Friday, August 19, 2016

Hear It from a Girl Scout: Bringing Gold to Walt Disney World

Guest blog by Ashley Chico, Girl Scout from Girl Scouts of Citrus and the recipient of the inaugural Elena of Avalor Scepter of Light Award.
Ashley Chico, centered Girl Scout, with her family.

Some moments in life are fun or exciting, but when I got to go up on stage at Walt Disney World to receive the first ever Elena of Avalor Scepter of Light Award—a new award given by Girl Scouts and Disney Channel to chosen Gold Award honorees—I knew it was something special that I’d remember forever. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the park and see Cinderella’s Castle before, but to stand in front of everyone at the park and represent Girl Scouts was truly once in a lifetime.

A couple magical things happened before I came on stage to get my award. First of all, I got to see Cinderella and Prince Charming! That was really cool. But what was even better was hearing two incredible women—Maryann Barry, the CEO of Girl Scouts of Citrus, and Nancy Kanter, the Executive Vice President of Original Programming and General Manager of Disney Junior Worldwide—telling everyone about Project CODE, which I created for my Gold Award. Basically, I’d wanted to do something to impact my community in a unique way that would have an effect on kids even younger than me. Then I started talking to my mentors about how technology is changing even faster than an app downloads, and I realized I wanted to help make sure kids had access to classes and workshops where they could learn to code and get a real digital education. It took a lot of work and I heard the word “no” more times than I can count along the way, but now Project CODE is up and running and helping kids learn that they can create their own future with code.

CEO of Girl Scouts of Citrus, Maryann Barry (left), and Executive Vice President of Original Programming and General Manager of Disney Junior Worldwide, Nancy Kanter (right), award Girl Scout Ashley Chico of Orlando, Fla. with the inaugural Scepter of Light award representing The Gold Award.
Ashley Chico, centered, with her sisters.
As proud as I am of my Gold Award project, I’ve also seen and read about so many other Gold Award recipients and their projects and they’re all so impressive! I mean, there are girls who’ve built entire structures for their communities and done really awesome work that has made such a difference. That’s why I was surprised to be chosen for this honor, and why when I think about it, I realize that this award—and being up on stage at Walt Disney World—wasn’t just about me. I was up there representing all the Girl Scouts who don’t always get recognized for the hard work they do to make the world a better place.

Ninety other Girl Scouts of all ages were there with me, and each one of us got flowers to put in our hair and a special Scepters of Light to celebrate the event. Later in the ceremony, when Elena of Avalor arrived on stage and held up her own scepter, all of us Girl Scouts did the same. Being part of that moment with so many other Girl Scouts and Elena herself—raising our scepters in unison—it really showed that this isn’t just about me—one girl out of millions out there who want to change things—this is about all of us joining together to achieve bigger and better things for our world.

Girl Scouts of Citrus welcoming Princess Elena of Avalor to her Royal Debut.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Great Outdoors Start Right Here

Let's get outside, get active, and get camping!

It's easier than ever to do it right—because now there's a new collection of online videos to help Girl Scout volunteers introduce girls to the joys of the great outdoors.

These videos are perfect for both new and more experienced volunteers (and even older Girl Scouts) working with Daisies, Brownies, or Juniors. Included are helpful tips for getting started, getting inspired, and getting girls outside for a variety of fun Girl Scout activities.

Made possible through a grant from the Elliott Wildlife Values Project, these skill-building videos—covering topics ranging from campsite setup to camp cookery to cleaning up—will help volunteers plan outdoor adventures and get girls excited about heading outside:

Step by Step: Developing Outdoor Skills in Girls
Taking the Journeys Outside
Planning Your Troop’s First Campout
Introduction to Campsite Setup
Introduction to Cooking Outdoors
How to Leave No Trace Outdoors

There’s even a handy outdoor progression chart (PDF) for download, to ensure activities are always grade-level appropriate.

And remember, many girls have their first outdoor experience as part of a Girl Scout troop. Tips like these can help a troop leader make this experience a positive one—which is huge.

How the videos can help

Each one features practical guidance for planning outdoor adventures.
Adult- and/ volunteer-learning departments at councils can use the videos during troop camp certification sessions, grade-level trainings, and outdoor trainings.
Service units can use them when planning camporees and skill-building weekends.
By watching the videos, older girls (program aides, counselors-in-training, volunteers-in-training) can learn new outdoor skills for working with younger girls.

