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The Girl Scout Experience

Girl Scouts was founded in 1912 by trailblazer Juliette Gordon Low, the original G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ powerhouse. We are the largest leadership development organization for girls in the world and a member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, a sisterhood of close to 10 million girls and adults in 150 countries. With programs from coast to coast and across the globe, Girl Scouts offers every girl the chance to practice a lifetime of leadership, adventure, and success. 

Who Can Join Girl Scouts—and How?

Girl Scouts is about sharing the fun, friendship, and the inherent power of girls and women in an inclusive, supportive, girl-led environment!

Girl Scout volunteers are a dynamic and diverse group, and there’s no one “type” of volunteer. Whether you’re a recent college grad, a parent, a retiree, or really, anyone with a sense of curiosity and adventure (female or male, who has passed the necessary screening process), your unique skills and experiences help make Girl Scouting a powerful leadership experience for girls. 

What all members share are the Girl Scout Promise and Law, as well as our extraordinary strengths as go-getters, innovators, risk-takers, and leaders. Each member also agrees to follow safety guidelines and pay the annual membership dues of $25. Adults have the option to purchase a lifetime membership for $400.

Girls at Every Grade Level

Girls can join in the fun at any grade level:

Girl Scout Daisy (grades K–1)

Girl Scout Brownie (grades 2–3)

Girl Scout Senior (grades 9–10)

Girl Scout Cadette (grades 6–8)

Girl Scout Junior (grades 4–5)

Girl Scout Ambassador (grades 11–12)

Girl Scout Organizational Structure

Girl Scouts is the world’s largest nonprofit leadership development for girls, currently encompassing 1.8 million girl members and 800,000 volunteers! Three core structures support all our members: the national headquarters, your council, and your service unit.

National Organization (GSUSA)

The national office of Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), located in New York City, employs roughly 300 employees. GSUSA is a member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). You’ll find a wealth of resources for both girls and volunteers on the GSUSA website. Global Girl Scouting ensures that girls have increased awareness about the world, cross-cultural learning opportunities, and education on relevant global issues that may inspire them to take action to make the world a better place. Since 1925, USA Girl Scouts Overseas (USAGSO), a division of Global Girl Scouting, has helped ease the transition for American families relocating overseas by offering the familiar traditions and exciting opportunities of Girl Scouting to girls abroad. USAGSO now serves thousands of American girls living overseas, as well as girls attending American or international schools. Through Global Girl Scouting, members participate in World Thinking Day on February 22, visit the four WAGGGS world centers (see “Girl Scout Travel and Destinations” on Page 13), participate in international travel, and take action on global issues.

Your Council (GSOSW)

Girl Scout councils are chartered by the national organization to invite and retain members in a geographic area, provide ways for girls to participate in Girl Scouting, create an environment that reflects Girl Scout values and ideals, manage volunteers’ experience with Girl Scouting, and keep girls and volunteers as safe as possible. The national office provides support materials to all councils to ensure that the Girl Scout experience is nationally consistent. Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington (GSOSW) serves more than 14,000 girls in 37 counties. These girls are supported by nearly 80 full‐time staff and more than 8,000 adults committed to helping them achieve the Girl Scout mission. We have service centers located in Bend, Eugene, Medford and Portland, Oregon.

Your Service Unit

GSOSW is divided into several regional areas called service units. Service units are each led by a team of dedicated volunteers who provide local support, learning opportunities, and advice. As a volunteer, you will have the most contact with the volunteers in your own service unit. If you have questions about the Girl Scout program, working with girls, resources in the National Program Portfolio (National Leadership Journeys and The Girl’s Guide to Girl Scouting), or selling Girl Scout Cookies and other products, you can always go to your team for answers and ongoing support in all things Girl Scouting. Service units hold monthly volunteer meetings for the adults in their area.

The Girl Scout Leadership Experience

At Girl Scouts, everything centers around the girl: Activities are girl-led, which gives girls the opportunity to take on leadership roles and learn by doing in a cooperative learning environment. It’s what makes Girl Scouts truly unique—our program is designed by, with, and for girls. 

The Girl Scout Leadership Experience (GSLE) is what girls do and how they do it.  When girls participate in the GSLE, they experience five measurable leadership benefits or outcomes that will fuel their success. And although girls may start building their leadership skills in school and on sports teams, research shows that the courage, confidence, and character they develop as Girl Scouts stay with them throughout their lives.

