AUGUSTA — A local Girl Scout community service project has led to the dismissal of two of the troop’s leaders by the Girl Scouts of Maine.

An Augusta-based troop worked to secure donations of materials and money from local businesses and other donors to put up a sign and make other improvements to the city’s dog park.

It’s not that the project didn’t turn out well. By all accounts, it did.

Nor have there been any allegations that money raised for the project was mishandled or misspent.

The problem, according to Girl Scouts of Maine, is that Scouts were prohibited from collecting money for the project to begin with.

National and state policies of the Girl Scouts ban Scouts and their leaders from soliciting monetary donations for projects, no matter how worthy, according to Diane Lasher, chief operating officer of Girl Scouts of Maine.

“Both Girls Scouts of the USA and of Maine have a policy that neither girls nor adults may directly solicit for cash,” Lasher said. “It’s a long-standing policy. It doesn’t have anything to do with the girls or the project. The project was great. It’s just how they went about getting the money.

“The bottom line is they knew the policy and they blatantly disregarded it.”

Marianne Sansouci, adult leader of the sign project at Mill Park, and Michelle Brown, leader of Augusta-based Troop 2901, were both dismissed after they submitted checks donated for the project to the state organization.

Now, those leaders and others involved in the project want to see that policy changed, so Girl Scouts can raise money for community projects.

“The girls are extremely upset,” Sansouci said. “They worked so hard, put so much of themselves into this. We want to change the policy so this doesn’t happen to other girls.”

Brown, who founded the troop in 2007, said Girl Scouts are allowed to accept donations of materials for community service projects. But she said some businesses, such as Kennebec Savings Bank, and organizations, such as the local Kiwanis Club, didn’t have materials to donate, but still wanted to help out.

So they wrote checks. And the Scouts accepted them. Monetary donations ended up totaling $1,800 of the $2,371 total project value, local Scout leaders said.

Learning experience

Jeanne Gibson’s daughter, Yulia, is a troop member who was involved in the dog park project. The accounting firm Gibson, LeClair and Martin, where Jeanne Gibson is a partner, contributed $250.

Gibson said her firm, like other contributors, was initially asked by the girls if the business would buy a planter for the project. Instead, they ended up giving a check.

“It’s not something we regularly do, go out and purchase materials for a community project, but we were glad to give a donation,” Gibson said. “I think it would be extremely limiting for community projects like this if businesses and organizations can only donate materials.”

Gibson, who helped teach the girls how to make presentations seeking donations to businesses and organizations, said that it benefited the girls to go out in the community and raise money. It allowed them to see the financial side of the project.

“They learned a tremendous amount, things they wouldn’t have learned if they had just gone out and said, ‘give me a planter,'” Gibson said. “It’s real world for the girls to learn how to do this.”

Gibson, an accountant, noted donors to the project should know their money was handled responsibly and that it did indeed go into the dog park project as intended.

She said she was surprised and saddened to learn Girl Scouts aren’t allowed to directly accept money for community projects.

Sansouci said she thought it would be OK to accept donations as long as they were for a specific project.

“I knew we were not allowed to get sponsorship,” she said. “I thought it would be OK if we did them as troop donations and sent it through the (Girls Scouts of Maine), so it was very transparent. Never in my dreams did I imagine they’d get so wound up about such a small thing as this.”

Katz encouragement

The were encouraged to take on the dog park project by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, an early proponent of creating the dog park when he served as mayor of Augusta.

Katz weighed in on the controversy Thursday.

“I don’t know anything about the internal rules of the Girl Scouts, but I do know that (Marianne) and Michelle helped lead their troop through a wonderful community project,” Katz said. “I was so impressed with them as role models and I could see the affection and respect for them on the faces of the girls in their charge.”

Both Brown nor Sansouci said they do not want to be reinstated to their troop leadership positions, but they do want to see the policy changed.

“I just don’t have it in me anymore,” Brown said. “I don’t feel we’ve been supported by the organization. I’m big into giving back to the community and doing badge work with the girls, but feel the (state organization) has lost its core values. I think they’re more into the organizational aspect of it, instead of putting the girls first.”

She said troop projects over the years have included marching in parades, planting tulip bulbs at Augusta City Center and donating food baskets at Thanksgiving. She said the girls gave up a good piece of their summer vacations to work on the dog park project, which they completed in hopes of receiving the Silver Award, the highest award for their age group.

Girl Scouts of Maine’s Lasher, meanwhile, said she believes the girls of Troop 2901 will still get their Silver Awards for the dog park project, despite the controversy over the fundraising.

“It has nothing to do with the girls,” Lasher said of the dismissal of Sansouci and Brown. “It’s really about adult role models.”

Sansouci, in her 10th year in Scouting, said she still plans to be involved as a parent volunteer for as long as her daughter, Sydney, remains involved.

“It’s a great way to do fun stuff and serve the community,” she said. “My daughter enjoys it. I still enjoy it. I just love the girls. Regardless of whether I can sign forms (as a member of troop leadership), I still want to be involved. It is about the girls.”

Lasher, while she said she can’t discuss specifics about the new Troop 2901 leadership, said the Girl Scouts will make every effort to make sure there is solid leadership in place.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]