Girl Scouts sell cookies, volunteer at food pantries, and learn how to change a tire on a car, all activities that have appeal for boys as well.
But in Medford, Quincy, Concord, and beyond, Girl Scouts and leaders say they see value in a single-sex program that fosters confidence and leadership.
Few, if any, said they plan to sign up with the Boy Scouts this year after the organization opens its doors to girls in October.
“I think it’s great that they want to get Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts together and show it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy,” said Brianna Joyce, a 14-year-old ninth grader in Quincy. “But at the same time, Girl Scouts are empowering girls to be themselves. Around the boys, they’re not themselves.
“Girl Scouts teaches you to stand up as a girl and don’t let men push. You get more confidence, [you can] be who you are.”
Lisa Lynch, leader of a Junior Girl Scout troop in Concord, wrote in an e-mail, “If Boy Scouts is able to offer even one girl a place in a troop who would otherwise have not had the opportunity, then it is worth it. Not every girl lives in a place where a Girl Scout troop is an option. . . . Who in the world would begrudge her the Scout experience? Not any Girl Scout that I know.”
Both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts work on badges that develop proficiencies, pursue service projects to improve their communities, and include camping, conferences, and travel.
But it’s the cookie sales — last year, Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts sold more than two million boxes — that capture the public’s attention.
“We’re the largest girl-led business in the world,” said Carrie Weatherbee, chief membership services officer for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, which includes 32,000 girls and 15,000 adult volunteers.
Cookies finance programs. But what’s also as plain as the icing on a Thin Mint is the role of parent volunteers — particularly mothers — who keep the all-girl organization going.
“We had no one step up to take the training to lead the troop. So I did,” said Lynch, the Concord mother of two girls, who volunteered to lead her older daughter Catherine’s Daisy troop after the family moved to Concord about five years ago.
Now, she’s troop leader for 11-year-old Catherine’s Junior troop and a volunteer for 7-year-old Aisling’s Daisy troop.
Something similar happened when Courtney Joyce’s daughters were ready for Girl Scouts.
“I stepped up to do it myself,” said the Quincy resident, a schoolteacher and mother of three, who became a troop leader when her oldest was ready for Daisies and there was no troop leader. “I was a Girl Scout and I wanted her to be a part of it.”
Two years later, when her daughter graduated to Brownies, Joyce volunteered to run that troop and recruited another mom to help. Now, she leads her older daughter’s senior troop and her younger one’s Brownie troop.
“It’s the quality time you get with the kids . . . the relationships you get to build . . . the amount of trust they have in me,” Joyce said. “I can’t let them down.”
In Medford, Monique O’Connell found herself in a similar quandary when her daughter, Marianne, now 16, was in third grade and a second-year Brownie.
“They had belonged to a troop that was larger and had second and third grade, so her troop leader asked to divide the troop and needed a leader to take the third-graders,” said O’Connell, who took over the troop, starting with 16 third-graders, and now leads her daughter’s senior troop, 17 girls in ninth and 10th grades.
Marianne, a 10th-grader whose passions are drama, dance, and camp, holds a record for the highest cookie sales. This summer she’ll be a first-year counselor-in-training at Wind-in-the-Pines, a Girl Scout overnight camp in Plymouth.
When the Boy Scouts announced that they were inviting girls to join, Marianne wasn’t convinced it was a good idea.
“[Girl Scouts] is a great way to develop confidence and try things, not feel pressure,” she said. “It’s a totally no judgment environment where you’re able to be yourself, discover a better version of yourself.”
Doreen Arcus, an associate professor in psychology at UMass Lowell who specializes in children’s social development, said “the research is a little mixed” on single sex versus co-ed education.
But as a former Girl Scout with a 50-year-old uniform tucked away in a box in her home, she said she has a “warm, fuzzy feeling” about her Girl Scout experiences and a deep appreciation for her parents’ involvement.
“Parents get girls into scouts,” she said. “Scouting doesn’t come in isolation. It comes as a whole support system around that child.”Hattie Bernstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.