What girls do in Girl Scouting all fits within three keys: discover, connect and take action. 

  • When girls do exciting badge activities, earn a Girl Scout Journey award, attend an amazing event, or go camping, you are helping them discover who they are, what they care about, and what their talents are. 

  • Girls connect when they collaborate with other people, learn from others, and expand their horizons. This helps them care about, inspire, and team with others locally and globally. 

  • With your guidance, these budding leaders will connect with and care about others, and they’ll be eager to take action to make the world a better place.  

As for how they do it? The GSLE draws on three unique processes that help girls unlock the leader within. 

  • Girl-led means girls of every age take an active and age-appropriate role in figuring out the what, where, when, why, and how of all the exciting troop activities they’ll do. The girl-led process is critically important to the GSLE—when girls know their voice matters, they feel empowered to make decisions and they stay engaged in their activities. 

  • Girls enjoy hands-on activities and learn by doing. Then, after reflecting on their activities, girls gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and skills the activities require.

  • Through cooperative learning, girls learn to share knowledge and skills in an atmosphere of respect and cooperation as they work toward a common goal. 

As a volunteer, you’ll draw on these Girl Scout processes as you lead girls of any age. Girl-led at the Daisy level will look very different from the Ambassador level, of course. What’s most important is that girls make decisions about the activities to do together and that they also make choices within that activity. As they learn from their successes and failures—and gain a major confidence boost in the process—their girl-led process will give them the opportunity to lead within their peer group. By the time girls are Cadettes, Seniors, and Ambassadors, they’ll be using the leadership skills they’ve developed in order to mentor younger girls. 

One last tip about using the processes: Girls’ time in Girl Scouting isn’t a to-do list, so please don’t ever feel that checking activities off a list is more important than tuning in to what interests girls and sparks their imaginations. Projects don’t have to come out perfectly—in fact, it’s a valuable learning experience when they don’t—and girls don’t have to fill their vests and sashes with badges. Because what matters most is the fun and learning that happens as girls make experiences their own, don’t be afraid to step back and let your girls take the lead.

Reflection

Was a badge-earning activity a resounding success? Or was it derailed by something the girls hadn’t factored in? No matter an activity’s outcome, you can amplify its impact by encouraging your girls to reflect on their latest endeavor.  

Reflection is the necessary debrief that reinforces what the girls learned. As they explore the “whats” and “whys,” girls make meaningful connections between the activity at hand and future challenges that come their way. In other words, reflection gives girls the confidence boost they need to pick themselves up, try again, and succeed. 

Reflection doesn’t need to be a formal process, but you can kick-start the conversation with three simple questions: What?, So what?, and Now what?  

  • Go over with girls the what of the activity. For example, ask, “What did we do today? What part was your favorite? If we did it again, what would you want to do differently and what would you repeat?”    

  • Then move to the so what elements. You might ask, “So what did you learn by doing this activity? So what did you learn about yourself? So what did you learn about your community (or environment, school, or others) that you didn’t know before?”  

  • Lastly, review the now what with the girls. Say something like, “Now that we’ve done this, what would you like to do next? Now that you know this about yourselves, what would you like to try next? Now that we did this Take Action project, what do you think we should do next to make sure it continues on?”   

What?, So what?, and Now what?—or whatever style of reflection you choose to use with your girls—are powerful elements of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, and they’ll carry these lessons with them for the rest of their lives.

Progression

Although program elements—like outdoor expeditions or entrepreneurial ventures—align across all grade levels, Girl Scout Brownies and Juniors won’t be doing the same activities as seasoned Seniors and Ambassadors. Nevertheless, with your support, they will get there!

Girl Scout programming is designed to be progressive, and it’s what makes Girl Scouting fun and effective! By building on the knowledge and skills they gain year after year, your girls’ confidence will grow exponentially, and they’ll be eager to take the next steps. As a volunteer, you will cultivate a supportive, nonjudgmental space where girls can test their skills and be unafraid to fail.

Keep in mind that good progression drives success for girls. We’ve outlined some suggestions that will help you determine when your girls are ready for their next outdoor challenge or their next troop trip.

Inclusion

Girl Scouts has a strong commitment to inclusion and diversity, and we embrace girls of all abilities and backgrounds into our wonderful sisterhood. 

