If you ask Dalien McGraw and Beth Uthaug to share a few memories about their 10 years in Girl Scouting, expect it to take some time.
The two 16-year-olds bubble over with stories about trips, campouts and badges they have earned, one girl’s story triggering a story from the other, as they laugh all the while.
Girl Scouts across the country this year are celebrating the founding of the organization 100 years ago. Juliette Gordon Low started the first Girl Scout troop in Savannah, Ga., March 12, 1912.
Scouting teaches leadership, community service and responsibility to girls from kindergarten through high school.
But it is a lot of fun, too. Just ask Dalien and Beth.
They have taken self-defense classes, modeled in a fashion show, planned Halloween parties for Brownie Scouts and put on a play. They have gone whitewater rafting, horseback riding, skiing and ice skating.
Each became a Brownie Scout in elementary school. When they were in the fourth grade, they joined Troop 2260, where they remain members.
Alene Malloy, Rebekah Reger and Zana Wright are their leaders.
When girls reach Dalien and Beth’s ages, they essentially lead their own troop, deciding on projects and setting their own rules within certain limits.
“Girl Scouts are girl-led,” Malloy said. “Girls get to determine what activities to do and where they want to go.”
Today, 2.3 million girls in the United States and many more around the globe are Girl Scouts.
Last year, more than 7,600 girls were Girl Scouts in Montana and Wyoming, said Sally Leep, executive director for the Billings-based office that runs the combined program for both states.
That’s a 13 percent increase over the year before. That uptick is noteworthy at a time when many youth organizations are seeing declining numbers because so many activities now compete for girls’ time.
One reason for the increase is that the organization has changed to keep pace with girls in the 21st century.
Scouts no longer have to be attached to a single troop to be a part of Girl Scouts, Leep said. Girls can participate in short-term activities, called pathways, such as attend camp and travel in Scout-sponsored programs.
New badges also appeal to girls. Senior Scouts can earn badges in such things as website design, car care and novel writing. One of the newest is a netiquette badge that teaches girls how to stay safe and prevent an embarrassing faux pas on the Internet.
Many badges, both new and old, require a community service project as part of the work. Billings Scouts have made blankets for the homeless and created “birthday boxes” filled with birthday party items for Billings Food Bank recipients. Older Scouts have painted medical exam rooms at the Women’s and Family Shelter and completed projects for the Audubon Conservation Nature Center.
But as much as Scouting has changed, it has stayed remarkably loyal to Low’s original vision of an organization that gets girls into the outdoors, teaches them a can-do attitude and instills skills to “develop physically, mentally and spiritually,” according to the Girl Scouts website.
To the public, cookies are the most visible part of Girl Scouting. Originally baked in girls’ homes, cookies long have been an important part of fundraising and teaching business skills to Scouts, Leep said.
Cookie sales help Scouts go to camp, travel and fund troop activities. The money raised also supports Girl Scout camps in Montana and Wyoming, including Timbercrest near Red Lodge and Camp Sacagawea near Casper, Wyo.
Scouting is good preparation for life’s challenges, said Peggie Gaghen, who recently retired from two terms on the Billings City Council. A Brownie herself when she attended McKinley Elementary in the 1940s, Gaghen had two daughters who joined Girl Scouts later on.
Becky, who now works for the International Energy Agency in Paris, said selling cookies door-to-door taught her people skills and how to deal with “gentle rejection.” Gaghen’s other daughter, Jennifer, now is an attorney in San Diego.
Billings resident Shelley Sturn’s Scouting lineage stretches over three generations. Her paternal grandfather was a cousin of Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the British founder of Boy Scouts. Juliette Low’s meeting with Baden-Powell inspired her to start Girl Scouts in the United States.
Sturn was a Girl Scouts for six years and has been a leader for at least 14 years. Her daughter Karlee Sturn, who is now 20, was in Scouts from Daisies, the youngest level of Girl Scouts, through high school. Karlee now is a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautic University in Florida and hopes to become an astronaut. More than 20 of NASA’s astronauts have been former Girl Scouts.
Shelley Sturn now leads Troop 2502, made up of girls in sixth through 12th grade. She connects with her girls via Facebook, Twitter and texting. She works around girls’ busy schedules. If a girl needs to play soccer for three months and can’t attend Scout meetings, she’s always welcomed back.
As technologically savvy as Sturn is, she emphasizes Scouting’s traditions, too. Some of her girls go camping and make a campfire for the first time on Scout outings.
Travel is another opportunity for Girl Scouts. Two girls from the Montana-Wyoming council will travel to Paris this year as part of a 12-girl group from the United States.
Dalien McGraw, Beth Uthaug and their troop have been to Denver; Calgary, Alberta, Canada; and Disneyland. On their trip to California, Dalien saw the ocean for the first time.
Those trips have given the girls important bragging rights. When a fellow student in their middle school history class derided Girl Scouts as “lame,” both girls set the cynic straight by telling the class that the girls in their troop were not only their best friends but felt like family.
Dalien had a final riposte.
“We’re going to Disneyland, so be jealous,” she said.