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Girl Scouting still strong after 100 years

EDITOR'S NOTE: 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouting in America. Sunday is National Girl Scout Leaders Day. These volunteers have kept Girl Scouts thriving for a century. The Connellsville area is fortunate for its many loyal Girl Scout leaders and helpers. We salute them today and throughout 2012.

Eighteen girls met one evening in March 1912 in Savannah, Ga., and the Girl Scouts of America was born.

By 1921, the youth-oriented movement had spread across the country and to Connellsville, which formed its first troop that year.

Today, there are more than 3 million Girl Scouts from kindergarten age through high school graduates and 50 million Girl Scouts alumni.

Quite an achievement for something that began a century ago on the whim of Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low. In 1911, Low met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, an Englishman who founded the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

Low decided that America needed some Girl Guides of its own. She gathered 18 girls and deemed that her namesake niece -- Daisy Gordon -- would be the first registered Girl Guide in America. So it was, and the next year -- 1913 -- the organization changed its name to the Girl Scouts of America. (In 1948, Low's niece, Daisy Gordon Lawrence, visited Connellsville's Girl Scout Little House.)

Times have changed greatly over the past 100 years, as the United States found its way from the horse-and-buggy years to the Space Age and beyond. Even in the Internet era, Girl Scouting remains remarkably similar to how it began.

The organization has flourished largely because of the efforts of volunteer leaders and trainers whose primary concern is to mold young girls into self-confident, honest and caring young women.

Key: Leadership

The Girl Scouts of Southwestern Pennsylvania has many shining examples of leadership.

Among its brightest is Crawford Neighborhood, which includes approximately 25 troops throughout the Connellsville Area School District. Many leaders have lasted many, many years. One example was Dorothy Nicholson, who received her 60-year service pin in 2011. (In her 90s, Nicholson passed away several months ago.)

Consistency and a penchant for tradition is the foundation upon which Crawford Neighborhood was built.

"We try very hard to stick to the traditions instilled by Juliette Gordon Low," said Colleen Peary, a longtime Connellsville leader who now lives in Confluence. She remains closely involved with Connellsville area Scouts.

Peary spent five years as a Scout while growing up and has 27 years experience as an adult leader. Currently, she is guiding several troops of various ages.

For those unfamiliar with Girl Scouting, there are six troop levels.

"Daisies" are the wee ones. They are named after Juliette "Daisy" Low and her niece and the nation's first Girl Scout, Daisy Gordon. Next come the Brownies and Junior Scouts, followed by Cadettes, Senior Scouts and Ambassador Scouts (11th- and 12th-graders).

Peary's two daughters went all through the ranks; one received the Gold Award (equivalent to the boys' Eagle Scout Award). Her daughter Heather Trout is now a troop leader and three granddaughters are Girl Scouts (one Daisy, one Junior and one Cadette).

Keeping Tradition Alive

Dessa Summy of Bullskin Township, Crawford Neighborhood's unit manager, agrees with Peary that Girl Scout traditions must always be first so that Juliette Low's vision will live on. "We are helping to make girls of courage, confidence and character who will make the world a better place," she said. "That is our (troop leaders') reward."

Summy works as a Girl Scout leader alongside Joan Emanuel (herself a troop leader for three decades). Summy was lured into Scouting when her daughter Amanda was a Girl Scout. That was 15 years ago; Amanda achieved the Gold Award and now is a grown woman with a 2-year-old daughter, Lily.

"Grandma" Summy vows that Scouting is in Lily's future, too. "I love to watch the girls change as they grow," said Summy, who has held many Scout training and coaching positions. "I like to watch them grow into the leadership role and gain confidence to run meetings on their own."

Girl Scout ceremonies, songs and games are learned by Scouts in their earliest years. The celebration of Juliette Low's birthday each October is a must. "It's all about keeping the memory of Juliette Low alive," Peary said.

Opening the World

As the girls get older, they go on many adventures. "We want them to know that all the world is out there for them to explore -- there's more than just the Connellsville area," Peary added.

Girl Scout outings give the girls a chance to meet someone new from someplace else, but who has something in common with them, Summy and Peary explained.

Often, a lifelong love for Girl Scouting is born during such formative years.

One example is Samantha McCarney-Michael of Connellsville. She joined Girl Scouts at the Junior Troop level and went all the way through high school, earning the coveted Gold Award. Now 28, the college graduate and married mother is a Girl Scout troop leader, assuring that the Crawford Neighborhood will be alive and kicking well into the 21st Century.

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