A couple of days ago, we celebrated GSNorCal’s 10th Anniversary. Ten years ago on October 1, 2007, five Girl Scout councils merged to form Girl Scouts of Northern California.
I joined as CEO one month later, on November 1, 2007, because I believed then and now, that Girl Scouts is the best leadership program for girls. I’m not just talking about women who run companies or run for elected office, I’m talking about women and girls who take charge, discover their leadership abilities, and make the world a better place.
In the spirit of our 10 year celebration, here are 10 highlights from the last decade that have touched my heart and give me hope for our future.
#1: Big fun at big milestone events, like our annual Golden Gate Bridging and our 100th Anniversary Celebration in 2012
During the past 10 years, volunteers and staff have collaborated to create many magical programs, events, destinations, and summer camps. For me, two stand out in particular. Every May, 6,000 Junior Girl Scouts and volunteers walk across the Golden Gate Bridge to celebrate bridging to Cadette Girl Scouts. I love walking the bridge with thousands of 5th grade girls from all over the country, talking with their troop leaders, and hearing from troops that have returned to volunteer in the “older girl zone”. The party on Crissy field is a celebration of fun and learning with friends. It is always an exhausting and energizing day, supported by an army of staff, volunteers, and super supportive national park rangers!
The other huge stand out event was our 100th Anniversary celebration, One Hundred, Fun Hundred, for 24,000 participants at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in May 2012. We even had a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge to make sure that bridging still happened! It was an “only in Girl Scouts” big idea made possible by great teamwork between volunteers and staff.
#2: Excellence and impact with over 1,600 Gold Awards and 5 National Young Women of Distinction
During the past 10 years, over 1,600 Northern California Girl Scouts have earned the Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouts. And, for six years in a row (2013 – 2018), a Northern California Gold Award Girl Scout has been selected, through a blind selection process, as one of 10 National Gold Award Girl Scouts in recognition of her outstanding Gold Award project! This award is a huge honor for the girls selected. It also is a testament to the commitment of our Gold Award Committee volunteers, mentors, and older girl program staff. Most Gold Award Girl Scouts invest far more than the minimum 80 hours required for their projects. Even if we assume the minimum 80 hours each, that’s 128,000 hours (5,333 days and over 14.5 years!) invested in high impact, sustainable projects that make the world a better place.
Last year, I attended the National Young Woman of Distinction Celebration with GSNorCal’s 2016 honoree, Caitlyn McElligott, whose Gold Award project increased awareness of Trisomy X. As Caitlyn explained, Trisomy X means that she has some challenges with speech and processing, but she was up to the challenge of standing in front of 300+ people to talk about her Gold Award project! And this week at our National Convention, I will have the honor of celebrating with our 2017 National Young Woman of Distinction, Rajvi Ranka, whose project is helping farmers save water!
In 2016, we celebrated 100 years of Girl Scouts’ highest award and the leadership accomplishments that it represents and foretells. Here I am at GSNorCal’s Centennial Gold Award Celebration, with GSNorCal National Young Women of Distinction: Varsha Sathappan (2014) and Annie Cai (2015). Oakland Mayor, Libby Schaaf, a Gold Award Girl Scout, spoke at the event and shared her perspective on how being a Girl Scout launched her leadership journey, stating: “I would not be the Mayor of Oakland if I had not been a Girl Scout.”
I am passionate about increasing awareness of the leadership accomplishments that the Gold Award represents and foretells. The accomplishment deserves equal weight and recognition alongside the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout award. We are not there, yet, but as with all journeys towards equal recognition for equal effort, we are making progress for these remarkable women. One important step in the right direction was our 100th Anniversary Gold Award Celebration in partnership with the California Women’s Legislative Caucus and AT&T. Thirty Gold Award Girl Scouts from throughout California experienced two days of mentoring, including shadowing women legislators, attending a dinner and panel discussion with women involved in politics, and observing the Assembly vote on a proclamation honoring 100 years of Girl Scouts’ highest award and the leadership accomplishments that it represents.
#3: Hundreds of thousands of service hours to help our communities
It is impossible to pick one example of service—I love seeing members’ Facebook posts and stories each holiday season. Girl Scouts have donated hundreds of thousands of service hours to our communities. And Girl Scouts also have also helped each other in times of need. When the Cobb Mountain Fire destroyed much of Middletown in Lake County, local Girl Scouts reached out to help their community and each other.
#4: Life-changing investments in our Campaign for Girls
In 2012, we launched our 100th Anniversary Campaign for Girls with a big audacious goal to raise $20 million for girls. To date, we have raised over $19 million, with gifts ranging from $1 to $1 million. The Campaign has helped us reach girls in under-resourced communities, invest in programs and in volunteer support (including the most robust online training in the nation), and improve our camp properties. I am confident that we will complete our $20 million Campaign for Girls during 2018. Right now, our focus is on raising funds for Hidden Falls and for the year-round Program Center at Camp Bothin. Every time I see the restored barn, organic garden, and challenge course at Camp Bothin, I am reminded that when we work together to raise funds for girls, we can do amazing things. These are beautiful places for girls to explore, and they all have happened because of our Campaign for Girls!
