Scouting in the Memphis area gives boys and girls the opportunity to learn leadership skills while better understanding how to be productive parts of the community.
There are about 1.9 million girls and another 800,000 adult volunteers whose lives are impacted by the Girl Scouts’ mission to build girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.
And for some 6,000 girls and 2,000 volunteers, the Girl Scouts Heart of the South council provides a nurturing environment to build on that mission. There are 112 regional councils across the United States. Heart of the South serves 59 counties in North Mississippi, West Tennessee and Crittenden County, Arkansas.
Kimberly Crafton hasn’t spent her entire life with the Girl Scouts, although considering she was a Scout from the age of 6 to 18, it might seem that way.
For the past 2.5 years Crafton has served as the chief development officer for Girl Scouts Heart of the South, and transitions in early 2017 to add the role of chief governance officer. And even before her paycheck came from the Girl Scouts, Crafton served as a volunteer, assistant troop leader, troop leader, program volunteer and any other kind of role she could get her hands on through the years. It’s in her blood, it seems.
She credits her early experiences in Girl Scouts as helping her become a caring and confident woman.
“It gave me courage to try anything new that came along,” Crafton said. “It gave me confidence to continue to succeed even when I failed before. The character to be a person of caring and kindness and understanding who always wants to be there for others. It has turned me into the woman I am today.”
The Girl Scouts was founded in Savannah, Georgia, in 1912. Founder Juliette Gordon “Daisy” Low wanted an outlet for girls to change their futures and become better people while discovering their strengths, passions and talents.
“That’s always been the basis of what we’ve done,” Crafton said. “We’re still doing it today. We are the pre-eminent leadership development organization for girls around the world.”
The Girl Scouts Heart of the South formed in 2009. Before that, the region consisted of five councils. The council consists of troops of 15 to 30 girls, depending on how many parents are involved. Those troops all belong to a larger service unit, of which there are 40 in the council.
Any list of the number of Girl Scouts always includes the number of adult volunteers. Crafton is adamant that the mission of Girl Scouts can’t be fulfilled without adult volunteers.
“We couldn’t do anything without adult volunteers. They’re our lifeblood,” she said. “They are the hands-on people that work with girls as mentors. Without those 2,000 adults it would make life really difficult.”
It’s not just parents. In fact, it’s not just women. Adult volunteers can be moms or dads, but also grandparents, other family members or anyone else in the community who wants to help. Crafton said there are plenty of fathers who volunteer as well as parents who decide to serve as troop leaders together. Volunteer troop leaders do go through training before starting a troop.
While Girl Scouts is one organization, there isn’t always one central experience.
“The girls have a say in what they want to do,” Crafton said. “It is a girl-led organization, which means if the troop decides they want to work on a certain badge then all the girls agree that’s what they want to work on.”
Other troops are STEM oriented or focused on outdoors and camp more than others.
Girls are divided by age; Daisies, for example, are first graders and while they work toward the same mission, the methods are more age-appropriate.
As an organization, the Girl Scouts Heart of the South council two years ago created the National Stand Beside Her Movement, something meant to reach girls and women of all ages.
The grassroots effort is a call to action for mentors to support and develop women and girls. It also calls to end comparison and competition and to create more collaboration and support for each other. The effort so far has been adopted by nearly 30 other Girl Scouts councils, and the National Association of Junior Auxiliaries Inc.’s 97 chapters across the country.
During the annual National Stand Beside Her Week at the end of October participating organizations commit to supporting girls and women in their lives, homes, offices and communities.
The whole movement began through the simple observation of a conversation between teenage girls who were talking about a school election and the realization the other girls at school would vote for the boy instead of the girl running because they didn’t want to support another girl.
“It’s the non-supportive attitude women have had for a number of years,” Crafton said. “We saw it as a need to end that competition between women and be supportive of other women. We needed to take the whole Girl Scouts concept and show it to all women and girls. We can become sisters and mentors and stand beside each other. We all knew the girl on the playground who would be nice to you one minute and pull your hair the next. That has to stop.”
And as Girl Scouts works to make all women more supportive of each other, the organization also needs the community to step in and show encouragement for its girls as mentors in the SheLeads “next-level leadership” experience. It’s for girls in grades 9 through 12 in the Memphis area, but should roll out in the future to other areas in the Heart of the South council.
“The girls we have, they are so amazing,” Crafton said. “They’re hungry for that mentorship, that older woman to show them the ropes in life and what possibilities are and the types of careers and how to better themselves in the long run.”
Oh, and there is one other thing with the Girl Scouts that crosses all councils. Yes, the cookies.
The organization’s major project starts in February and goes through March and April. The girls presell the cookies, with a portion of the money paying for the cookies but a larger portion going to the troop itself.