Inclusion is at the core of who we are; it’s about being a sister to every Girl Scout and celebrating our unique strengths. Part of the important work you do includes modeling friendship and kindness for your girls and showing them what it means to practice empathy. Here’s how you can nurture an inclusive troop environment.

Equal Treatment: Girl Scouts welcomes all members, regardless of race, ethnicity, background, disability, family structure, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, and socioeconomic status. When scheduling, planning, and carrying out activities, carefully consider the needs of all girls involved, including school schedules, family needs, financial constraints, religious holidays, and the accessibility of appropriate transportation and meeting places. 

The National Program Pillars

At Girl Scouts, girls lead their own adventures and team up with their fellow troop members in an all-girl environment to choose the exciting, hands-on activities that interest them most. Girl Scouts focuses on four areas (pillars) that form the foundation of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience: 

  • Outdoors: When girls embark on outdoor adventures, they learn to confidently meet challenges while developing a lifelong appreciation of nature.

  • Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM): Whether they’re building a robot, developing a video game, or studying the stars, girls become better problem-solvers and critical thinkers through STEM activities. 

  • Life skills: Girls discover they have what it takes to become outspoken community advocates, make smart decisions about their finances, and form strong, healthy relationships. As you help girls plan their activities, give them opportunities to explore and up their game in each of the pillar areas.  

  • Entrepreneurship: By participating in the Girl Scout Cookie Program or fall product program, girls learn the essentials of running their own business and how to think like entrepreneurs. 

The Volunteer Toolkit (VTK) can provide inspiring ideas so you can engage your troop in an exciting mix of activities all year long. For example, if you want to take your girls outside when doing a badge activity, look for the evergreen icon, which tells you that activity can be taken outdoors.  

The Important Difference Between Badges and Journeys

Journeys and badges are designed to give girls different leadership-building experiences, all while having fun!

  • Journeys are topic-specific experiences through which girls explore their world by doing hands-on activities and taking the reins on age-appropriate Take Action projects. Because of their leadership focus, Journeys are also a prerequisite for the prestigious Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards.  

  • Badges are all about skill building. When a Girl Scout earns a badge, it shows that she’s learned a new skill, such as how to make a healthy snack or take great digital photos. It may even spark an interest at school or plant the seed for a future career. Please remember that we don’t expect you to be an expert in the badge topics; just have fun learning by doing with the girls!

If they choose, girls can pursue the badges they’re excited about and Journey awards in the same year; encourage them to find the connections between the two to magnify their Girl Scout experience! While you’re having fun, keep in mind that the quality of a girl’s experience and the skills and pride she gains from earning leadership awards and skill-building badges far outweigh the quantity of badges she earns. 

The Difference Between Community Service and Take Action Projects

As your girls look for meaningful ways to give back to their community, you can help sharpen their problem-solving skills and expand their definition of doing good by discussing community service and Take Action projects. 

  • Community service projects are all about making an impact right now and filling an immediate need in the community.

  • Through their Take Action projects, girls change the world—or their part of it—and make it better, going forward. Take Action projects focus on creating a lasting, sustainable impact. 

Both projects serve important needs, but at different levels. If your troop members want to pursue their Bronze, Silver, or Gold Award, they’ll need to understand the kinds of projects that qualify. To make Take Action projects even more impactful for your girls, set time for them to reflect on their projects. When girls make time to internalize the lessons they’ve learned, they’re more likely to find success in their future projects—or anything else they put their minds to.  

Traditions, Ceremonies and Special Girl Scout Days

Time-honored traditions and ceremonies unite Girl Scout sisters—and the millions of Girl Scout alums who came before them—around the country and around the globe and remind girls how far their sisters have come and just how far they’ll go.

A few of those extra special days, when you’ll want to crank up the celebrations, include: 

  • Juliette Gordon Low's birthday or Founder's Day, October 31, marks the birth in 1860 of Girl Scouts of the USA founder Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah, Georgia.

  • World Thinking Day, February 22, celebrates the birthdays of Girl Guide/Girl Scout founder Robert, Lord Baden-Powell (1857–1941) and World Chief Guide Olave, Lady Baden-Powell (1889–1977).

  • Girl Scouts’ birthday, March 12, commemorates the day in 1912 when Juliette Gordon Low officially registered the organization's first 18 girl members in Savannah, Georgia.

Whether you are making cool SWAPS to share with new friends or closing your meetings with a friendship circle, your troop won’t want to miss out on these traditions, ceremonies, and special Girl Scout days.

