This was originally posted in 2008, but a friend’s problem with the Girl Scouts reminded me of my own problem with the Girl Scouts and specifically with the United Way. I’m sure many Scouts love selling cookies and I’m sure many of you depend on the United Way to help support various worthwhile agencies and clubs, but my experience with both Scouts and United Way has not been outstanding. This is why I donate services instead of money; I target specific places I want to help support and I get in my car and drive there and work hard and support them. But give them money? I don’t.
Prove me mistaken. Please? I want you to, because disillusionment isn’t a fun place to dwell.
Mamacita says: I was looking through my jewelry box tonight and I found my Girl Scout stars and badges and pins. I was a Brownie, and then a real Girl Scout, and I absolutely loved it until sixth grade, when Scout Headquarters decided to mix ages and put together all-new troops with various levels in each.
This sucked, so I quit. All the older girls quit. It meant we could no longer go bowling, because the little kids had to be watched and taught. It meant the end of our going for the badges because we were expected to help the little girls earn theirs. It meant we could no longer hang out in the Public Service kitchen downtown and cook stuff, because the little kids had to be watched and shown how to do everything. And watched.
We were being used as babysitters and we didn’t like it.
That Public Service kitchen was awesome. We had loved going there, even though our scout leader’s idea of teaching upper elementary girls to cook consisted of “how to read the instructions on a box of cake mix.” I was genuinely shocked to discover that there were girls my age who didn’t know how! I mean, seriously, how stupid could they get? Yes, I was compassionate even in my youth.
Twelve-year-old girls who had never cracked an egg. Twelve-year-old girls who didn’t know how to measure water. I was horrified. I’m still horrified.
I still have my Public Service pin, too. I’m almost afraid to ask, but does anybody else out there remember. . . . Reddy Kilowatt?
As a lovingly handled my pins, I remembered my last contact with the Girl Scouts. It was in the eighties, when my daughter was in lower elementary school. I taught in a small rural K-8 school, one of three middle schools in a large system, and the only one that was wayyyy out in the country, miles from any kind of business. Next door on one side was a cow pasture. On the other side was a cemetery.
There really wasn’t much of anything for the little girls to do, so I thought about becoming a Brownie leader and organizing a troop of Sara’s friends and classmates, meeting every week right there in the school so their parents wouldn’t have to drive all the way to town, and re-creating the fun experience I’d had as a Brownie, myself. We were so poor that I was cutting up my dresses to clothe Sara for school, but my time would be free. I’d been giving to the United Way for years, and they would pay for supplies, etc., right?
It didn’t happen.
I called Girl Scout Headquarters and asked how one went about doing this. The woman I spoke with was ECSTATIC that I wanted to be a Scout leader. She proceeded to tell me that my list of girls would be waiting at the office, and oh, I should find a meeting place in town because that would be central, and oh, I needed to find a business to sponsor us, and oh, when could we start selling cookies?
I had a few questions. The first one was, what list of girls? I had a list of girls, well over twenty. “NO NO,” she said. “We have a waiting list of girls. Your own daughter may join them, of course, but the rest will have to be put on another waiting list.” I could feel the pulse begin to pound in my neck.
My second question was, what do you MEAN, a business to sponsor us? I’d been giving to the United Way for years; I thought that was paying for Brownies, etc. in my community. “Well, no,” she said. “The United Way doesn’t pay for anything concerning the individual troops.”
My third question: Where is all this United Way money I’ve been donating, believing I was sponsoring scout troops, paying for craft materials, refreshments, etc, actually going, then? “It all goes to Corporate,” she replied.
My fourth question: Am I buying carpet and wall art, and paying salaries and benefits and retirement, for Corporate, with my donations? Why am I buying carpet and wall art and paying salaries for an organization that then tells its individual troops they have to solicit businesses for craft supplies and refreshments?
“Um, if you’ll give me your name and phone number, ma’am, I’ll have someone call you tonight.”
You do that.
Later that night. . . “Rinnnng.”
“I feel there has been a misunderstanding regarding your desire to be a Brownie leader?” I’m hoping, so, yes. “We already have several lists of girls who need a leader, so we’re hoping you’ll agree to do that. They’re all in town. When can you start selling cookies?”
I prefer to lead a troop out in the country, right in my classroom, immediately after school. I have a list of over twenty little girls.
“I’m afraid that wouldn’t work out for the girls on our lists. They all live in town and really prefer a central meeting place. When can you start selling cookies?”
I’d be happy to include some of the town girls in my troop, but I have twenty names of little girls right here already in the school building.”
“I’m afraid that isn’t possible. We already have lists of girls right there in your town. When can your new troop begin selling cookies?”
I don’t live in town. I live out in the country, fairly near the school. The little girls on my list all live out in the middle of nowhere, and after school in our building would be perfect for them, and for me. Now, please tell me about soliciting a business to pay for what I thought the United Way covered.
“I hope this won’t in any way compromise your opinion of the United Way, ma’am. The money they collect is all sent to corporate and distributed among the qualifying agencies; they don’t support individual local Scout troops. Local Scout troops must ask a bank or store to sponsor them.”
Then why are the Scouts on the list of local supported United Way clubs and agencies?
“Um, ma’am, why don’t I have a United Way representative call you and explain?”
A frantic woman from the United Way called me the next night, but I wasn’t interested.
I give to many local charities, agencies, and clubs, but I do not give to the United Way. I had never been so disillusioned in my life. I do it all individually now. And as I said before, I usually donate services so I know for a fact exactly where my “donation” goes.
If anybody can explain all of this to me, I’d really love to hear it, because even though it was years ago, the memory still makes me furious. Is it still like this? Please say no.
Until I find out otherwise, I’m not signing up for United Way. I’ll continue to donate services and goods to specific places.
Administrators can buy their own carpet and wall art.
I recommend the American Heritage Girls. They focus on faith and service and have fantastic badges. No questionable practices or underhanded money shifting. And NO cookies to sell!!
Back when I was a Girl Scout leader – and quit giving to United Way – I worked in corporate America, so money was not an object. I was told that UW had a certain amount budgeted for GS and if I designated my UW money to go to GS, it would – but they would remove that much from the budget designated for GS.
I quit doing GS when I no longer had a daughter in a troop – the Girl Scouts move away from the direction my family wanted (outdoors) to a more urban/froo froo scouting program was too much.
And, no, I never got anything from either GSUSA or United Way to help with anything we did.
Amen. I donate my tutoring time on the weekends at a public library. I donate food to a foodbank. For the past two years I have tried to donate a minimum dollar amount to the United Way, because the admin where I work strive for 100% participation. Both years I contributed early but it has mysteriously ended up arriving “too late” to be counted. I will not even try ever again.
As a lifelong Girl Scout, I have a strong feeling that your experiences were with policies specific to your council at the time. (Councils usually cover all or part of a state and can create some of their own policies independent of Girl Scouts of the United States of America). For example, in my council, in my lifetime, troops have never been required or even encouraged to be multi-age or multi-level, nor have troops been expected to find a sponsor. Certainly, since the Girl Scout program is so very program-level-based, it doesn’t make much sense to have multi-age troops as a general rule. My own experiences as a girl Girl Scout were largely positive, but a lot of that was due to having a great leader who made sure that we girls were able to plan and execute what we wanted to do. As a leader myself now, I feel that Girl Scouts makes it incredibly hard to be a leader and provide those good opportunities for girls. Ultimately, while I have a deep love for Girl Scouts, I’m not in love with the current program, but I feel that it’s still possible to use Girl Scouts to help girls have some wonderful experiences, although it’s the leaders and parents who have to do more work than they should have to to make that work.