In light of the recent decision by Boy Scouts of America to recruit girls, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about our all-girl, girl-led, girl-focused organization. At Girl Scouts, we take creating and delivering programs for girls seriously.

Let’s clear up some misinformation about Girl Scouts. Then let’s recognize the Girl Scout difference that empowers girls to become strong, healthy women.

The Girl Scouts have their own “Eagle” Scout, and she is called a Gold Award Girl Scout. The Gold Award is a rigorous achievement producing a project that addresses a local or global problem and is sustainable into the future.

Hundreds of Girl Scouts nationwide earn this distinction every year, spending upward of 100 hours on projects that make a true impact in their communities. The Gold Award allows for special scholarships, entering the armed forces one rank higher than other recruits and affords higher educational career outcomes than their peers.

Here are just a few recent examples of Maine Gold Award Girl Scouts:

• Natalie Gale of Cape Elizabeth created Cultural Connections, a program in Cape Elizabeth and Portland schools where students help refugee and English Language Learning students with their academic work and tutor them in English, developing bonds of acceptance and support along the way.

• Kate Ginder, also of Cape Elizabeth, produced the video “A Dyslexia Buddy,” explaining in simple terms what dyslexia is and sharing stories of its impact from children of all ages. The video is recognized by the International Dyslexia Association and is being showcased at their national conference.

• Sara Imam of Skowhegan created a multi-purpose room for homeless families with a library, art supplies, games and educational materials, making a safe space for families to be together.

Girl Scout programming is expansive, with 165 national proficiency badges, including Rollercoaster Design Challenge and Digital Movie Maker. Also, every council develops its own “patch” programs tied to a local interest. Maine’s include the Lobster patch, where girls learn about this important industry, and the Sustainable Maine patch program, where girls flex their citizenship muscles by promoting a statewide paint recycling program with the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Added to this skill-building collection are opportunities like world travel with Maine’s own Girls on the Go and GSUSA’s Destinations programs, science, technology, engineering and math experiences at the University of Maine, becoming a Junior Maine Guide through a challenging certificate program and learning about astrophysics at NASA’s Goddard Space Center.

Let’s not forget that Girl Scouts do hundreds of community service projects, explore the outdoors at our four Maine Girl Scout camps, connect with their sister Girl Scouts at camporees held around the state and learn outdoor skills like canoeing, archery, fire-building, outdoor survival and foraging.

Most importantly, Girl Scouts helps build tomorrow’s leaders. During the World Economic Forum, 86 percent of the respondents reported a worldwide leadership crisis, yet women hold only 10 to 20 percent of leadership positions in the world. UNESCO reports that women remain largely absent at all levels of policy formulation and decision-making.

Creating more female leaders means starting young and making sure girls acquire the skills they need to take on 21st-century leadership roles. The Girl Scout mission is exactly that: to develop girls from 5 to 18 years old to become leaders in their own lives and in the world they live in.

Girl Scouts has shaped the lives of some amazing alumnae, including Susan Collins, Chellie Pingree, Katie Couric, Taylor Swift, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton and Venus Williams. Statistics show that Girl Scout involvement produces strong and accomplished women: Fifty percent of female business leaders were Girl Scouts, as were 80 percent of female technology leaders, 76 percent of female U.S. senators and 100 percent of female U.S. secretaries of state.

Current research shows Girl Scouts are more likely than non-Girl Scouts to have a strong sense of self and positive values, seek challenges and learn from setbacks, develop and maintain healthy relationships and exhibit community problem-solving skills.

Most of a child’s life is spent in a co-ed environment. Studies indicate that both boys and girls benefit from single-gender experiences where they learn better and do not assign gender bias to activities. At Girl Scouts, girls find a safe space to express and be themselves, without the pressure and social anxieties of a co-ed environment. Girl Scouts are preparing them to be resilient for a lifetime of leadership in the world.

As families and girls choose how to spend their time, I know of no other organization more devoted to developing the great potential of girls than Girl Scouts.

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