And there’s more than videos! Volunteers can take their outdoor experiences to a whole new level by tapping into Venture Out! A unique resource to help make the outdoor experience more girl-led, Venture Out! equips Girl Scout volunteers with new insights and refreshes their knowledge so they feel more confident engaging girls in the great outdoors.

So whether you’re a volunteer planning a late-summer excursion, getting ready for a fall hiking trip, or even starting to plan for next summer, these outdoor resources can help you make every camping experience a positive one.

There’s a first time for every camper and volunteer—let’s make it the best it can be!

Now let’s get outside and have some fun!

NOTE: Ask your local Girl Scout council for a copy of Safety Activity Checkpoints or Volunteer Essentials to keep up to date with safety and risk management guidelines, and take appropriate outdoor training before starting any activity.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Gold Awardee Receives Scepter of Light Award at Elena of Avalor's Royal Debut

Something magical happened at Walt Disney World. On Thursday, the Crown Princess Elena of Avalor—Disney’s first Latina princess and star of Disney Channel’s new animated series Elena of Avalor—made her royal debut at Magic Kingdom. And Girl Scouts of Citrus was there to give her a royal welcome!

Princess Elena of Avalor, the first Latin-inspired Disney princess, receives a royal welcome from Girl Scouts of Citrus on Aug. 11, 2016 during her arrival at Magic Kingdom Park. (Photo credit: David Roark)
As part of the royal debut, the inaugural Elena of Avalor—Scepter of Light Award was presented at the Cinderella Castle stage to Orlando Girl Scout Ashley Chico, who recently received her Girl Scout Gold Award. The Gold Award is the highest recognition a Girl Scout can earn, with recipients completing Take Action projects that demonstrate extraordinary leadership, including compassion, critical thinking, collaboration, and courage—the very leadership qualities that Elena of Avalor models.

For her project, 17-year-old Ashley created Project CODE which provides STEM resources - including classes and workshops - for students in under-served communities. Ashley also developed the CHICO HealthCare app, which allows patients who are illiterate to share their personal and medical information via tablet, using voice recognition in any language, so that they can register to receive medical care. Ashley celebrated her incredible achievement by spending the day at Magic Kingdom with her sisters (who are also Girl Scouts!) where they met Jenna Ortega, the voice of Princess Isabel!

CEO of Girl Scouts of Citrus, Maryann Barry (left), and Executive Vice President of Original Programming and General Manager of Disney Junior Worldwide, Nancy Kanter (right), award Girl Scout Ashley Chico of Orlando, Fla. with the inaugural Scepter of Light award representing The Gold Award. (Photo credit: Kent Phillips)

Members of the Girl Scouts of Citrus council were on stage to represent Girl Scouts of the USA’s and Disney Channel’s new collaboration, a week after the two organizations announced they are teaming up to inspire girls and their families to practice leadership with the debut of The Elena of Avalor Leadership Guide by Girl Scouts and Disney Channel. Available in English and Spanish, the guide showcases activities and conversations parents and caregivers can engage their preschool through fifth-grade girls in to boost their everyday leadership skills and prepare them to create the future they imagine.

Check out more magical highlights from Thursday's event below plus read Ashley's guest blog:

Princess Elena of Avalor, the first Latin-inspired Disney princess, receives a royal welcome from Girl Scouts of Citrus during her arrival at Magic Kingdom Park. (Photo credit: Matt Stroshane)

Princess Elena of Avalor, the first Latin-inspired Disney princess, receives a royal welcome from Cinderella and Prince Charming (Photo credit: David Roark)

Princess Elena of Avalor, the first Latin-inspired Disney princess, receives a royal welcome from Girl Scouts of Citrus during her arrival at Magic Kingdom Park. (Photo credit: Matt Stroshane)

Girl Scout Ashley Chico  celebrating her Elena of Avalor - Scepter of Light Award with her sisters and actress Jenna Ortega, voice of Princess Isabel on Elena of Avalor

Ready to help your girl take the lead and make the world a better place? Join the Movement.

Hear It from a Girl Scout Leader: How to Inspire “Older” Girl Scouts

Journeys. I have had so many of them over my years as a Girl Scout and then as a Girl Scout volunteer. When I was in elementary school, like so many young girls growing up in the 1960s, I was a Girl Scout. I still remember my leader: Mrs. Bea Pennisi. She was a wonderful woman who embodied the Girl Scout spirit. Sadly, I did not go further than Cadettes, but, as a result of my experience as a Girl Scout, I knew I wanted the same for my daughters—I wanted them to be part of an activity that was "all girls." Participating in girls’ sports provides an option, however if you don't like sports or you are not athletic, you are out of luck. Girl Scouts is something every girl can be a part of.

