These are tumultuous times, but Monica Woodson isn’t too worried about the future.
“As a society we are going to be okay,” says the new CEO of Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan (GSSEM), “because the young girls in our programs are going to take the world by storm.”
The Cass Tech and Wayne State University alumna returned in June to her native Detroit after three years in Chicago to helm GSSEM, which includes 25,000 girls, 5,000 adult volunteers and eight counties spread over 5,500 miles.
“This opportunity was one I could not pass up, having been a Girl Scout myself in this council and now truly coming home. It’s an honor and a privilege,” Woodson says. “The Girl Scouts mission is Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place, which is evidenced by the success of alumnae, and even girls, who earn badges and high awards every day. Girl Scouts help girls build that ‘I can achieve whatever I aspire to’ confidence.”
Finding new ways to connect — and new skills to learn
Woodson’s goal is to get more girls and families involved in Girl Scouting, a tricky proposition given the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
Except for some family camps and outside troop meetings that were ideal for social distancing, nearly all activities are being done remotely. This summer, GSSEM distributed more than 2,000 family activity kits, and “the level of engagement was more than I could have imagined,” Woodson says. “Girl Scouts provided normalcy in a time of chaos, and girls and their families were happy to grab onto that familiarity.”
This fall, “we are being creative and intentional about connecting with girls and families where they are, and of course safely. We are hosting recruitment events in parks and pavilions near schools, and just reopened our camp to family and troop camping, which is done in a socially distant manner. And I am just dying to get out there and meet everyone.”
Woodson is particularly excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programming that includes robotics and automotive engineering.
In January, the Girl Scouts will launch a drone program “that will teach girls not just how to fly drones, but to code and explore all the career paths associated with them,” Woodson says. “The drone industry is becoming like NASCAR and we want to see some women dominate that field.”
Also new are civics badges and skilled trades programming that teaches girls practical abilities like changing a tire and exploring traditionally male-dominated fields like plumbing. Southeastern Michigan’s Girl Scouts will work to expand partnerships with organizations that help families facing hardships. “We recognize just how heinous this virus has been and how it has impacted so many families,” Woodson says.
All-new programs with a spirit of tradition
Technology like remote sales and contactless delivery will play a role in the current Fall Product sale, which features magazine, candy and nuts products. The Fall Product sale will serve as a “dry run” for the big event — the famed cookie sale that runs December to April and includes some 200 million boxes and generates more than $780 million nationally. Both programs teach girls life-enhancing skills including goal setting, decision making, business ethics, people skills and money management.
“Our goal is to make sure we are always doing traditional Girl Scout programming while also creating new programs that meet unmet interests while adhering to the vision and spirit of what our founder Juliette Gordon Low started more than a century ago,” Woodson says of the organization’s founder. “This season is strange and full of uncertainty, but we know we have a tried-and-true product.”
Woodson encourages families to look to Girl Scouting as they continue to navigate through the repercussions of COVID-19. “Particularly in this time of uncertainty, we are the thing that they can grab hold to and alleviate some stress and give them other things to focus on,” she says. “We give girls the chance to make new friends and have that safe space where they can talk to each other and share their fears. There is no downside.”