The Girl Scouts

They're more than just Good Cookies

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Cookies. It's the common association that many make when the Girl Scouts come to mind.

But for the 296 girls who are in a troop in Routt County, being a Girl Scout is much more than cookies. It's also much more than camping, much more than hiking and much more than earning merit badges.

"Girl Scouts is constantly evolving. It never stays the same," troop leader Shelly Luchini said.

Today's Girl Scouts teach children about peer pressure, gives opportunities to travel and prepares its members for the real world. And as times change, Luchini explained, so do the Girl Scouts.

The Girls Scouts is broken up into the five different age groups, ranging from kindergarten to high school. Starting at the Daisy age group then Brownie, Junior, Cadette and finally Senior the girls are challenged with different activities that earn them badges. The Daisy age groups, for example, get "Try It" badges, which rewards them for trying a new activity, like trying dancercising, Luchini said. The older age groups earn their badges by applying themselves in different areas of study or participating in activities.

"What we try to do with the badge work is what we believe will be relevant for the girls in the real world," said Nancy Jewell, director of communications and fund development for the Chipeta Council of the Girl Scouts, which all troops in the Western Slope belong to.

Jewell explained that maybe 30 years ago there was a badge for doing laundry, but not anymore. Now, instead, there is a patch for learning to use a computer.

Each year new patches come out, which Girl Scout officials hope are addressing the needs of the girls. Along with the old faithful badges of camping and hiking, this year adventure sports, environmental health, global awareness and winter sports were all added to the badge regimen.

"I think the program has always been a little more forward looking," Jewell said.

Other badges focus on personal issues, like the Girls Grow Strong patch, which is awarded to girls who take on problem-solving and positive self-image exercises.

Along those lines, the Girl Scouts offer programs for all girls in the community, not just those involved with a troop, to discuss personal issues about growing up as a modern girl.

The Girl Scouts' "Girls are Great" project, for example, is offered at Soda Creek Elementary School for all girls. The project is an eight-session, once-a-week lunch that attempts to prepare fifth-grade girls for middle school.

During the lunch, the girls play educational games covering topics on accepting others' differences, peer pressure, saying "no" to nicotine and keeping a good self-image.

Thirty-seven girls are signed up for the program, Luchini said.

"It's just a little piece of time," she said.

"But if it opens up their eyes to one thing, that's great."

This type of program, Jewell said, is an example of the Girl Scouts tackling social issues that today's girls deal with.

Last year, Girl Scouts, which is the largest organization in the United States dedicated solely to the development of girls, began the Girl Scout Research Institute to delve further into child-development issues.

"They are trying to be a lot more proactive with issues that affect girls," Jewell said.

The institute researches healthy development of girls as they mature toward adulthood. The research helps the Girl Scouts ask the right questions and offer the right programs, Jewell said.

The first study the institute released was the "Too Early to be Teens" study.

The study showed that girls' bodies may develop into an adult at an earlier age than boys, but mentally, their development doesn't go hand in hand with the physical part.

That motivated the Girl Scouts to look at self-security issues and incorporate them into the badges and projects.

The "Girls are Great" project at Soda Creek is an example of that.

Girl Scouts believe another way to help with healthy development is to provide the opportunity to travel.

"Once they hit fifth grade, it's time to start talking about travel," Luchini said.

From camping trips on Rabbit Ears and Steamboat Lake to trips to Denver or Grand Junction, the Girl Scouts try to offer an opportunity to broaden the horizons for girls, she said.

The Girl Scouts also have accommodations in Switzerland, Mexico and England that are free to stay at. All it takes is planning and a troop is allowed to go.

"Girl Scouts for me was just a huge leadership opportunity," Hayden resident Nancy Mucklow said.

Mucklow was a Girl Scout while growing up in Fort Collins. She traveled to Canada and Norway to participate in camps through the Wider Opportunities program offered through the Girl Scouts.

"It does instill a lot of virtue in girls, It gives them the opportunity to excel and just be a girl," Mucklow said.

The once-a-month troop meetings, camping trips, summer and winter activities and the volunteering also benefit the girls and prepare them for the real world, Luchini said.

"It's getting different groups together who normally wouldn't be together," she said.

Often, girls moving into middle school and high school know many of their new classmates from other schools because of Girl Scouts.

"What we are trying to do is focus girls on relevant activities, while at the same time, expose them to new things and the outdoor experience," Jewell said.

For most of the girls in Steamboat, the outdoor experience is a way of life.

"So they want to take most their trips to the city,"

Luchini said.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206

or e-mail dcrowl@steamboatpilot.com

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