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Girl Scouts and the Hispanic Community
The goal of the Hispanic Initiative is simple: to deliver high-quality program to every Latina who wants to be a Girl Scout.
Think "girls in the USA" and what comes to mind? Most likely the image and thoughts are different for each person: every girl is unique. And the reality is that the face of youth in the United States is changing. The number of children in the United States under age 18 will grow from 72 to 80 million by the year 2020. While a diversity of races and ethnicities will make up that growth, the largest increase is expected in the Hispanic/Latino community: one in every five U.S. children under age 18 will be Hispanic.
How do Girl Scouts respond? To be prepared, of course!
"The Girl Scout Movement was founded with a full commitment to diversity, and both sustaining and promoting inclusiveness is something I am passionate about," said Kathy Cloninger, CEO, GSUSA. "Girl Scouts is here to serve all girls in the United States; that means we need to know who today's and tomorrow's girls are."
Serving Tomorrow's Girls
Seeing that the fastest growing population in the United States is the Hispanic-/Latino community and that currently Girl Scouts serves only 6.9% of this population, GSUSA launched the Hispanic Initiative. Its goals are to deliver high-quality program to every Latina who wants to be a Girl Scout.
"Because we want Girl Scouts to reflect the face of the United States, we're strategically determining how to best reach girls who are not currently in Girl Scouts," said Hada Reed, manager, Hispanic Initiative. "That means providing councils with support and tools to empower them and all our Girl Scout volunteers."
Reaching the Goal
Although efforts by councils and GSUSA to reach Hispanic girls and adults have netted impressive membership increases in the last three years (12% increase for girls and 11.75% increase for adults in 2003), it will take active outreach to realize the goal of the Hispanic Initiative. That's why the Initiative takes two approaches: expand membership in the Hispanic community by increasing Girl Scout visibility, and strengthening councils' knowledge of Hispanic culture and community.
Both of these approaches will take time in Latino communities just as the organization took years to develop membership and volunteer bases in many other communities across the nation.
While Girl Scouts and the Hispanic/Latino community may not have a long shared history, they do have fundamental beliefs in common. Latinos identify family, education, self-respect, culture, and morals as being important—a list that's not very different from the principles found in the Girl Scout Promise and Law. After all, Girl Scouts was founded as a values-based organization. And that continues to set it apart from many others today.
A partnership between the Girl Scouts and members of the Hispanic/Latino community percolates with possibilities. For instance, GSUSA forged a national collaboration with MANA, a National Latina Organization. In addition, GSUSA is a founding organization of the Partners in Hispanic Education with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. As part of that initiative, councils have collaborated with both national and local organizations and businesses to equip families with the educational tools they need to become strong advocates for their children's education.
The fourth National Latina Conference, to be held in Savannah, Georgia, this summer, is expected to be an exciting and well-attended event. The aim of the conference is to bring together girls and women to share information on issues such as education, culture, careers, and, of course, Girl Scouting.
Girl Scouts also continues to seek media coverage on Spanish-language radio and television programs and through magazines such as LatinaStyle, People en Español, and Latina. One bilingual public service announcement, with the theme "Volunteer, Make a Difference to a Girl," featured Lisa Lisa and Christina Vidal, stars of the Nickelodeon show "Taina."
Bringing Communities Together
On the local level, Girl Scouts is collaborating with businesses and professional associations, educators and school boards, religious leaders, local and county governments, and organizations that provide services to Latinos. These partnerships enable councils to educate themselves about their local Hispanic/Latino communities and provide venues for promoting Girl Scouts.
Teaming with the North County Latinas Association, Girl Scouts, San Diego-Imperial Council sponsors an annual conference for middle and high school Latinas and their moms. The event, which drew 700 attendees last year, highlighted career resources and workshops on Girl Scouts and sports featuring a Latina athlete as a speaker.
In Long Island, New York, the Girl Scouts of Nassau County (Garden City) has pulled together representatives from high schools, community centers, businesses, health centers and hospitals, sports associations, cultural centers and social service agencies to form a Hispanic/Latino Task Force. The Task Force focuses on the needs, recruitment, and programming for the county's Latina girls.
The key to success is a flexible, realistic approach tailored to each community. That's why GSUSA developed Conexiones: Girl Scouts and the Hispanic Community Collaborating for Success, a comprehensive resource kit for councils. The kit includes information on research and demographics, tools such as a CD-ROM, posters, and brochures for outreach and program delivery, templates, lists of bilingual materials, and Spanish translation of Girl Scout terminology. Councils can pick and choose, customize, and adapt the materials according to the needs of their community.
The community is also a place to get help. Teachers, church members, coaches, professionals in cultural institutions like librarians, or others may be able to translate for families during a meeting or special event. As with any volunteer recruitment, the reason a person may not currently be volunteering is she or he has never been asked.
The face of the United States is indeed changing. It can be seen in every community where a diversity of languages and cultures flourishes. Girl Scouts has an unprecedented opportunity to be there and grow, too, by reaffirming the tenets of the organization, offering sisterhood, and providing the opportunity to develop service, leadership, and character.