Sometimes, the best way to move forward is to embrace the past. This seems to be working well for the Girl Scouts of the USA – especially when it comes to inclusion practices.
On March 12, 1912, Juliette Gordon Low, who was partially deaf, formed this world-renowned organization with just 18 girls. At that time, Low had said, “Girl Scouts should be for all girls, regardless of their ability.” Today, as the organization closes in on its 100th anniversary, it helps 3.2 million American girls build confidence, courage and character – and continues to advance its inclusion programs to ensure that Girl Scout activities are accessible to ALL girls…regardless of their ability. Just like Low wanted.
Including ALL Girls
For decades, Brownie and Girl Scout troops have welcomed girls with developmental disabilities, chronic health conditions or other special needs. Today, Girl Scout troops across the country have formal, effective inclusion programs in place. One example: Including ALL Girls, an initiative designed to educate girls about inclusion and how they can include girls with disabilities in all aspects of Girl Scouts.
Including ALL Girls was formed in partnership with the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF), which helps young people with disabilities maximize their potential and participation in society. Six Girl Scouts councils across the country participate in the program, which began as a pilot three years ago and recently got an MEAF grant for another three years. A good thing – because clearly, the program is working. In the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, which serves as the lead council for Including ALL Girls, the number of girls with disabilities has increased by 300 percent over last three years.
“The more education we got out there, the more parents realized that the Girl Scouts really is inclusive and it is a good place for their daughters,” says Shannon Babe-Thomas, membership initiatives manager for GSCNC. “We do everything we can to make sure every girl has the opportunity to be a Girl Scout.”
This Washington, DC-area council even has a dedicated inclusion specialist, who serves as a resource and a guide to ensure the inclusion of girls with disabilities within their Girl Scout community.
Nearly 2,000 miles away, the Girl Scouts of Colorado, another participant in Including ALL Girls, has launched a pilot program designed to implement best practice models and membership strategies to foster inclusion – including tips for Girl Scout leaders, advocacy plans for girls, a People-First language guide and various other resources to help ensure that every Colorado Girl Scout has every opportunity to fully participate in her council’s activities.
National Girl Scout Conference on Inclusion
The Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital will host Keys to Leadership, a Girl Scout conference on inclusion, March 11 – March 13, 2011 at American University in Washington, DC. Here, Girl Scouts and their leaders from across the country can participate in inclusion training, learn how to develop inclusion plans for their own councils and hear success stories about Including ALL Girls.
We all know the Americans with Disabilities Act is intended to promote and ensure the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in daily activities. And I think we can all agree that the Girl Scouts of the USA is an organization that, without a doubt, is getting it right. Bravo.