Op-Ed from Sue Perles: The Girl Scout Effect

Mar 16, 2018 | Education, Nonprofits

Sue Perles

Eleven year-old Calista Gurney, a Talkeetna Girl Scout from Troop 813, saved her mother’s life. According to Girl Scouts of Alaska CEO Sue Perles, Calista “truly embodies the ideals of courage, confidence and character that are part of Girl Scouts’ mission statement.”
Image courtesy of Girls Scouts of Alaska

I’m often asked about the impact of Girl Scouts on a girl. What is the “Girl Scout effect”, and how does it manifest in a girl’s life? As the CEO of Girl Scouts of Alaska, it may not surprise you that I happen to believe that Girl Scouts is the best leadership development organization in the world for girls. I usually talk about our proven track record of being girl-led, girl-focused, and girl-specific, or about our amazing alum who are leading global businesses or building next generation rockets, or about the legacy of our founder, Juliette Gordon Low.

But every once in a while a girl comes along who serves as living proof of the impact of Girl Scouts. A girl who truly embodies the ideals of courage, confidence and character that are part of Girl Scouts’ mission statement. Calista Gurney, of Girl Scout Troop 813 in Talkeetna, is one such girl. You see, at just 11 years old, Calista provided life-saving assistance to her mother, also her Girl Scout troop leader, when she faced a life-threatening injury. Calista is a true example of the Girl Scout effect — what we call a G.I.R.L. (a Go-Getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, and Leader) – that Girl Scouts instills in girls from 5 to 17.

Calista’s story starts one evening as her mother, Buffy, was cooking dinner and cut her hand. Once Calista saw that her mother was injured, she moved into action. Calista helped her mom stay calm, wrap the wound, then drove her next door on an ATV. Upon arrival at her neighbor’s home, she explained what had happened, as their neighbor tended to Buffy’s cut. Calista then picked raspberries for her mother, who was getting weak. With her neighbor’s help, she assisted in getting her mother to the hospital, which required a boat ride to the road system and travel by car thereafter. Due to the severity of Buffy’s wound, several surgeries were required. Buffy is now healing and expected to make a full recovery due to her daughter’s life-saving actions.

From taking the lead in a dangerous situation, to staying calm in a crisis, to having the wherewithal to understand her mother’s medical needs, the kind of bravery that Calista displayed is emblematic of the Girl Scout effect, and demonstrates clearly the lifelong impact of the Girl Scout experience.

Girl Scouts knows that the secret to creating female leaders is starting young. We provide 21st century experience for 21st century girls, designed to help them learn to be leaders in today’s world. No other organization can bring together time-tested, research-backed methods with exciting, modern programming that speaks to today’s girls and is designed to cater to the strengths of girls’ leadership development. Today, Girl Scouts is uniting the best of our legacy experiences such as outdoor adventure, camping, and our cookie program—with exciting, modern programs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), computer science, computational thinking, and engineering to ensure we offer a truly one-of-a-kind experience for today’s girls.

You may know that March 12th is Girl Scouts Day – the day when, 106 years ago in Savannah, Georgia, our founder Juliette Gordon Low founded the first Girl Scout troop. Each year on this day, I reflect on how far our Movement has come from those humble beginnings. In Alaska, troops began forming in the 1920s, and since then girls of courage, confidence, and character have been making our state and the world better places. Each year, I am in awe all over again. From that first spark of bravery by Juliette grew the Movement that would inspire so many female leaders. Juliette’s courage and commitment lives on in Calista, a girl who makes all of Alaska proud. She joins other amazing girls from Alaska – like Krista Simpler of Kodiak, who offered lifesaving assistance to her father just last year – in earning our Lifesaving Award, one of the highest, most prestigious, and truly heroic, awards a Girl Scout can earn.

Girl Scouts is about helping girls tap into their potential to take the lead. It’s about girls realizing that they can do great things, and empowering them to go out and get them done. It’s about providing them with the tools and the safe, inclusive, all-girl environment that that they need to grow. So the next time someone asks me, “What is the Girl Scout effect?” I will think of Calista and Krista and so many other girls who have changed their own world, and in the process, changed ours, forever and for better.

Image courtesy of Girl Scouts of Alaska

Sue Perles is the CEO of Girl Scouts of Alaska. Girl Scouts of Alaska is the proven leadership development program for girls in grades K-12. Girl Scouts provides a safe, inclusive environment for Alaska’s diverse population of girls, regardless of income or socioeconomic background.

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