In some ways, the Girls Scouts are a victim of their own success.
Not so long ago, girls encountered limited opportunities for clubs, sports and other activities while growing up. The Girl Scouts, an organization founded before women even had the right to vote in this country, filled this void with opportunities for friendship, leadership and the development of skills and character. Millions of young girls took advantage and claimed a shared right of passage through the earning of badges and the entrepreneurial lessons of selling cookies.
Today, the organization offers badges in robotics and environmental stewardship, in an attempt to adapt to the 21st century. The problem is there is no badge on how to turn a 24-hour day into a 28-hour day.
Today, girls enjoy a vastly different landscape, with everything from travel soccer and softball to theater, band and figure skating among the possibilities. Girls can join wrestling teams and, as of 2018, sign up for the Boy Scouts, a development that sparked a trademark infringement lawsuit. Parents of both boys and girls might need a color-coded scheduler just to keep track of what’s happening on different nights.
Who can say this is a bad thing, especially since so much idle time is now spent staring at a small screen? But all these opportunities come at a price, with membership in the Girl Scouts falling to under 2 million on a national level. By contrast, more than 3 million girls participate in some kind of high school sport.
This presents a backstory of the decision, announced last week, to close Girl Scout offices in St. Joseph and Topeka, Kansas. Girl Scouts of NE Kansas and NW Missouri phrased the restructuring in terms of efficient use of resources and commitments to continue offering the same level of service for 18,803 members in a 47-county area that includes St. Joseph.
Organizations like this make similar moves all the time, and it doesn’t have to mean irrelevance or a downward spiral. It just means that the Girl Scouts now compete in a world with far more options for current and future members. These are options that the organization, in a way, helped to develop through years of opening doors to possibilities for girls who are making the journey to adulthood.
We hope that the Girl Scouts continue to find a way to remain adaptive and relevant, more than 100 years after the organization’s founding in Savannah, Georgia. If you think its time has passed, consider these facts: women account for a quarter of the current congressional membership, and only 18 percent of computer science degrees go to women.
It was always about more than cookies.