The Girl Scouts Celebrate 100 Years

Local Girl Scouts CEO Lidia Soto-Harmon talks to us about how the organization remains relevant—and just where all that money from cookie sales goes.

By: Erin Keane Scott

Girl Scouts Council of the Nation’s Capital CEO Lidia Soto-Harmon. Photograph courtesy of the Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital.

The Girl Scouts celebrated their centennial anniversary in March, marking 100 years of singing-along, camping, earning badges, and learning lessons of leadership. The Girl Scouts Council of the Nation’s Capital is celebrating this milestone in fine form with events ranging from this weekend’s Rock the Mall, during which a projected 200,000 girls will form a flashmob on the Mall, to the unveiling of a wax figure of Girl Scouts’ founder, Juliette Gordon “Daisy” Low, at Madame Tussaud’s.

Recently we chatted with Girl Scouts Council of the Nation’s Capital CEO Lidia Soto-Harmon about the impact of the nonprofit on Washington and how Girl Scouts have remained relevant for a century.

Let’s get the question on everyone’s mind out in the open: Where does all the money from the cookies go?

For every box of Girl Scout cookies sold in this region, 70 cents goes back to the troops to fund programming and to help them do good deeds. This past year more than $3 million went directly to the troops to do good works.

The money also helps maintain our eight camp properties and scholarships for girls whose families can’t afford Girl Scouting. We give about $600,000 a year in financial assistance to low-income families in the Washington area.

How do you balance teaching young women healthy living habits while also promoting cookie sales?

All Girl Scout cookies are trans-fat-free, and we teach that moderation is important. Also our organization is more than just the cookie program. We’re camping, we’re hiking in the woods, we’re part of the Let’s Move! initiative. We’re well-rounded; that’s the important thing.

How has Girl Scouts changed since 1912? What steps has the organization taken to stay pertinent to girlhood over a century?

You know, I think one of the reasons Girl Scouting has remained relevant over all these years is that at the core, what the organization is all about is girls’ voices and girls’ interests. As a result, though things have changed, the Girl Scouts have remained all about leadership and empowering girls to do whatever they want to do.

I’m also realizing now that my daughter is a teenager that girls need a safe place to be themselves. Our focus on outdoor education and environmental responsibility is not something they’re getting anywhere else. Reconnecting with nature gives girls a place to decompress and be themselves.

Can you tell me some of the ways the Girl Scouts have made a difference in the Washington community?

Girl Scouts in their junior or senior years of high school have the opportunity to try for a Gold Award, the highest award a scout can receive. The girls have to create a project that solves a problem or meets a need in the community, and they have to dedicate more than 80 hours to implementation.

About five girls in 2012 earned their Gold Award working on STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math]-related projects and were welcomed at the White House in April. Another girl won a the award for a project that created a scholarship program for kids whose parents are incarcerated. It’s called ScholarCHIPS, and it gives $10,000 to three high school seniors each year.

How about some famous Washingtonians who were Girl Scouts?

In DC there are a number of powerful women who are true Girl Scouts, from Barbara Krumsiek, who runs Calvert Investments, to senator Barbara Mikulski, who still carries the Girl Scout promise in her purse. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will break out into Girl Scout songs if you ask her.

The Girl Scouts of the Nations Capital’s Rock the Mall, the “world’s largest sing-along,” happens June 9 from 9 AM to 4 PM on the Mall. For more information, visit the website.