If I could travel back in time and speak to my Girl Scout self, a nervous seven-year-old who always knew she was a little different, she probably wouldn’t have believed she’d one day grow up to become a Girl Scout Council CEO. Because as much as I enjoyed my time as a Brownie selling cookies, making friends, and engaging in healthy competition, I didn’t always get the sense that Girl Scouts was a place designed for kids like me.
Girl Scouts of the USA, our national organization, has been doing great work to build girls of courage, confidence and character for more than 110 years. This work has made a lasting impact on communities large and small across the nation and around the world. Yet during its history, the organization has sometimes fallen short on achieving its goal of empowering every girl regardless of their background.
From the early days of Girl Scouting to now, significant progress has been made in expanding both membership and programming while intentionally working to advance a greater sense of belonging. Girl Scouting has been made available to more and more girls thanks to trailblazers like Josephine Holloway, the woman who broke the color barrier for Girl Scouts in the Jim Crow South, and many others throughout the organization’s history.
Even this past summer, Girl Scout delegates from across the country gathered to vote on adding explicit anti-racism language to our bylaws, cementing the national organization’s goal of becoming an anti-racist movement that positions every girl for success in their current and future endeavors.
And make no mistake, the Girl Scout difference is significant. Girl Scouting, as shown in study after study, makes a measurable difference in building girls who are more likely to demonstrate positive values and feel a strong sense of self, in addition to seeking challenges, developing healthy relationships, and exhibiting community problem-solving skills. These kids are also statistically more likely to attain excellent grades, pursue future careers in STEM, and generally feel a sense of hopefulness about their futures—something all children could use a little more of.
Girl Scouts is about having fun, making friends, and new experiences—yes, absolutely. But perhaps more importantly, Girl Scouting is about the cultivation of a whole person, from finding their voice to choosing their own path.
Today, I am proud to work on behalf of a council full of individuals who are leading in this space. Our ever-changing program menu has grown to include offerings like Hmong day camp, Anishinaabe beading, and a personal favorite this past summer, Little Mermaid cinema parties—all reflecting the cultural diversity of our evolving member base.
Nationally, Girl Scouts River Valleys is recognized among our network of 111 councils as a leader in areas like racial justice, gender inclusion, and helping girls strengthen their voices by engaging in the civic process. Further, the River Valleys council has helped spearhead regional work groups of folks who are intentionally advancing inclusion and belonging through greater cultural recognition, competence and celebration.
As our council, organization, and larger Girl Scout community continues to step into its ambitious goal of advancing anti-racist principles within our sphere of influence, I find myself moved by the progress I’ve seen for our girls. So many incredible strides have been made since my Girl Scouting days of the 80s, at a time when grownups would still repeat problematic phrases like “Children should be seen and not heard.”
As the new CEO of River Valleys, I’ve made it my personal mission to empower Girl Scouts across our council to be seen and heard as they unapologetically celebrate their most authentic selves. I invite you and your girl or gender-expansive child to join me in this mission by visiting us online at girlscoutsrv.org/join.
Because when young people find their voices, their passions, and their purpose, they learn how to become leaders who create transformational and lasting impact both in our communities and the world. And ultimately, we are in the business of changing the world—one family at a time.
Marisa C. Williams is the chief executive officer of Girl Scouts River Valleys.