By Ryan Pangilinan and Tiffany Ran
Northwest Asian Weekly
Whenever the Girl Scouts comes up in casual conversation, the image of young moppets peddling cookies in front of supermarkets across America is usually conjured up. However, Girl Scouts of the USA represents more than highly desired baked goods.
“I think what people need to recognize about the Girl Scouts is that it’s very much a grass roots organization,” said Grace Chien. “Most of our programs and Girl Scout troops, which are led by adult volunteers, [and] their service to the community [are] driven by the interests of the girls.”
Chien is the chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of Western Washington. “What we are about is helping girls to develop confidence, to be able to stand up for their beliefs and values.”
Honoring Our Past
Girls participating in the program have the option of earning a special patch called Honoring Our Past. To earn the patch, a girl scout would have to do an oral history and participate in Asian Pacific activities, in addition to other things.
The idea for Honoring Our Past came from the awareness that the experiences of women of color who were involved in Girl Scouts were never documented, according to its website.
Reaching past the suburbs
“What we’ve discovered is that this particular [suburban] model is not as accessible to kids from low-income backgrounds to kids in immigrant communities who are particularly isolated from the broader community,” Chien said.
When major wind storms hit the Seattle area in 2006, high school student Natalie Marr and her family were left with no electricity for eight days. Marr, now a senior, decided to make preparedness her focus for earning a Girl Scout Gold Award.
“After experiencing the windstorm of 2006, I wondered who else was not prepared like me, and I immediately thought of low-income families in the greater Seattle community,” said Marr. “Living on Mercer Island, I feel very blessed to have many resources available to me and a lot of family close to home. Unfortunately for many people in Seattle, that may not be the case. I have always been taught, the more you have, the more you should give back, and I saw this project as a great opportunity to help those in need.”
Marr, who is half Chinese, half Swiss, hosted a preparedness booth at her school for a week and organized a collection of supplies to assemble into disaster kits and donate to at-risk populations.
Another part of the Girl Scout’s program involves creating a troop of girls who are all in foster care, and keeping them together throughout their tenure in the Girl Scouts.
Currently, Girl Scouts Beyond Bars (GSBB) gives young girls the opportunity to visit their incarcerated mothers and take part in mother-daughter troop meetings.
“[We’re able to create] a safe community for these girls and able to give some level of normalcy in their lives and to identify with other girls who are facing similar challenges, to learn and grow together, and to reconnect with their moms and build some sort of relationship, despite their incarceration,” explained Chien.
Julie Nguyen, a freshman at a Kent high school, is one girl who has benefitted greatly from being a scout. Nguyen had a rough childhood. She was abandoned by her mother for 3 years, during which time she lived with her grandmother.
“I felt so lost and didn’t know what to do anymore,” Nguyen said. “I was losing friends, and I felt like I was losing myself as well …”
“Before I joined Girl Scouts, I was this girl who didn’t think about going to college or think about doing good in school. I didn’t have many friends because I was pretty mean,” Nguyen said. “But when Girl Scouts came into my life, I became this outgoing, funny, respectful girl with lots of potential.”
Nguyen has been a scout for five years. “In my troop, all of us girls are very close. Not only are we friends, but we’re like family. We help each other out when one of us is in trouble or in need of someone to talk to. Especially Ms. Diana, and Ms. Michelle. They always ask us about our grades in school or how we’re doing. They actually care about us, and usually you don’t see that very often.”
Perhaps the most valuable thing that Girl Scouts has done for Nguyen is allow her to consider a future where she is college-educated.
“We did a college visit to Western Washington [University],” said Nguyen. “We got to learn about college life for a day. Boy, was I very shocked! People there were really nice. I always thought college would be very hard, and people would be mean, but honestly, no one was!” ♦
For more information, visit www.girlscoutsww.org. Stacy Nguyen contributed to this story.
Ryan Pangilinan and Tiffany Ran can be reached at email@example.com.
Corrected 3/22: Girl Scouts Beyond Bars