Highest Awards

As your girls discover their passions and the power of their voices, they’ll want to take on an issue that’s captured their interest and is meaningful to them. Encourage them to turn their vision into reality by taking on the ultimate Take Action projects in order to earn Girl Scouts’ highest awards.  

The Girl Scout Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards honor girls who become forces for good and create a lasting impact on their communities, nationally and around the world. 

  • The Girl Scout Bronze Award can be earned by Juniors who have completed one Junior Journey.

  • The Girl Scout Silver Award can be earned by Cadettes who have completed one Cadette Journey.

  • The Girl Scout Gold Award takes making the world a better place to a new level by solving society’s grand challenges. Seniors and Ambassadors who have completed either two Girl Scout Senior-level Journeys, two Ambassador-level Journeys, or one of each can pursue their Gold Award. 

Did you know that a Girl Scout who has earned her Gold Award immediately advances one rank in all four branches of the U.S. military? A number of college scholarship opportunities also await Gold Award Girl Scouts. A girl does not, however, have to earn a Bronze or Silver Award before earning the Girl Scout Gold Award. She is eligible to earn any recognition at the grade level in which she is registered.

Ask your council about the Gold Award Girl Scouts in your community and how they’re doing their part to make the world a better place. For some serious inspiration, consider inviting a local Gold Award Girl Scout to speak to your girls about how she took the lead and made a difference. You’ll be inspired when you see and hear what girls can accomplish as leaders—and by the confidence, values, and team-building expertise they gain while doing so!

Girl Scout Travel and Destinations

From their first local field trip as Daisies to exploration of another country as Seniors or Ambassadors, girls will find that Girl Scouts is the best way to travel. They’ll challenge themselves in a safe environment that sparks their curiosity, and they’ll create lifelong memories with their Girl Scout sisters.

Traveling with Girl Scouts is very different from traveling with family, school, or other groups because girls take the lead. As they make the decisions about where to go and what to do and take increasing responsibility for the planning and management of their trips, girls build important organizational and management skills that will benefit them in college and beyond.

Girl Scout travel is built on a progression of activities, so girls are set up for success. Daisies and Brownies start with field trips and, as they gain experience and grow older, progress to day trips, indoor overnights, camping and weekend trips. Juniors can take adventures farther with a longer trip within the council region (within 200 miles outside of GSOSW council boundaries). Eventually, when girls are Cadettes, Seniors, and Ambassadors, they can travel the United States and the world. There are even opportunities for older girls to travel independently by joining trips their councils organize or participating in Destinations. There’s a whole world of possibilities!

See GSOSW Council Volunteer Policies and Procedures Page 14 for information on travel requirements.

The recommended progression of trips and travel for Girl Scouts are:

1.      Short trips to local points of interest (Daisies and older) (Requires Day Trips Training): A walk to the nearby garden or a short ride by car or public transportation to the firehouse or courthouse is a great first step.

2.     Day trip (Daisies and older) (Requires Day Trips Training): An all-day visit to a point of historical or natural interest (bringing their own lunch) or a day-long trip to a nearby city (stopping at a restaurant for a meal). Younger girls can select locations and do much of the trip-planning, while never being too far from home. Note: Full-day trips may be very challenging for Daisies, especially for kindergarteners who have not experienced short trips. Make sure girls take some short trips before they progress to a full day trip.

3.     Overnight trips (Brownies and older) (Requires Indoor Overnights Training): A trip of one (or possibly two) nights away could start with staying at a Girl Scout property, and progress to a visiting to a state or national park or nearby city for sightseeing, staying in a hotel, motel, or even an overnight at a museum or the zoo! These short trips are just long enough to whet their appetites, but not long enough to generate homesickness. Note: A Daisy troop may participate in an indoor overnight if the girls have had appropriate progressive experiences. Brownie troops can participate up to two nights.

4.     Camping trips (Brownies and older) (Requires Outdoor Skills Training): Camping is a staple of the Girl Scout experience. Spend a night or two camping in tents or yurts using outdoor cooking equipment. See the Girl Scout Outdoor Progression Chart.

5.     Extended overnight trips (Juniors and older*) (Requires Extended Travel and Outdoor Skills Training): Four nights or more camping or staying in a hotel, motel, or hostel within the GSOSW council reigon (within 200 miles of the council boundaries).

