Mary Winter Teaster says its a great time to be a Girl Scout in the Midlands.
Amid recent news of financial struggles and declining membership at the national level, the Girl Scouts of South CarolinaMountains to Midlands council is reporting sound organizational health.
Locally, Girl Scout membership has increased to 12,299 from 12,070 since 2008, while adult membership has risen to 5,157 from 5,066 during that same period. Leaders say continued volunteer recruitment and retention are keys to the organizations success.
Meanwhile the Girl Scouts signature cookie sales have increased by 30 percent locally in recent years (to 1.8 million boxes from 1.4 million), and the council continues to move ahead with plans for a new leadership conference center it purchased in 2011 in the Vista.
Teaster, board chairwoman of the Girl Scouts of South CarolinaMountains to Midlands and senior managing director of CBRE/Columbia, a commercial real estate firm, recently discussed some of the reasons behind the success and talked about the councils plans for the future.
To what do you attribute the overall health of the Girl Scouts of South CarolinaMountains to Midlands, given some of the national trends recently reported?
Teaster: When our Girl Scouts of South CarolinaMountains to Midlands council was formed from a merger of four councils in 2007-2008, we were very focused on creating a long-term plan to successfully integrate the various members, properties and programs. We had generous donors who helped us secure national consultants and to review the best success stories from other Girl Scout councils and nonprofits. We had a group of 200 volunteers who worked eight months on the top-10 hot buttons that the members of the four councils said were important to them. We addressed those before we merged. Financially, from the beginning of the planning, we remained aware of our limited finances and planned accordingly.
What has been the local reaction to some of those national reports and how have you gone about balancing that information?
Teaster: Every council is unique and has unique issues. As an independent entity, each council determines priorities and strategies for its jurisdiction. Reaction has been generally understanding of how difficult change is at the national level and how that can be very different at the local level. Major changes are never fast or easy.
Going forward, what is one of the biggest challenges facing your council?
Teaster: Volunteers, plain and simple. Volunteers both women and men who will join us with program delivery, raise funds, serve on the board, train other volunteers, and serve as role models to our girls. Our organization is 99 percent volunteer-led, so adult recruitment is pivotal to reducing our girl waiting list or starting up troops that are pending throughout our 22 counties.
What is one of the things you are personally most excited about with regard to Scouting?
Teaster: We are preparing to launch a capital campaign that will raise the funds to convert the councils facilities into destinations and our programs into multidimensional experiences for girls in every corner of the community. We want to make sure there is at least one facility within a 90-mile radius of every troop. I am leading this effort here in the Midlands section of the council. By creating the only Leadership Center for girls in South Carolina and by reimagining exciting camps that inspire, we will ensure a comprehensive program that offers every girl the skills and opportunities she needs to excel, exceed and lead.
What is the status of the Leadership Center?
Teaster: We continue with exciting plans for this facility that will house a variety of wonderful opportunities and activities. At the end of the summer well have a construction timeline and more details that we can share following our board of directors final plan approval. It will truly be an attractive magnet of activity and experiential learning that will be a place where girls can develop a strong sense of self and a set of positive values in an environment of multiculturalism and experience unparalleled indoor and outdoor activities.
Can you talk a little about the councils growing emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math?
Teaster: Future careers in STEM are a huge opportunity for girls. Over the next decade, millions of jobs will be available in those fields. Women make up the majority of graduate degrees but are not pursuing STEM careers. We are creating programs based on proven techniques to create more interest among girls. We are working with our councils STEM Advisory Champions to develop the curriculum.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your service?
Teaster: I know now that God placed me in this opportunity to serve. I have been humbled and honored to work with this amazing group that provides unparalleled opportunities for girls. We help them to understand that there is not one thing they cant accomplish in this life, whatever path they choose. I am gaining so much more from my involvement than I can possibly be contributing.
Ok, so whats your favorite Girl Scout cookie?
Teaster: Are you kidding? Thin Mints. I keep a stock pile in my freezer for my husband and me to enjoy all year.
To learn more about the Girls Scouts plans for the Leadership Center, visit www.gssc-mm.org and click the She Sees the Future link.