As a 106-year-old institution, it has faced contenders over its lifespan but survives on its resolve to help young girls become independent, successful women.
And though Girl Scouts of the USA (GSA) has lost part of its foothold in Fulton County to other interests, 300 current members in 27 troops are keeping the spirit of the iconic organization alive locally.
“It’s a very important program because it helps to encourage girls to become strong, independent-thinking young ladies,” said Patti Leach, chair of the GSA Great Oak service unit that includes the area.
Numbers had decreased in Fulton County, but under Leach’s guidance over the past two years 100 new members have been recruited. She admits, however, that the competition has grown.
“It’s very hard to keep girls after the sixth grade. You don’t keep the large groups like you used to,” she said. “Scouting was the thing to get involved with. But there are so many opportunities out there. Sporting becomes very big in the Fulton County area, and 4-H is a big contender.”
Leach has also found it difficult to recruit leadership, “(having) parents who don’t have the desire to step up,” whether due to their work schedules or simple disinterest.
She said the presence of GSA in the county had waned when she took her present position two years ago, a victim in part of extracurricular school activities, 4-H Club, and technology. “It was just kind of in a lull. It wasn’t prominent,” she added.
Leach said her main goal is to reinvigorate GSA locally, despite the competition. She said she wants young women to have the plethora of opportunities the organization has offered since it was formed by Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah, Ga., in 1912. Nationally, there are 1.8 million members.
“Girl Scouting is just as important, so we want to give them opportunities,” she said of area girls. “I believe in Girl Scouting, what it did for me as an individual, and what it can do for young ladies.”
This past summer, 50 local Girl Scouts attended a week-long day camp at the Fulton County Sportsmen’s Club in Wauseon. The camp provided activities that included archery, outdoor cooking, and hiking.
And last year the organization introduced various Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related badges to earn. “There are a lot of girls that are very interested in doing that type of activity,” Leach said.
Beth Wyckoff is the leader this year of a dozen Girl Scout cadets in Troop 10248, based in Swanton. The girls, in grades 6 through 12, and from Swanton, Wauseon, and Metamora, are the oldest Girl Scout members in Fulton County. However, the troop may also begin accepting younger girls.
Wyckoff, who also trains other troop leaders in the county, and covers lifeguard, small craft, and archery training, said as Girl Scouts get older they tend to lose interest.
“Generally, we lose them around sixth grade because they get involved in band and sports more intensely,” she said. “It’s tough to compete, and it’s very disappointing, because that’s when we can do really cool things with the girls.”
This year, she traveled with about half of her troop members to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. Over several days they bicycled on Mackinaw Island, visited Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore along Lake Superior and Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, and stood in awe of waterfalls at Tahquamenon Falls State Park. They also visited Oswald’s Bear Ranch, a bear rescue habitat in Newberry.
“It was a girl-led trip. They chose what they wanted to do,” Wyckoff said. “Generally, these girls are real high achievers. It was an awesome trip.”
Over the summer a troop member from Metamora attended a resident camp program open to all scouts in the Girl Scouts of Western Ohio council, which runs from northwest Ohio to Cincinnati.
Troop 10248 also tries to plan family trips, and this winter may embark on an overnight stay at Camp Libbey in Defiance.
All trips are funded mostly through Girl Scout cookie sale proceeds. The troop attempts to meet twice monthly to plan its activities.
Wyckoff said members are encouraged to stay in Girl Scouts as they get older but “there are just so many (school) activities, and many of those activities are very demanding.”
She said what’s important is that Girl Scout members are taught life skills many haven’t yet learned. When on trips, they are expected to shoulder their share of the responsibilities.
“When I was in school, we learned a lot of these things in high school, how to cook and how to sew. They don’t get these things in school, and there’s a lot of households with parents who work two jobs,” Wyckoff said. “I think it’s very sad that we don’t teach our girls these things anymore.
“I’ve had kids say, ‘I don’t know what a dust pan is.’ It’s mind-boggling to me. Another (member) didn’t know how to do dishes. It’s scary that we send these kids to college not knowing how to prepare simple meals and take care of themselves. These are life skills…and these girls really thrive on this stuff.”
Those who have been taught the basic skills are tasked with teaching new members, Wyckoff said, adding, “I think it’s very important for these girls to become self-sufficient.”
Leach said she launches a recruitment campaign as school starts each year, and posts flyers inviting girls from kindergarten through high school to attend summertime open houses.
“We’re doing something right out there,” she said. “We’re definitely on the uprise. I’m not about the numbers, I’m about the experiences of the girls. Girl Scouting makes girls independent in today’s society. We need to promote that.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.