In 1999, when I attended kindergarten orientation for my older daughter, representatives of our local Girl Scout association were present. They advised that the only way to ensure my daughter would be placed in a troop would be to volunteer to lead one. I am a mother of four and a practicing attorney—before committing to lead a Girl Scout troop, I had to seriously consider how I would be able to do it. One of my neighbors wanted to get her daughter into a troop as well so we decided to work together. Who knew our journey would last 13 years and our friendship even longer! The "roadmap" we used for my older girls became a guide for my younger girls' troop. However, I had to adapt as Girl Scout programming changed to Journeys. In addition to the challenge of new requirements, my troop included a very eclectic group of young women—athletes, theater kids, "cool girls," quiet girls, and "nerds."  Although they were not part of the same friend groups in school, when they came together in Girl Scouts, they respected and supported each other. It was expected of them.

Now my personal journey as a troop leader has come to an end. After more than 17 years as a troop leader, I’ve recently seen the girls in my younger daughter's troop graduate from high school. Soon they’ll be headed to college. All the girls have earned or will have earned their Girl Scout Gold Award. (Yes, the "Golden Girls of Troop 520" featured in an earlier blog post are mine!)  All 12 of the girls in my older daughter's troop also earned the Gold Award before graduating from high school and, as of a couple of weeks ago, all are now college graduates. I am honored to have been a part of the lives of all of these young women. I am so very proud of them.

Many people have asked me how I did it—how did I keep them together so long? Good question! Let's be honest, there is tremendous pressure on these young women and serious competition for their time. Unless they are getting something out of it, Girl Scouts will be the first activity they "drop" when they need some free time. It was my goal to ensure they viewed Girl Scouts as a priority rather than just "something else to do." When they were Girl Scout Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors, we were able to meet right after school. It was easy. As they entered middle school, that was no longer an option. In addition, Girl Scouts now had to compete with their other extracurricular activities as well as their school work and family obligations. In high school, the time pressures became even greater. My girls were involved in many activities. Every girl played at least one varsity sport and some, two and three! Some danced, some played an instrument or two, some worked. I needed to be flexible with respect to meeting times and locations. As they matriculated to Girl Scout Seniors and Ambassadors, there was even more competition for their time. There were SATs and ACTs to be prepared for and taken, college applications that needed to be completed, obligatory school work, team practices, and even a boyfriend or two who required attention! But just as any other activity they were involved with, Girl Scouts required a commitment of all involved—a commitment by parents to get their daughters to meetings and step up when adult help was required, a commitment by the girls to attend meetings and actively participate, and, of course, my commitment to the girls to be prepared and responsive to their needs.

Early on, I got their parents involved. I would meet parents before our school year started with a calendar of meeting dates and an overview of our plans for the year. Prior to that meeting, I would solicit the girls' views and ideas. We would discuss field trips, activities, volunteer opportunities, and the like, and plan our year around things they wanted to do and participate in. We embraced social media early on. We had our own photo-sharing site, Facebook group, and instant messaging group. Another way we stayed connected was by meeting year-round. During the school year we would meet twice a month and during the summer we would meet once a month. Our summer meetings ensured that Girl Scouts was a part of their extracurricular routine. Our summer meetings were never very formal, but always included at least one community service activity. We would hold a food drive, visit a local water park, or go to a neighborhood pool.

I recognized early on that I needed to be flexible. As they got older, our meetings became a safe space for them to talk. Some meetings I would put aside what we had planned so that they could use the time to talk about whatever was troubling them. My girls were not fans of the Journeys, however we made them work for us by doing things we enjoyed while doing the Journey requirements. For example, the girls’ love of cooking complemented the requirements of the Sow What? Journey. We sampled foods at various fast food chains and neighborhood restaurants, studying the nutritional values of each menu. We baked cookies for veterans, volunteered at a local church cooking for the homeless, held our own version of Chopped using locally grown ingredients, and baked bread to share with neighbors. We created a cookbook featuring locally grown ingredients and earned the Locavore badge while completing our Take Action project. This set the stage for their Gold Award projects.

