New leader determined to see Girl Scouts thrive

March 10, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Girl Scouts organization may have been started in 1912 in Savannah, Ga., but the mindset now in Martinsburg is strictly 2004, said Maggie Witherbee, new chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of Shawnee Council.

In a time when computers, video games, movies and television are vying for a girl's attention, the Girl Scouts has managed to stay alive by keeping up with the times.

"Why Girl Scouts has survived and thrived ... is its ability to be flexible and adapt," said Witherbee, who started as the council's CEO a little more than three weeks ago. "The only thing constant is change."


Each girl receives a handbook that contains information on relevant, timely topics that are of interest to her.

"Girls today would not look kindly on the handbook that I had. It was dull and boring," Witherbee said.

Although outdoor activities are still a staple of the organization, Witherbee, 57, knows some girls don't care about such things.

At a younger age than in the past, many of today's girls are looking toward the future - what kind of career they want, where they're going to go to school. Safety and relationships with girls and boys also are of concern, Witherbee said.

"With Girl Scouting, there's something for everyone," she said.

Witherbee is a walking example of the leadership skills the organization provides.

Growing up wearing a Girl Scout uniform helped shape Witherbee's life, she said, and can shape the lives of all the girls who join the organization.

"We have a special set of opportunities," she said, pointing to the fact that only girls can join. Studies have proven that girls achieve more when they are not pressured by factors such as boys, she said.

"Being in the all-girl environment is one of the best opportunities a girl could have," Witherbee said.

Witherbee, who soon plans to relocate to the Martinsburg area from her home outside Manassas, Va., has spent her career working for nonprofit organizations and in the public sector. She worked for nine years as the executive director of a Girl Scouts council in Indiana and also worked as a district administrator for a congressman in Indiana.

"They're all doing good things and they all had meaningful missions," Witherbee said of her past jobs. "But they weren't Girl Scouting."

During her first meeting with the local council's 26-member board of directors, Witherbee felt nervous. And at peace.

"It felt like being home, it really did," she said.

Those famous Girl Scout cookies are the hot topic now, but Witherbee and others are already looking toward activities planned for the summer and fall.

Building on what the Shawnee Council has in place is important, Witherbee said. The council was created in 1963 when four smaller councils were merged.

Extending membership to every girl in the area is a goal.

"Girl Scouts is very interested in diversity," she said. "We just want to keep making it better. The word is excellence. We're striving for excellence."

A whole spectrum of new opportunities will be available for girls this summer, some at the Girl Scouts' camp in Capon Bridge, W.Va. Girl Scouts leaders also are cooperating with other groups in the area to provide activities, since not everybody can attend the camp.

Girl Scouts of Shawnee Council provides services and support to the more than 4,600 girls and 1,600 adult volunteers in numerous tribes in the four-state region. Tribes in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties have approximately 865 Girl Scouts.

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