#5: Inclusion in action at the San Francisco Pride Parade
Members of GSNorCal’s San Francisco Service Unit requested permission to march in the San Francisco Pride Parade for the first time in 2013. Our Board said “yes”, reinforcing our commitment to inclusion and to supporting girls and volunteers to celebrate diversity and inclusion in their communities. I was proud to cheer them on!
#6: Meeting Go-Getters who are going places (aka ambitious cookie sellers)
In 2016, and again in 2017, girls who sold 2,000+ boxes of cookies were invited to join me for lunch. To be honest, I figured no one would want to do that, but fortunately, I was wrong. Both years, I’ve had fun lunches around the council (from San Jose to Redding and several places in between) with over 20 girls. I love hanging out with these ambitious, young entrepreneurs! They have so many great tips and ideas, and most of them are selling cookies to go to camp or travel. I’d buy a box of cookies from these girls. Wouldn’t you?
#7: Meaningful opportunities for every girl with programs like Camp CEO
Each year, thousands of girls benefit from staff-led programs supported by grants, donations, and cookie sales, and even more girls create opportunities through their participation in the cookie program—raising funds to attend camp, travel, and go places and do things that they otherwise would not be able to afford. I love all of these programs, and believe that Girl Scouts can and does play an important role in helping to level the playing field for girls. I was a volunteer mentor at Camp CEO before I became the CEO of Girl Scouts of Northern California, so, of course, that program is close to my heart. Camp CEO gives high school girls from diverse backgrounds and communities, an opportunity to experience camp and connect with women mentors and peer leaders. My favorite moment covers two years—last year, a camper whose life is very challenging and who had a pretty rough time adjusting to camp, shared with the group, during reflection time at the end of camp: “Thank you, for helping me discover that I have the capacity for happiness.” And then, this year, that same camper returned, this time as a peer leader. It was beautiful to witness her discover the person she deserves to be.
I took this picture at Camp CEO in 2010, and I think it might still be my favorite, because it is the essence of what Camp CEO is all about—fun, outside, with girls and mentors all giving each other a helping hand. By the way, the mentor in this photo is Jackie Osborne, a dedicated volunteer serving on our Board Development Committee!
#8: Getting even more girls outdoors
This picture pretty much tells the story! All girls deserve to experience the outdoors, get messy, have fun, and challenge themselves!
At our National Council Session in 2014, our delegates spoke out saying we need more outdoor badges that encourage adventure and skill-building. It has been exciting to see the girls’ choice outdoor badges and to see the popularity of our skill-building programs: S’mores and More and Explore and More.
We spent much of the past 10 years making sense of our camp properties, and in 2016 our Board adopted a 5 year program and property plan, focused on creating a progression of experiences to get girls outside. We start our next decade poised to “take action” to bring this pyramid to life.
#9: The worthwhile impact of resilience and persistence
I lost my father to cancer in 2013, and like many of us who have lost loved ones, I think about him most days. I have a picture in my office of a ranch that my father built. The ranch was incredibly dilapidated when he bought it, but he imagined the possibilities and brought them to life in a beautiful way. We’ve definitely had our share of setbacks and challenges during our 10 year project to launch our Northern California council, but as I learned from my father there is power of seeing past the barriers and disappointments to the possibilities.
When we decided to bring back rainy season camping to Camp Butano Creek and improve the infrastructure for the volunteer-run summer camp we had no idea (nor did our architect) the complex range of permitting and engineering challenges that we would encounter. But we persevered and made it happen! A favorite day for me was the dedication of the new North Lodge and Tree House Village, including the Tree House that I donated in celebration of my father.
#10: A strong and committed circle of friends
My final top 10 experience, is getting to know so many of you-generations of generous, dedicated and talented people, committed to our ideals of inclusion and opportunity for all girls. You have welcomed me at day and resident camps and robotics competitions, invited me to your awards celebrations, shared your advice and opinions, chatted with me at cookie deliveries, joined me at fundraisers, and spoken out at town halls and annual meetings. Thank you for your friendship, support, energy, and ideas.
Juliette Gordon Low said that “ours is a circle of friends, united by ideals.” That is, indeed, the strength of Girl Scouts, the life-long friendships among girls, with their leaders and among our volunteers and staff.
Girl Scouts happens because of our volunteers and donors. Thank you to the members of our Board and Board committees, our Service Unit and product program volunteers and troop volunteers, our day camp and resident camp volunteers, program volunteers, the learning facilitators who help leaders create hands-on, girl-led, cooperative learning experiences for girls, and all of the parents who help out and who support their daughter’s journey to discover that they are leaders who can make the world a better place. Thank you all for a memorable 10 years! Let’s keep the celebration going—share your favorite Girl Scout memories in the comments section below (I’d love to hear them)!
Marina Park—Marina is the CEO of Girl Scouts of Northern California, where she works on behalf of 40,000 girl members, 28,000 adults members, a terrific 25-member Board of Directors, and an awesome staff of about 150 year-round passionate men and women and another 200 during summer camp season. Together, we are building the next generation of leaders through girl-led programs that inspire girls to get outside, explore STEM, build life skills and practice entrepreneurship.