Given the friction and financial woes facing the Girl Scouts these days, perhaps it’s time for a giant friendship circle. Under that tradition, a ring of Scouts clasp hands and give a little squeeze, accompanied by a silent wish of good will.
Just a year after its centennial celebrations, the Girl Scouts of the USA finds itself in a different sort of squeeze. Its interconnected problems include declining membership and revenues, a dearth of volunteers, rifts between leadership and grass-roots members, a pension plan with a $347 million deficit, and an uproar over efforts by many local councils to sell venerable summer camps.
The tangle of difficulties has prompted one congressman to request an inquiry by the House Ways and Means Committee into the pension liabilities and the sale of camps.
“I am worried that America’s Girl Scouts are now selling cookies to fund pension plans instead of camping,” wrote Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, last month to the committee chairman.
Compounding the problems are tensions at GSUSA headquarters in New York, where several senior executives have quit or been ousted since Anna Maria Chavez took over as CEO in 2011. Last week, some of the roughly 325 employees there were invited to take early retirement. Chavez said an unspecified number of layoffs are expected in August.
Chavez insists the GSUSA is on the right track, although she acknowledged that sweeping changes in structure and programs over the past 10 years have been difficult for many.
“Change can be unsettling and it is not surprising that some would prefer for us to remain static,” she said. “But doing so would be a disservice to girls who need us now more than ever.”
There’s a common denom- inator between the GSUSA leaders and their critics — expressions of devotion to the Girl Scouts and hopes that it manages to thrive.
Since 2003, the group has undergone a transformation aimed at updating programs and its image. Changes have affected uniforms, handbooks, program materials, the logo and the print on boxes of Girl Scout cookies.