“It’s not just saying, ‘Be a leader,’ it’s how to be a leader,” says Amy McCall Stiles, mother of a participating scout.
The Girl Scouts’ mission is to build individuals of “courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.” In other words, to develop leaders.
Although most of their members aren’t old enough to vote or even drive, the Girl Scouts are determined to provide transformative leadership experiences to the girls in their programs.
As an organization, “Girl Scouts have such a focus on leadership development,” says Taryn Rimland, program manager at the 24,000-member Peaks to the Piedmont Council, which covers 40 counties in central and western North Carolina. “From the very beginning, Girl Scouts starts laying out those principles of leadership and starts building the foundation.”
For younger girls, that might mean voting on troop activities or, of course, figuring out how to sell more cookies. For middle and high school-aged girls, Rimland is building a four-year Young Women’s Leadership Institute that will give Girl Scouts leadership skills for life.
Key to that initiative is a partnership between the council and the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) in Greensboro, NC, now in its third year. Drawing on youth-focused programming developed at CCL’s San Diego campus, dozens of girls have gone through leadership development programming. The experience has an impact.
Sarah Miller, a CCL senior program manager and design specialist who is responsible for the Girl Scouts work, described one group activity where the girls had to move a group of horses around a ring. She recalls how a quiet seventh grader from Hickory, NC, who loves animals, opened up during the activity.
“She was just talking a mile a minute,” Miller says. “She felt like she could be herself … I think that was really affirming for her.”
Amy McCall Stiles says the program gave her daughter, Maggie, a chance not just to learn leadership, but to do leadership.
“It’s not just saying, ‘Be a leader,’ it’s how to be a leader,” says Stiles. “They did a lot of cooperative work activities where they were given opportunities to step up.”
Maggie Stiles liked the opportunity to share with other girls in an open, accepting environment.
“Girls got to express themselves and they got to be themselves,” says Maggie, who participated in a weekend program in March and then a weeklong program in July. “There were people that were like me, that were my age. And they were going through some of the same stuff I was going through.”
The program included assessments adjusted for youth, as well as activities meant to teach leadership by doing.
“Young participants have an incredible amount of energy,” observes Margaret Whitt, a CCL program coordinator who helped lead the sessions. “We are able to design an interactive curriculum, which keeps them up and moving and allows time for personal reflection and synthesis of the material.”
Rimland says CCL brings insights and rich programming. “I can’t come close to touching the level of knowledge and experience and background that the staff at CCL have,” she says.
With the Young Women’s Leadership Institute, Rimland wants to create programs that mix leadership development with specific themes, such as career exploration.
“One big focus for me as we start to develop this institute is making sure that we are really able to serve any girl that wants to participate,” Rimland says. “We’re working really hard to make sure this is available to every girl, everywhere.”