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The Girl Scouts of America Is Crumbling

Photograph by Getty Images

You wouldn't know it from the record-breaking cookie sales, but Girl Scouts of America is strapped. Pension plans are in a deficit and revenue is coming up short. About a quarter of the staff at its national headquarters in New York City was eliminated either through buyouts or layoffs. There has also been some in-fighting within GSA—disagreements over the direction of programming in the nearly 100-year-old organization.

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Things there aren't as sweet and chewy as an annual box of Samoas might lead you to believe. Most alarming: participation in Girl Scouts is on a steady decline. According to an Associated Press article, 2.2 million girls call themselves Girl Scouts, down from 2.9 million 10 years ago. Not enough women are volunteering as troop leaders, either.

Youth organizations everywhere battle declining membership, but Girl Scouts falling out of favor seems unthinkable. GSA leaders are on it, rethinking their outreach strategies. Expect to hear from from your local troops regional organizations on social media and at your front door. First Lady Michelle Obama loaned the organization her voice and influence in a video that not only encourages girls to join but also calls for adults to volunteer.

But I think GSA needs to rethink the way girl scouting gets done. My girls would like to join a Girl Scout troop in our area, but we can't find any that have room for them. The waiting lists are huge. In order to get them in a troop, the local GSA office tells me, I'd need to volunteer to start one. The problem is I can't. I don't have the time in the after-school hours; I have to work. Also, I really wouldn't know what to do. I wasn't a Girl Scout, though I desperately wanted to be one. Troops met after school back then, too, and I had to catch the school bus home. The other girls' moms picked them up.

I'd like to see the organization really open up to all girls—whether their moms have time to get involved or not.

The organization is a valuable one that encourages girls to think and take risks and learn new stuff and have fun—skills that will help them succeed in life. Succeed, like, have careers. In a way, the after-school model can't work—shouldn't work—if that's one of their big goals.

The GSA in our area sent us information about other ways to take part, and we're going to give it a shot. For example, they have non troop-based meetings once a month, where the girls get to do Girl-Scouty things. It's still in the afternoon hours, but, luckily, I work from home and can spare the drive time. For now.

I could also send my daughters to Girl Scout camp in the summer. We might give that a shot, too. What sounds really great, though, is being part of a troop. We'll see if that ever happens.

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I'd like to see GSA hit up empty-nesters, college students and other child-free women and encourage them to take on a troop. I know, I know, other people aren't responsible for raising my kid. But that's not really what I'm suggesting. Rather, I'd like to see the organization really open up to all girls—whether their moms have time to get involved or not. I'd like to see GSA accommodate working mothers. I think then it could build its capacity in terms of troops.

Or maybe they already have! Maybe there are Girl Scout programs available, and I just don't know it! In which case, this outreach campaign? Can't happen soon enough.

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