It’s the major fundraiser for the troops that helps them do many of the activities and experiences throughout the year. But it’s also a learning opportunity for the girls.
“The girls get to learn about the art of selling and the art of talking about Girl Scouts,” Crafton said. “The girls are able to tell people we worked on this badge or did this camp. It’s a chance for girls to learn to speak in public. It develops what we call essential life skills.”
The Boy Scouts of America has a long history teaching boys to be self-reliant while reinforcing family values.
In the Memphis area, those efforts are led by the Chickasaw Council, which consists of Shelby County, Crittenden County, Arkansas, and 15 counties in the Northern Mississippi Delta. The council started in 1916 to oversee the various troops in Memphis following the founding of Boy Scouts of America in 1910.
Richard Fisher was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout growing up, and has been professionally in Scouting for 28 years. He’s been in Memphis since September 2013 where he serves as executive director of the Chickasaw Council.
In some ways, Boy Scouts might seem like a rural or suburban activity. Fisher recalled his early days in the Cub Scouts in an inner-city unit in Chicago when they didn’t do some of the camping activities.
“Memphis is a unique kind of city,” he said. “The Midtown area and parts of Downtown have very strong packs and troops. There are other areas of the city that are more depressed and require more resources for the council.”
Then there are what the council calls emerging markets for units. In those cases the council sometimes provides paid leadership as well as books, camp fees and other program supplies. Those participants still find ways to pay, whether through community service projects, selling popcorn or various other ways to cover costs. The important point is that the council tries to make the program available in all communities of the region.
“The core program is the same no matter what city you’re in,” Fisher said. “It’s like the Christian church and various denominations. There will be some things the same and some slightly different. That’s even from unit to unit. You don’t have to go city to city. Just go down the street for something different.”
Some units are church based and others are school based. All the same values are taught and skills learned, but the way they’re introduced or carried out might be different. Some units focus more on advancement to ensure everyone can push toward earning Eagle Scout. Other units want that advancement to be an individual’s choice.
Units often are sponsored.
“Sometimes we’re lucky and we have a church or school that understands what the program is and says they want a program,” Fisher said. “We get a call from church XYZ that wants a program and we meet with the leadership and find out how committed they are. We’re looking for long-term commitment.”
Fisher said the organization wants a sponsor organization to have good leadership in place that then can be trained and recruitment can begin.
But sometimes there isn’t a local organization to sponsor a unit. The council analyzes the market to better understand the need, population and age demographic. The council becomes a sales force for Scouting in those communities.
“We look to prioritize neighborhoods with a high density of kids not in the program and then we target it,” Fisher said. “We may see three churches in a neighborhood that don’t have Scouting. They have a great number of kids 8 to 10 and they probably need a unit. We initiate the conversation.”
The makeup of units is age appropriate; Cub Scouts are boys 7 to 11 and Boy Scouts are boys 11 to 18. How many boys are in a unit depends on leadership.
“It’s as long as a dog’s tail,” Fisher said. “There is a natural level of capacity. As you build a unit it’s not just a matter of recruiting kids. It’s recruiting enough adults to be involved.”
He gave the example of a unit in Cleveland, Mississippi, that has over 100 boys but operates efficiently because there are more than 30 active adults.
Those adults are critical to the success of every unit.
“We can almost predict the health of a unit by the number of adults participating,” Fisher said. “They don’t have to be parents. Active grandparents or interested aunts or uncles. If an adult is interested in participating in a unit there are ways to do background checks to make sure they are the kind of people that meet our standards.”
The council ended 2016 with just over 7,300 boys. Of that number, there was a 3 percent increase in Cub Scouts compared to the previous year. That’s important for the organization’s future growth. Fisher said about 95 percent of Boy Scouts come from Cub Scouts.
That sustained growth is important for the greater Memphis community, Fisher said. Simply, he believes that improving the lives of the region’s boys is important for the health of the city in the future.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” he said. “All these businesses are interested in attracting and retaining the best talent from across the country to the city of Memphis. We talk about good conduct and moral character and fitness, all the things that any community wants to be part of.”
The Chickasaw Council partners with businesses in the community that can be supportive with allowing for volunteer hours or making financial contributions. Community partnerships take all shapes, but one example is a Boy Scout advancement program that layers in a financial literacy effort thanks to various local banks.
Fisher said there are hundreds of ways to get involved as a volunteer. It depends on the person’s strengths and desires, and can be as little as a couple hours serving on an Eagle Scout review panel to several hours as a Scout leader.
“What we want to ensure is we have an ongoing relationship with businesses in town,” Fisher said. “It’s not just money but a true partnership.”
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