers, and then the girls looking at younger girls, what can they do to help. But critical to Girl Scouting really is the fact that they girls make a promise, and people, they look at that and they say, oh really.

But when you read that - you take the promise each time and you look at the words on my honor, I'm pledging my honor to do something, and girls really do internalize this, and one of the ways that Girl Scouting nationally has made its commitment to pluralism, because that was one of things (unintelligible) Scouting for black girls and girls of other races - is that we ended up with a new pin. Our Girl Scout pin is now 30 years old, the new one, and it has the faces of girls, and the three faces are ethnic faces out of bio-anthropology. And this is the whole notion of our commitment, wherever, to pluralism.

MARTIN: Well Dr. Scott, thank you so much, and I have to ask, what's your favorite cookie?

D: The shortbread.

MARTIN: The shortbreads, okay. We've got a shortbread fan. All right, Dr. Scott, thank you. Cheli, what's your - I want to ask you, what's your favorite cookie, but I also wanted to ask...

MARTIN: Samoa.

MARTIN: Samoa. That's so easy. That's like...

MARTIN: Are you kidding me? And I like thin mints too, but the Samoas are great.

MARTIN: What was your favorite badge, by the way, that you earned?

MARTIN: We had to do a dancing badge. It was folk dancing, and I remember my troop had to go out in the middle of White Plains Road in New York City, dressed up in peasant dresses, and we had to learn the folk dances, and we had to do that in front of everyone in the middle of the street.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: It sounds like - that sounds like hazing to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You know, but we did it, and we had fun, so...

MARTIN: All right. Jolene, what's your favorite cookie?

MARTIN: Thin mints, although I really miss the ones back in the old days. They're like butter cookies. You could stick your finger up in the middle, it had that hole in them, and they stopped making those when they changed bakeries. I'm still going through withdrawal.

MARTIN: Let me tell you something. I'm very upset about the whole cafe cookie thing, those brown sugar ones they had last year. I'm bitter about that. I was tearing those up.

MARTIN: The cookie they replaced it with, which is the lemon cream, has quickly become the most popular cookie.

MARTIN: That doesn't change how I feel.

MARTIN: Okay, but I promise you, you're going to like these.

MARTIN: Well, we'll see. And Jolene, what was your favorite badge?

MARTIN: It had something to do with building a fire, but I can't remember. I'm a little bit older than Cheli.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Okay. And Davina, what's the favorite - do you have a favorite badge that one of your kids has earned? And what's your favorite cookie?

MARTIN: My favorite Girl Scout badge was Games Around the World, and that was fun because the girls learned to play the game, you know, from all these different countries, but they also learned to say the words in different languages, and that was funny, hearing six-year-olds speak Japanese.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Who weren't Japanese.

MARTIN: Right, who weren't Japanese, exactly. So that was fun.

MARTIN: And your favorite cookie?

MARTIN: My favorite cookies is the Trefoil, the shortbread.

MARTIN: Okay. Davina McFarland, Jolene Ivey, and Cheli English-Figaro joined us from our studios here in Washington, as always; and Dr. Gloria Scott joined us from KUVO in Denver. Ladies, moms, Scouts, Scout's honor, thank you so much.

MARTIN: Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Thank you.

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