Year of the Girl: Thousands participate in leadership program

by Sonja J. Keith

It’s the “Year of the Girl” for nearly 13,000 girls from all walks of life throughout Arkansas who have something special in common – Girl Scouts.

The Girl Scouts of the USA is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2012 and is using the occasion to recognize the “Year of the Girl.” Founded in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low, Girl Scouts empowers girls of all ages to discover, connect and take action to make the world a better place.

Nationally, there are 3.2 million registered Girl Scouts and more than 50 million alumni.

In the 11 counties that make up the 501, there are 3,206 girls and 1,555 adult volunteers who are registered Girl Scouts. Many of the adult volunteers are actually lifetime Girl Scout members.  

There are some pretty famous, nationally recognized Girl Scout alumnae – from former first lady Laura Bush to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Today, 64 percent of today’s women leaders in the United States were once Girl Scouts. Alums include astronauts, business leaders, judges, military leaders and noted educators.

In Central Arkansas, the program is having an impact on young girls and their communities, according to Jennifer Bickers, director of communications for Girl Scouts – Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. “It’s amazing how Girl Scouts touches everyone.”

Kayla Smith (wearing a vintage uniform) is a Daisy in Conway Troop 6785. She is a daughter of Reba Smith, who serves as co- leader for her Girl Scout troop. A student at Sallie Cone Elementary School, Kayla is a first grader. “I like the arts and crafts.” (Mike Kemp photos)

As an example, Jennifer noted that the council recently honored 10 “2012 Women of Impact,” each representing a different segment of the community and each involved in the Girl Scouts in different ways. Honorees ranged from Dr. Cornelia Beck, who serves as a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) to Ginny Shell, who is probably best known for The Ginny and Bob Shell Alzheimer’s Center in Little Rock.

While the program’s core mission has remained consistently focused on the development of girls, Girl Scouts has evolved with the times. “I think that’s the key as to why it has stayed around,” Jennifer said.

In the early years, Girl Scouts focused on how they could help their country, how to contribute to the war efforts, domestic skills and family life. Activities included gardening, first aid and how to make items.

Today, the program is focused globally with a wide range of activities available – nearly any interest that a girl might have. “That’s one of the things that has kept us relevant.” 

Jennifer pointed out that there has been a new emphasis on girls and their interest in science, technology and math, but for Girl Scouts, it’s not a new idea. For example, in the early years Girl Scouts collected peach pits that were used in producing filters for gas masks for the military. She said today’s Girl Scout would not only be collecting the peach pits but trying to engineer the gas mask.

One of the latest efforts of Girls Scout programs is the “To Get Her There” campaign, which empowers girls to pursue their dreams while equipping them with tools to be successful – whether they want to run for the White House or choose to be a stay-at-home mom.

Rachel Land is a Junior in Vilonia Troop 6557. A sixth grader at Vilonia Middle School, she is a daughter of Jeremy and Marie Land. Her mom is the leader of her troop as well as another troop. “I like going to camps,” Rachel said, adding that she has participated in swimming and horse camps offered by the Girl Scouts. (Mike Kemp photos)


There have been several special events to celebrate the Girl Scouts anniversary, including a special exhibit at the Clinton Presidential Library, with more activities planned in the months ahead.

Troops throughout the state are planning interesting and unique monthly programs with the 100th anniversary theme, according to Jennifer. For example, an etiquette tea is planned at Garvan Woodland Gardens to reflect the 1920s and 30s. “They are doing some really interesting things.”

In September, there will be Girl Scout alumni teas in each region. Open to any former Girl Scout, the events will be an opportunity for women to meet and network with others who may be older or younger but who are part of the Girl Scout sisterhood. 

Girl Scouts over the years have shared similar experiences – like selling cookies and camping – even though they might have grown up at different times and locations. “Even if you didn’t do the same activities, you experience it in a similar way.”

Kayla Hargraves is a Cadette in Greenbrier Troop 6434. A sixth grader at Greenbrier Middle School, she is a daughter of Deanna Bradley and Sam Penrod. Her grandmother, Dana Hargraves, is her Girl Scout leader. Dana was a Girl Scout and also her daughter’s leader. Kayla enjoys the community service aspect of Girl Scouts as well as camping. “I like helping with the kids,” she said. “I’ve gone to summer camp nearly every year.” (Mike Kemp photos)

Jennifer noted that a unique aspect of the program is the backgrounds represented. She said some Scouts come from extreme poverty and unfortunate home situations while other girls represent prominent families. Still, they are in the same troop enjoying Girl Scouts.

Alumni have been invited to share their Girl Scout experience through interviews for an oral history project. “We want to document their experiences,” Jennifer said. The project brings together Scouts of different generations who share how the program has evolved but stayed the same. The project is open to any Scout of any age. 

Beyond the cookies and the camping and the bonds of sisterhood, the Girl Scout experience has other measureable benefits. According to Jennifer, Girl Scouts typically do better academically and many go on to attend college. “It’s an investment in the future.”

For more information on the Girl Scouts, anniversary events and the oral history project, call the council office at 501.758.1020 or visit

As a premier leadership program for girls, Jennifer sees a bright future for Girl Scouts. “I feel Girl Scouts is only limited by a girl’s imagination.”