The “road to gold” is not an easy one. We discussed earning the Gold Award over many meetings. My recommendation was to choose a project that they were passionate about. Once a girl came up with a project, I would meet with her individually to help her flesh out her idea. I encouraged each girl every step of the way, regularly asking how she was doing and how the project was progressing. I also encouraged their families to support them without interfering or trying to take control. The skills a girl develops in connection with earning her Gold Award will last her a lifetime. She must identify a need and come up with a project. She must be organized and willing to lead. Among other skills, she learns how to prepare a budget, how to solicit volunteers to assist her, and to give instruction to those volunteers about what she would like them to do. She also learns how to prepare written materials relevant to the project. She learns how to advocate for herself and her ideas as she presents her project to a review board to determine if the project has merit. Then she must complete the project, keeping track of the time she has dedicated to the endeavor. It is a lengthy journey but as my girls will tell you, it was well worth the effort.

As our last year in Girl Scouts was winding down, the girls thanked me repeatedly for the experience (I did not need thanks; we shared the adventure); for helping them get into college (they did that without me!); for encouraging them to achieve their Gold Award (they did the work, I just cheered them on); however, I must thank Girl Scouts. Through Girl Scouts I had the opportunity to work with these amazing young women for the past 13 years. I am going to miss them as they begin their next life journey. Although, we are already planning our holiday break get-together, it won't be the same as meeting in my dining room on a Sunday night or in my basement sharing a pizza. They have touched my heart and, I believe, I have touched theirs. One of my troop moms said it best. She said "It's been a great ride, but it is, indeed, rather sad to see it end. It is really incredible that they stayed together, but that is clearly due to the fact that you...made it lots of fun, gave them a voice in which activities to do, and made sure it was also educational and manageable rather than a burden." Is this the secret to keeping older girls? Perhaps. All I know is that I have been truly blessed!

Girls can do anything they set their minds to—especially when given the right opportunities. Start a troop today! Already an amazing troop leader? Share your story with us! 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

This Is How We S'more—Happy National S'mores Day!

We’re excited to announce that today, National S’mores Day, we’re celebrating 100 years of Girl Scouts selling cookies by introducing the new Girl Scout S’mores™ cookies. That’s right! We’re combining two iconic Girl Scout traditions—s’mores and Girl Scout Cookies! Joining legendary classics like Thin Mints® and Caramel deLites®/Samoas®, the new Girl Scout S’mores™ cookies will be carried in select markets during the 2017 cookie season.

And it gets even better! As a nod to the different ways people “s’more,” the new variety includes two versions: a crispy graham cookie double dipped in a crème icing and enrobed in a chocolatey coating and a crunchy graham sandwich cookie with a chocolate and marshmallowy filling. The cookies will be the first new addition to the Girl Scout Cookie lineup since 2015.

To celebrate the new Girl Scout S’mores™ cookies, many Girl Scout councils around the country will be hosting campfires tonight and beyond, inviting communities to join in the fun of making s’mores and learn more about the exciting and impactful programs Girl Scouts offers girls. To see if your local council is participating in a National S'mores Day event, visit their website.

Now that we’ve told you how we s’more, we want to know—how do you s’more? Yesterday we asked our Facebook and Instagram fans the same question and we collected our favorites:

  • Our Scout doesn't like hers toasted at all! Loves the campfire and songs, then pops the "raw" marshmallow right into her mouth.....yum! – Jeanne L. 
  • We put a roasted marshmallow between 2 Thin Mints. We also use Samosas & Tagalongs! So gooooood. – Autumn T.
  • Charred and with a peanut butter cup! – Robyn S. 
  • We got a book out of the library all about s’mores with tons of recipes with different spins on s’mores. But we didn't do a single one! Turns out we are s’more purists. All we want is marshmallow, chocolate & graham crackers! – Shoshana K.
  • Burnt Marshmallow between a Lemonade and a Thanks-A-Lot!! Yummy! – Suzanne L.
  • Perfectly brown and bubbly, dark chocolate and cinnamon grahams. – Kathleen R.
  • Browned, not charred. With peanut butter and dark chocolate. I roast, my daughter puts crackers, etc. together – we make a perfect team. – Nicole M.
  • Rotisserie style. ...lightly brown all over. – Kristin S. 
  • You let it catch on fire let it burn for a little bit, and then you get it gooey and crunchy. – Elizabeth N. 
  • With a lot of friends. – Kathleen P. 

As you can see, there’s no wrong way to eat a s’more! Join the conversation!

To learn more about the new cookie varieties and find out when Girl Scouts will be selling cookies near you, visit or use the official Girl Scout Cookie Finder app, free for your iOS or Android phone or mobile device. For more information about Girl Scouts and how to join or volunteer, visit