Participating in a closing flag ceremony during Girl Scout Sunday proceedings last weekend at Houston United Methodist Church are Houston Troop 70167 members Angel Fitzgerald, left, and Wendy Edwards.

As Girls Scouts around the region and the country celebrate Girl Scout Week this week, the annual event holds more than the usual significance.

That’s because the Girl Scouts of the USA had its beginnings 100 years ago, when Juliette Low assembled 18 girls for a meeting in Savannah, Ga., on March 12, 1912.

Within a few years of that inaugural gathering, Low’s dream for a girl-centered organization was realized, and her goal of bringing girls out of isolated home environments and into community service became a reality. Early Girl Scouts hiked, played basketball, went on camping trips, learned how to tell time by the stars, and studied first aid.

A century later, Girl Scouts are still involved in a variety of activities, but the organization has grown immensely from its humble beginnings, boasting a membership of more than 3.2 million (about 2.3 million girls and 880,000 adults), and an alumni roll of more than 50 million.

The Girl Scouts’ Texas County Service Unit consists of troops operating in Houston, Licking, Raymondville, Success, Plato and Manes. The 10-troop unit features a total of 145 girls, 56 adults and nine lifetime members, and is part of the Girls Scouts of the Missouri Heartland Council, an entity that serves about 17,000 girls and 5,000 adults in 63 counties in southern and central Missouri, three counties in southeastern Kansas and two in northeast Oklahoma.

Heading up Texas County’s service unit are co-managers Gayla Bratton and Sarah Reese. Bratton (co-owner of Infinite Entertainment in Houston, along with her husband Richard) is a lifetime member and was inducted into the council Hall of Fame in 1990. She is also co-leader of Licking Troop 10269, and was one of Texas County’s first scouts.

“I love Girl Scouts,” Bratton said, “and I’ve been doing this as long as I can remember. Back when I was a kid – and I really can think back that far – my mom and my aunt started the first troop here in the 1950s. We haven’t always been part of the same service unit – it used to be just Houston and Licking – but now we’re part of a bigger group.”

This year, there are two troops operating in Houston: 70166 girls and 70167.

“Last year we just had one troop in Houston,” Bratton said. “It just depends on the girls and finding a leader who will take a troop, because anyone who says it’s not time consuming hasn’t done Girl Scouts.”

Based on age, there are six categories of Girl Scouts: Daisies (kindergarten and first grade), Brownies (2nd and 3rd), Juniors (4th and 5th), Cadettes (6th, 7th and 8th), Seniors (9th and 10th), and Ambassadors (11th and 12th).

Troop 70166 has nine girls, including one Daisy, seven Brownies and one Junior, while 70167 has eight girls, including two Daisies, four Brownies, and two Juniors. Both troops hold meetings at the Houston United Methodist Church, and both began Girl Scout Week by participating in Girl Scout Sunday at the church, during which girls conducted flag presentation ceremonies, acted as greeters, and spoke about badges they had earned during the past few months.

Troop 70166 leader Kim Bittle said her first-year troop has plans for a community service project to gather and provide supplies to The Animal Shelter of Texas County, and its girls recently learned some good lessons from ladies at the church during an ice cream social the troop hosted.

“We’ve earned several badges, we did well in cookie sales for a first year, and the girls are really doing well,” Bittle said.

Troop 70167 leader Jennie Fitzgerald said members of her troop have gone around Houston offering recognition and thanks to citizens who have been supportive local Girl Scouting. Fitzgerald, whose daughter Angel is a Brownie, also said her fledgling troop was grateful for being included in last Sunday’s proceedings.

“I would like to thank United Methodist Church of Houston and Girl Scout troop 70166 for allowing our the sister Girl scout Troop 70167 to be present and participate in this event,” Fitzgerald said.

Bratton said that while outdoor endeavors like camping are still part of the Girl Scout mix, other activities geared toward current societal tendencies are now common.

“We still do those things,” she said, “but we’ve tried to keep up with the times, and we’re not going to keep girls if that’s all we did. We do lots of things that build confident girls who are going to be good, caring leaders, and who can connect with the community.

“It has a lot to do with building character.”

One of the bigger events local scouts are involved in each year is a Fall Festival to honor Low’s Oct. 31 birthday, that includes a food drive to benefit the Texas County Food Pantry and wrapped gifts for Family Services. There’s also a lock-in during March and several other gatherings, some of which allow members of troops from different towns meet and mingle.

“Our service unit is very community oriented,” Bratton said.

March is traditionally when Girl Scout Cookies are sold, and local troops have used a variety of techniques to move their product, including booths in front retail locations, and even a drive-up “car hop” day at Bratton’s store.

Troop 10269 plans to use funds raised through cookie sales and the sale of other items to take a trip to Savannah in June and see the Juliette Low Museum.

“They want to go to the beach, too,” Bratton said, “but we’re going to keep the focus on Girl Scouts as much as possible.”

A two-day, 100th anniversary event will take place in Springfield at the end of this month, and Texas County troops are invited.

The cost for a girl or adult to be in Girl Scouts is $12 a year. Confidential assistance is available to people who need it, regardless of age.

“We even have assistance available to get them uniforms,” Bratton said. “And nobody will ever know – I wouldn’t know if you got it and you won’t know if I get it.”

For more information about Girl Scouting, or to begin the process of signing up for a local troop, log onto the council’s web site at http://www.girlscoutsmoheartland.org/ or call 877-312-4764.

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