Group of Washington state Girl Scouts at summer camp; photo courtesy Girl Scouts of Western Washington
Editor’s note: This article was sponsored by Girl Scouts of Western Washington.
Did you know that currently the Girl Scouts has an international membership of more than 2.5 million youth and adults? And that more than 59 million American women alive today participated in Girl Scouts growing up? Whoa, that is an awful lot of badges!
Examining the organization by the numbers might surprise people. Just ask Andrea Anderson, CEO of Girl Scouts of Western Washington. “Girl Scouts is a massive organization. People think, ‘Oh, you’re just cookies or you’re just camps.’ No, we are this massive, entrepreneurial youth leadership and outdoor experiential education movement.”
In our everchanging, hyperconnected world, the mission of the Girl Scouts, with its emphasis on leadership and character development through mastering skills, service to community and participation in outdoors experiences (exemplified in the org’s quintessential summer camps program), may strike some as last-century — but Anderson would say that it is more relevant than ever.
ParentMap seized the opportunity to speak with Anderson to learn more about her vision for Girl Scouts of Western Washington as its new CEO, opportunities for getting involved in its programming and mission, and just what makes Girl Scout overnight camp so life-changing.
Give your child an unforgettable summer!
Girl Scouts of Western Washington overnight summer camps provide inclusive and supportive environments for campers and employees, regardless of birth gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, cultural heritage, ability, economic status or family dynamics.
Learn more and register your camper for overnight camps at Camp Robbinswold, Camp River Ranch and Camp St. Albans.
Seasonal job opportunities at Girl Scout camps
Girl Scouts of Western Washington is currently hiring seasonal staff positions to work at its 2023 overnight summer camps.
Tell us your Girl Scout story.
I’m first-generation American, a daughter of immigrants — my mom and my grandparents came over from Denmark in 1950, and eventually ended up in Michigan. My grandmother signed my mother up for Girl Scouts so that she could get acclimated to a new country and a new community, and make friends.
So, when I was growing up in my small hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, I ended up being a Girl Scout. I had a ball in Girl Scouts — my mom eventually became my troop leader — and I got to do so many wonderful things. Girl Scouts summer camp for me was the highlight of my entire year. I went to a tiny camp. It’s still there: Camp Merrie Woode, in southwest Michigan — I loved it every summer. I had so many great experiences: I got to ride horses, I got to go swimming, I got to make friends. I mean, it was — it is — just a magical experience.
So, I am literally a product of the Girl Scouts leadership experience, where I was able to make friends and find my voice, learn about the outdoors and different cultures, and discover how to run my own business by selling cookies. And back in the ’70s and ’80s, we had to conquer the fear of going door to door, standing there with our voice shaking and asking neighbors to help raise money so we could go on our adventures!
What life experiences are informing your new leadership role with Girl Scouts?
I have been really privileged to be able to work at some amazing organizations where I was able to lean in and make a difference in young people’s lives — particularly around education, and the health and well-being of our most marginalized communities. Additionally, I’ve been an advocate for antiracism diversity, equity, inclusion and racial justice work throughout my career. As a health educator, I’ve always known that I need to have a job where my heart is involved, particularly working to ensure that our young people have the skills that they need in order to have healthier lives.
How do you think about the organization’s “girl-led” mission and its relevance in young girls’ lives today?
We are a 111-year-old organization that focuses almost exclusively on growing strong, amazing girls and gender-expansive youth of courage, confidence and character. The Girl Scouts model is still absolutely relevant today — and incredibly applicable in every community. It is a group of young people stewarded by trusted adults who hold space for them to find and use their voices and learn ways that they can make an impact on the world. Period. That’s how Girl Scouts does it. It works in every community, culture and country.
We want to provide opportunities for them to lean into what it feels like to be a leader and to use their voice in those areas that matter to them. That’s the relevancy of what it is that that we do. It is an ancient model of having young people work together within a community, being stewarded by trusted adults. I just couldn’t be prouder about the fact that Girl Scouts is honored to continue that model and be the stewards of young people, to continue to build eco-warriors, and to allow them opportunities to grow and learn and to bring each other along.
Speaking of camps, the organization is presently looking to hire seasonal staff for the summer camps program. What are the opportunities and what’s your recruitment pitch?
We have approximately 115 regular staff now, but every summer our employee count doubles as we hire more than 100 seasonal camp staff. Currently, we have about half of those people hired, and are doing everything in our power to find the rest of them.
The young adults who want to be camp counselors and want to do this work start looking in December, January and February. So, we start interviewing during that quarter. We want ParentMap readers to know that we are still looking for people to help make camp amazing this summer!
What qualities do you look for in a camp counselor?
I think that our core counselor is really someone who is looking at where they can have the most impact in the lives of our campers and also how Girl Scouts can help them with their career. Yes, you get to come out and live at one of our many beautiful camps for the summer, and we’ll pay you! You get to wake up in the beautiful outdoors and hold space for young folks to explore, grow, learn and play. That’s a leadership skill right there — if you can get 12 adolescents all heading in the right direction, then listen, you can run a Fortune 500 company!
What do you think makes Girl Scout camp so life-changing?
Camping is an amazing experience, as it takes young people out of their current urban lives of hyper- connectivity into a forest setting, where many of them may have never been before and where they navigate magical, unique, exhilarating experiences. It takes a certain level of guts to step into that and say, “Okay, I’m going to put myself in this uncomfortable, but amazingly exciting, situation, where I can’t wait to experience everything.”
Additionally, I think that camp really does give you a better understanding of the actual planet upon which we live — and it makes you an eco-warrior. You learn more about understanding the plants you encounter, how to take care of a campfire and how to be mindful of everything in the woods. It also gives campers a sense of empathy. Everybody has to clean the toilets. Everybody has to do dishes. Everybody has to cook. And, so, you understand what other people go through.
I would also say that camp offers something that we don’t get anywhere else: It’s a safe place to mess up. Camp is one of those places where you get to try things and you don’t have to be perfect at it. And you have other people who are also trying things in the same setting, and so it automatically creates this bond between people. Where else do we have safe places in our lives where it is absolutely encouraged to make mistakes? Because how else are you going to learn? I am a firm believer that if I did it right the very first time, it was sheer luck, because we only learn through making mistakes.
I really love the fact that campers have this magical experience away from all of the pressures of everything else in life, in a space that is new to them, alongside human beings who were trained to keep everyone safe and exploring. They get to meet new people who have different life experiences and they get to experience life in a completely different way. They get to sing songs, eat fun food that they may have cooked themselves, they get to learn — and hopefully they can come back next summer and do it all over again!