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See how Girl Scouts are the next generation of leaders at Family Day

Girl Scouts helps girls in Detroit break into STEM and develop entrepreneurial skills.

Christina Heiser,
for Girl Scouts
How Girl Scouts prepares the next generation of female leaders

For more than 100 years, Girl Scouts has enriched the lives of young girls across the country. Now, the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan (GSSEM) is looking to expand their reach in the bustling Detroit metro area to help local girls reach their full potential.

“We want to strengthen our connections to the city and be sure that Detroit’s girls take full advantage of all we have to offer,” said Monica Woodson, CEO of GSSEM. “Our regional headquarters is in the city of Detroit, and we want to make sure we’re part of the city.”

GSSEM is bringing some of its successful STEM, entrepreneurial, and outdoor education programming to an upcoming event in Detroit to get girls excited about Girl Scouting.   

Family Day in the Park will take place on September 11 at Palmer Park, near the basketball courts and community building from 11 a.m.- 4 p.m.

All children in grades K-12 who attend the event can participate in free Girl Scouts programming, including robotics, drone flying lessons, Olympic-style games, Lego Derby car racing and other family activities. 

“We’re demonstrating just a taste of some of the things girls can do [as a Girl Scout],” said Woodson. “They’re flying drones, they’re building robots and getting involved in skilled trades and STEM. Today’s Girl Scouts are leading in so many ways and families will get a chance to see what Girl Scouting can do for their daughters first-hand.”

GSSEM’s goal is to build leadership, courage, confidence and character among girls — all skills that are essential for career and life success.

That’s something Woodson, who moved back home to Detroit from Chicago to take on the role of GSSEM’s CEO in May 2020, hopes to relay to metro-area girls to get them excited to join.

“We’re in the business of helping girls and young women become even better and more fierce young women,” said Woodson. “It’s an important job, and we take that very seriously. My team and I recognize the responsibility that sits on our shoulders.”

Training girls to be entrepreneurs

Part of Woodson’s job is positioning the popular cookie program to highlight how it teaches valuable business skills, including goal setting, decision making and money management.

“It’s not just about selling cookies,” she said. “It’s part of our financial literacy work, it’s part of our entrepreneurship work. Our girls are creating business and marketing plans.”

Lynda Dandridge, a Girl Scout troop leader for 22 years, noted how her troop, composed of seniors (grades 9-10) and ambassadors (grades 11-12), adapted to the challenges of the pandemic by selling cookies online.

While they had the opportunity to sell cookies in-person at a booth in a local mall, they decided to forgo that due to the unpredictability of Covid-19.

“I let them make that decision,” said Dandridge. “I told them, ‘Okay, we know we want to save for a big trip, we want to go somewhere. So how are we going to do that?’ They said they would make it up — and they did.”

GSSEM as a whole did so well, they were 7th in the country for Girl Scout councils that sell cookies made by Little Brownie Bakers, one of two licensed by Girl Scouts of USA to bake Girl Scouts cookies.

“They are entrepreneurs, and it’s really amazing,” said Dandridge. “Selling 2,000 boxes for one girl is nothing for them.”

Beyond selling cookies, earning a Gold Award is another way for a Girl Scout to get a sense of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.

The Girl Scout Gold Award, presented to Senior and Ambassador Girl Scouts in 9th-12th grade, is Girl Scouts’ highest award and stands for excellence and leadership. To earn this award, a Girl Scout must choose a community issue they care about and put together a project plan to show how they will address the issue.

By earning a Gold Award, a Girl Scout not only gets to deepen her business skills but also has the chance to obtain college scholarships.

Woodson explained that GSSEM is working hard to identify partners who can help provide monetary support to girls looking to complete their Gold or Silver Award. 

“We recognize that our Gold Award projects often require a budget,” she said. “We want to make sure the Gold Award opportunity is accessible to all girls.”

Helping girls break into STEM and skilled trades

Girls Scouts encourages interest in STEM careers.

In addition to training girls to be entrepreneurs, Woodson also said Girl Scouts is committed to helping girls break into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), which are traditionally male-dominated fields. 

“We want to begin to fill the employment pipeline with girls and women who are prepared to succeed in the STEM field,” said Woodson, “so we’re doubling down on our robotics and drone programming.”

Woodson added that GSSEM wants girls to understand that STEM is involved in almost all careers.

“We’re making sure we’re connecting STEM so that girls can see it firsthand when they’re doing other things as they’re engaged with us,” she said. 

For GSSEM integrating those three goals is a natural, and often all three come together in the Gold Award program.  Recently, GSSEM celebrated girls who have combined entrepreneurship and STEM into a Gold Award.  A recent Gold Award Girl Scout developed a program to introduce elementary and middle school girls to STEM. She launched the program in her school district and it has now grown into a stand-alone nonprofit.

“Girl Scouts do amazing things every day,” Woodson said. “Our job is to make sure all girls have that opportunity.”

Family Day in the Park offers fun activities for Girl Scouts.

Dandridge’s troop, for example, previously went to a local car dealership to learn how to change a tire — and they also visited Lawrence Technological University to learn about robotics.

Woodson explained that skilled trades, like plumbing, truck driving and construction, is a new area for the organization.

She said she hopes to introduce Girl Scouts to successful Michigan-based women in these industries to inspire them to blaze their own career paths in these areas.

 “There are women out here who are in these fields that are traditionally dominated by men, and they’re creating space for themselves and finding success,” she said.

To learn more about Family Day in the Park, visit www.gssem.org/familyday. To join or volunteer visit https://www.gssem.org/.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.
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