6.     National trips (Cadettes and older*) (Requires Extended Travel Training): Travel anywhere in the country, often lasting a week or more. Try to steer clear of ordinary recreational trips girls might take with their families and consider those that offer some educational component such as incredible cities, historic sites, and museums around the country. Perhaps the girls want to plan a trip to some national parks as part of the Girl Scout Ranger program.

7.      International trips (Seniors and older*) (Requires Extended Travel Training): Travel around the world, often requiring one or two years of preparation. International trips may be approved for older Girl Scout Cadettes if they have appropriate extended travel progression.

*Grade levels update at the start of the Girl Scout membership year – October 1. Trips planned for the simmer before may not be approved. For example, Juniors bridging to Cadettes who want to take a summer trip outside the council region may not have their trip approved.

See Page 14 of GSOSW Council Volunteer Policies and Procedures for GSOSW training requirements based on activity.

Planning Ahead for Adventure

Get in touch with GSOSW as you start thinking about leaving your regular meeting place, time, or date. GSOSW offers a robust adult training progression covering each step of the travel progression. This training progression prepares adults in work with girls to plan activities and events.

For required trainings and the travel/activity approval process, check the travel section of GSOSW Council Volunteer Policies and Procedures, starting on Page 14.

Not sure where to begin? Check out the Girl Scout Guide to U.S. Travel (http://forgirls.girlscouts.org/travel/resources/guide-to-U.S.-travel/). This resource is designed for Girl Scout Juniors and older Girl Scouts who want to take extended trips (longer than 3 nights or over 200 miles outside council jurisdiction), but also features tips and tools for budding explorers who are just getting started with field trips and overnights.

Once girls have mastered planning trips in the United States, they might be ready for a global travel adventure! Global trips usually take a few years to plan, and the Girl Scout Global Travel Toolkit (http://forgirls.girlscouts.org/travel/resources/global-travel-toolkit/) can walk you through the entire process.

Safety First

If you’re planning any kind of trip—from a short field trip to an overseas expedition—the “Trips and Travel” section of Safety Activity Checkpoints (http://www.girlscoutsosw.org/content/dam/oregon-sw-washington-/forms/safety.pdf) is your go-to resource for safety. For required trainings and the approval process, check the travel section of GSOSW Council Volunteer Policies and Procedures, starting on Page 12. Be sure to follow all the basic safety guidelines, like the buddy system and first aid requirements, in addition to the specific guidelines for travel.

Note that extended travel insurance is required for trips of two nights or more. Email insurance@girlscoutsosw.org to purchase additional travel insurance.  

Girl Scout Connections

It’s easy to tie eye-opening travel opportunities into the leadership training and skill building your girls are doing in Girl Scouts! Your girls can use their creativity to connect any leadership Journey theme into an idea for travel, like a Sow What? trip focusing on sustainable agriculture and, naturally, sampling tasty food!

There are abundant opportunities to build real skills through earning badges, too. The most obvious example is the Senior Traveler badge, but there are plenty more, such as Eco Camper, New Cuisines, Photography, and, of course, all the financial badges that help girls budget and earn money for their trips.

Looking to incorporate Girl Scout traditions into your trip? Look no farther than the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia! Your girls also have the chance to deepen their connections to Girl Scouts around the world by visiting one of the WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) World Centers, which offer low-cost accommodations and special programs in five locations around the world.

Are your girls looking to stay closer to home this year? GSOSW has many properties that your troop can rent out for day trips or overnights! Check out the Guide to GSOSW Properties on the GSOSW website to schedule your next travel adventure. From the Seaside Program Center on the North Coast to Camp Cleawox on the South Coast to The Homestead Outdoor Program Center on Mount Hood, there are many opportunities to travel around our beautiful region with Girl Scouts.

Lift up the Girl Scout Leadership Experience at every opportunity in your planning, but limit your role to facilitating the girls’ brainstorming and planning, never doing the work for them. Share your ideas and insight, ask tough questions when you have to, and support all their decisions with enthusiasm and encouragement!  

Travel to an Epic Girl Event

There’s no better way to combine travel and Girl Scouting than by attending the epic G.I.R.L. 2020 convention, taking place October 23–25, 2020, in Orlando, Florida! It’s the world’s largest girl-led event for girls, young women, and everyone who supports them. This premier gathering for Girl Scouts happens every three years. Attending girls will meet fellow go-getters, innovators, risk-takers, and leaders from around the country and the world.

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