In litigation with national organization, Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee continues to thrive
A face mask, bedazzled with the logo of the Girl Scouts. (Photo: Tracy Rokas)
Little girls selling Girl Scout cookies in plexiglass face shields is just one example of why Middle Tennessee Girl Scouts are in financially better circumstances than many of their sisters across the country.
Recently the Associated Press reported that Girl Scouts of the USA has 15 million boxes of unsold cookies and faces financial difficulties. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, members and volunteers were limited in traditional face-to-face cookie sales, and troops overestimated how many boxes they needed versus how many they actually sold.
In contrast, the Middle Tennessee Girl Scout leaders said they were able to avoid cookie stockpile problems and left the pandemic fiscally sound. By using their own technology to project sales, Middle Tennessee’s cookie program made more than $3 million in sales.
This technology has been the subject of controversy between the national organization and the Middle Tennessee branch. The Girl Scouts of the U.S. required all Girl Scouts troops adopt a new technology platform in order to ensure quality control over the brand, and because Middle Tennessee refused, its charter has been placed at risk.
“Frankly, the technology that we use — that we created and has been there for a long time— was absolutely vital in anticipating the membership changes and cookie sales,” said Becky Sharpe, a Middle Tennessee board member. “We have something that’s working brilliantly and is extremely cost effective. Why would we have to change it?”
Middle Tennessee is currently in litigation with the national office over the Girl Scouts of the U.S.’ refusal to renew their charter until Middle Tennessee agreed to the technology platform. The ongoing lawsuit with the national office means the local troops risk losing their ability to operate as Girl Scouts in the state, and troop leaders are banking on state law, which states that nonprofit organizations are protected from termination without good cause.
The conflict caught the attention of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, who sent a letter to national organization leaders reminding them that the Girls Scouts are a congressionally authorized organization and charted by federal statute.
“The Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee is an outstanding council and represents the very best. Threatening its charter makes no sense and calls into question the national organization’s priorities for young women and girls everywhere,” said Cooper, who called on the national organization to renew Middle Tennessee’s charter.
An Empowering Organization
Despite the pandemic, local girls continued their Girl Scout activities. In lieu of outdoor trips, girls met through social platforms, shared their crafting skills and sold cookies online.
For others, a pandemic wasn’t enough to stop the girls from doing what they do best. Tracy Rokas, a troop leader, said her girls “really loved to sell cookies” and still set up shop at local grocery stores, albeit decked out in protective gear.
“They looked like storm troopers,” said Truco.
Although they’re in a financially better position, the Middle Tennessee Girl Scouts are not free from the problems faced by Girl Scouts nationwide. Even before the pandemic, membership numbers declined significantly over the last decade. In 2003, 2.9 million girls were enrolled in the Girl Scouts nationally, and by 2019, only 1.7 million girls were enrolled. Reasons range from competition with the Boy Scouts, who recently allowed girls to join, to parents being too busy to drive their daughters to activities. Declining members and financial losses from unsold cookies means local troops will take the hit. Without girls, there’s no selling cookies.
“When we’re really going to feel it or understand, it’s going to be this coming year,” said Rokas.
Yet troop leaders aren’t too worried.
Although much has changed since the Girl Scouts were founded in 1912, the organization continues to be where girls learn to empower themselves. Selling cookies is just one aspect of their mission, which is to fund activities and programming to help the girls in their future.
Along with learning useful skills, troop leaders encourage the girls to voice their passion. Rokas’ troop collectively decided they wanted to help transgender youth by working with the Oasis Center, a youth intervention organization, to construct a beauty bar to allow youth to experiment with makeup.
“The idea is that you instill that desire to make change in the world around them, and then you give them the opportunity to see themselves doing that,” said Rokas.
The pandemic shone a light on problems that had long simmered under the surface, said Sharpe. Traditionally, members mostly came from middle to upper class families who could afford the rising membership fees and time to spare, making the Girl Scouts inaccessible to many other communities.
The ability of local Girl Scout troops to succeed lies in their understanding of the changing times and demographics. On a national level, troop leaders have started branching out into low-income areas, and Middle Tennessee is hoping to do the same with Tennessee’s rising immigrant community.
“We make sure no girl gets turned away,” said Sharpe.
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