Terry Lynch-Knox remembers well what it meant to be a Girl Scout growing up.
She remembers canoe trips, camping and the pride she felt when she stood up to speak. She remembers all of the opportunities Girl Scouts provided her.
She now wants her two daughters to have those same opportunities as she leads both of their troops.
“I’ve always felt with Girl Scouts it’s an opportunity to really build a girl’s self-esteem and have them explore things they normally wouldn’t choose on their own,” says Lynch-Knox, who lives in Wonder Lake.
Making an impact
Lynch-Knox’s two daughters are among roughly 3,700 Girl Scouts in McHenry County.
With a determination to build girls of “courage, confidence and character,” the national organization celebrates its 100th anniversary this March.
It has grown and evolved since its official beginning March 12, 1912, when founder Juliette Gordon Low hosted her first troop meeting with 18 girls from Savanna, Ga. — a time when women weren’t even allowed to vote.
Through the years, Low’s goal — to give all girls the opportunity to develop physically, mentally and spiritually — lives on in an organization that now has a membership of 3.2 million girls and adults throughout the country.
“It’s just an incredible opportunity for all of us to be part of the 100th celebration and to know that Girl Scouting is still strong and vibrant today,” says Vicki Wright, CEO of Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois.
“We’re constantly changing so we are meeting the needs of the girls of the current time,” she says.
While tremendous strides have been made, fewer women than men still head Fortune 500 companies and elected and government positions, Wright says.
The leadership void represents numerous leadership opportunities for girls, she says, and filling that void has become one of the organization’s top goals.
Through a wide array of projects and activities, Girl Scouts learn to work with other people as they achieve business, volunteerism and leadership skills.
“What we try to do is help girls learn about themselves, help them explore new things [and] help them get involved in their communities so that becomes a life-long choice they make — being a volunteer, having an impact on their communities,” Wright says.
Ranging in age from 5 to 17, girls now learn from guide books called “Journeys” that spell out various projects they can complete concerning the environment, health and fitness, leadership, community organizations, animals and numerous other topics.
And, of course, they continue to sell their famous Girl Scout cookies.
Along with teaching them life and business skills, the annual cookie sales help them earn money toward troop activities as well as designated community charities.
Lynch-Knox’s daughter Kathleen has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten.
She’s gone scuba diving, slept in a museum, camped and taken a trip to Florida, among a wide array of other Girl Scout activities.
“It’s nice to be a part of something, working together,” the 17-year-old says.
“It’s a sense of community ... . All the resources are at your disposal, so many things you want to do all in one place.”
With a love for the outdoors and animals, she plans to study environmental science. As a Girl Scout, she has given a presentation on water resources and is working toward her Gold Award — the highest and most prestigious award a Girl Scout can earn — for “sustainable” projects designed to live on after they’re finished.
Along with the community service they provide, such experiences can help Girl Scouts earn college scholarships.
Though it can be tough to recruit volunteers and retain members through their high school years, Girl Scouts saw an increase in membership nationwide this year for the first time in 10 years, Wright says.
“We think we’re on an upswing, and that’s going to continue to grow for us,” she says.
“We couldn’t do what we do if we didn’t have over 5,000 volunteers,” she continues. “We’re never for want of girls who want to participate. It is contingent on us to find volunteers.”
Along with parents, the organization aims to find young women in their 20s to volunteer.
Margaret Boettjer of Spring Grove became a leader 20 years ago, even before having children. She now leads her daughter Samantha and five other 11th- and 12th-grade Ambassador Girl Scouts, all of whom are working on their Gold Awards.
Having earned her own Gold Award in 1983, Boettjer knew she wanted to stay involved.
“It was just a matter of knowing the program and loving the program and wanting to share it with others,” she says.
Girl Scouts are involved in everything, such as sports, art, math and science, she says.
“I think that it gives girls the opportunity to try things they are not familiar with, and they don’t have to be the best at it,” she says.
Parents often think the task of volunteering might be too daunting, says Lynch-Knox, who worked as a youth minister before motherhood.
It’s a matter of working together with other parents, asking them to do simple tasks for the troop that they already enjoying doing, she says.
“You don’t have to be the crafty mom,” she says.
“I think people make the mistake of not understanding. If you ask somebody to be a co-leader, they freak out ... . There’s no reason there needs to be one person running an entire troop. Having more hands breaks up the work.”
Lynch-Knox’s youngest daughter, Jennifer, a seventh grader, recently helped her troop organize a sock hop to celebrate the Girl Scouts’ 100-year anniversary. The event drew roughly 100 girls.
The troop planed the entire event, Lynch-Knox says, and raised money that will be used toward a summer trip. In the past, the troop has gone to Wisconsin Dells and Minnesota.
The event also gave the girls the chance to be leaders to younger Girl Scouts.
“The girls just love it,” Lynch-Knox says.
“It’s one of those things they remember always. To me, that’s the power of Girl Scouts — girls leading girls, mentoring girls.”
Find Out More
Girls Scouts of Northern Illinois serves nearly 20,000 girls and 6,000 adult volunteers in parts or all of Boone, Carroll, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Jo Daviess, Kane, Kendall, Lake, LaSalle, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago counties.
McHenry County has more than 3,700 Girl Scouts.
For more information on Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois, visit www.girlscoutsni.org.