Beyond Pup Tents and Prizewinning Heifers Why the Girl Scouts, 4-H, and Other Youth Organizations Are Hittingrecord Membership Levels

By Lane Hartill, | The Christian Science Monitor, March 24, 1999 | Go to article overview

Beyond Pup Tents and Prizewinning Heifers Why the Girl Scouts, 4-H, and Other Youth Organizations Are Hittingrecord Membership Levels


Lane Hartill,, The Christian Science Monitor


Cookies and campfires.

That's what most people associate with Girl Scouts. But not Hanna Thomas.

For her, Girl Scouts means making friends with Adlie penguins. It's about gathering ice samples in the desolate landscape of Antarctica. Thanks to a partnership between Girl Scouts of America and the National Science Foundation, Hanna spent three months at McMurdo Station in Antarctica with a team of scientists. She helped with such diverse research projects as penguin ecology and ice-core analyzation to understand paleoclimates. "In junior high and high school, science really died for me. But I stayed involved in it {through Girl Scouts}," says Hanna, now a geology major at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. Hanna's experience exemplifies the changing face of scouting, and why such youth organizations are booming. Success springs from a diversity of programs, values that many parents embrace, and a new willingness to let the youngsters set the agenda. Participation in Girl Scouts in the US is at a 26-year high. The Boy Scouts of America expect to have about 5 million members this year, that's about twice as many new members as compared with the 1970s. And 4-H, despite declining rural membership, is experiencing a resurgence. Hanna attributes her long-term interest in scouting to the ability to delve into projects she couldn't get in school. "{With Girl Scouts} you could see a program from start to finish over a year. It's hard to get that in high school," she says. Girl Scouts was not seen as the "in" thing. "It was so decidedly uncool," says Hanna. But it fed her hunger for hands-on science. The tie-in with the National Science Foundation is one way the Girl Scouts and other youth organizations are bolstering their appeal. There's an emphasis on offering a diversity of programs. And there's a concerted effort to reach out to ethnic minorities . The Girl Scouts of America, for example, is working with the Texas Migrant Council Head Start program. Many migrants "thought the Girl Scouts only sold cookies," says Rafael Guerra, director of the council. The program works with low-income migrant children, serving about 6,000 girls up to the age of 5. Mr. Guerra says this is the only schooling some girls receive. When migrants move from south Texas to the Ohio River Valley, scout leaders are often waiting for their arrival. And there are other outreach programs, such as a camp for unwed mothers and Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, which provides girls whose mothers are incarcerated with role models and support. Boy Scouts and scuba diving The Boy Scouts are also shedding their old-school image. There were more than new 4.7 million members in 1998, plus 1.2 million adult volunteers. New membership today is twice the annual rate of the '70s when it ebbed, in part due to anti-Vietnam sentiments in American society and a perception that the scouts espoused military values. One way that the Boy Scouts have broadened their appeal is by going into the inner city and offering an alternative to gang membership through the Scout Reach program (see story, left). …

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