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Area Girl Scouts buck U.S. trend

February 10, 2003|by ASHLEY GORDON

ashleyg@herald-mail.com

It's Girl Scout cookie time, but the number of girls available to sell the popular treats has dropped, area Scouting officials said recently.

Nationwide, Girl Scouts membership has increased from 3.1 million members to more than 3.8 million members over the past three years, said Stephanie Brewer, Deputy Director for the Girl Scouts Shawnee Council.

The Shawnee Council services Allegheny and Washington counties in Maryland, seven counties including Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan in West Virginia, Bedford County, Pa, and five counties in Virginia.

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Locally, membership in Girl Scouts is declining.

There are 5,500 members and 1,300 adult volunteers in the Shawnee Council area, down from 6,000 girls and 1,500 adults last year.

Washington County Girl Scout membership has dropped from 1,178 members in 2002 to 1,057 members this year, said Patsy Campbell, membership executive of the Shawnee Council in Washington County. Membership numbers include adult members.

In 2002, there were 316 adult members, compared to 217 this year.

Because of a lack of volunteer leadership, the Girl Scouts can't provide the same number of eight-week educational programs in Washington County that it can in other counties, Brewer said.

Campbell said one paid staff member offers special programs twice a year in Washington County and more volunteers are needed in order to offer more programs.

Adults usually say they can't volunteer because they work, Campbell said.

"Ninety-nine percent of my volunteers have jobs outside of the home," she said.

Dawn Stein, 29, has been a troop leader for almost two years. Stein, who said she grew up as a Girl Scout, leads a Brownie troop of 22 girls ages 6 to 9.

Stein said that, at most, six of the parents help out and more parents need to get involved.

"The Girl Scouts is not a baby-sitting service," said Stein, who thinks parents should use the organization as a way to get involved with their daughters' lives.

Stein said girls tend to drop out when they reach middle school even though Girl Scouts offers many opportunities for older girls. College scholarships are available to Scouts, as are international scholarships to live abroad with a Girl Scout family, she said.

"The girls are constantly doing a variety of things," Stein said.

Campbell said activities undertaken by Washington County troops include selling cookies, collecting eyeglasses for the Lion's Club, running canned food drives and volunteering with local social organizations.

Gwen Blacklin, 42, is the Smithsburg service unit manager for the Shawnee Council and the leader of a Smithsburg Junior troop of 12 girls in grades 4 through 6. The service unit district represents all of the Girl Scout troops in Funkstown, Eastern, Pangborn, Smithsburg and Old Forge.

Blacklin, who has been a leader for eight years, said she has seen a decrease in membership. She said that last year there were more than 300 members in the Smithsburg service unit, but there are 210 this year.

The local Girl Scouts desperately need volunteers to be leaders, Blacklin said.

The number of troops at each school has dropped due to a lack of leaders. The four Brownie troops in the Eastern area last year had to be merged into one troop this year. The number of troops in Old Forge decreased from two to one, and three Smithsburg troops decreased to one member, Blacklin said.

Blacklin got involved in Girl Scouts when her daughter entered as a Daisy in kindergarten. Her daughter is now a Cadet and in the seventh grade.

Campbell said meetings are held at local elementary schools at the beginning of the school year, at which time girls can join and adults can sign up to become leaders.

To volunteer, adults can contact the Shawnee Council office at 301-791-5686.

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