In today’s environment, some girls may be experiencing certain pressures and anxieties; they may feel unsure, confused, or even threatened. Girl Scouts has truly been, and will always be, a movement for ALL girls—a place where girls can, must, and will feel safe to explore their potential, learn new skills, make lifelong friends, and tap into their potential to be leaders. This article for all volunteers discusses how you can ensure Girl Scouts is inclusive and welcoming for all girls.
Watch video: Intro to Inclusion
Girl Scouts Has a History of Inclusion
At Girl Scouts, a commitment to inclusivity is part of our DNA. Girl Scouts was founded by a daring and courageous woman—Juliette Gordon Low—who wasn’t afraid to break the mold and who plainly stated that Girl Scouts was to be a movement “for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world.”
For more than 100 years, Girl Scouts has actively embraced all girls. Through turbulent and troubled times, through wars and economic depressions, and through periods of peace and prosperity, we have always served girls from every walk of life, regardless of their race, ethnicity, abilities, religious affiliation, economic standing, orientation, country of birth, or family history.
Definition of Inclusion
Our formal definition of inclusion, adopted by Girl Scouts River Valleys in 2012, is:
As a Girl Scouts River Valleys member, I do my best to think, speak, and act in ways that ensure everyone across the council feels they belong and can meaningfully participate in all aspects of Girl Scouting, regardless of ability, age, culture, education, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.
Girl Scout volunteers have the responsibility to make all individuals feel welcome and able to fully participate in all Girl Scout activities, which means accommodating the differing needs of girls and their parents/guardians, and other members.
“When you have an environment that is truly inclusive, individuals feel comfortable being themselves. They feel more comfortable sharing ideas, and it’s through all these different perspectives that you come up with innovation.”
Having parents/guardians fill out the Meet My Girl form can be helpful in figuring out the individual needs of girls.
Tips for Inclusivity
Everyone’s needs are unique, so ensuring inclusivity will look different depending on your girls, troop, and service unit, but these general tips are a great place to start.Treat Every Girl with Dignity and Respect
Plan activities that explore the diversity and culture that exists in your own troop or service unit. Remember to plan flexible activities that consider various energy levels, interests, and skills. Consider the needs, resources, safety, required accommodations, and beliefs of all members and potential members.
Ask About Needs and Accommodations
Approximately 20% of the U.S. population has a disability—so please do not rely on visual cues alone so, be sure to ask.
If you want to find out what accommodations a girl may need to make her Girl Scout experience successful, simply ask her or her parent/guardian. If you are frank and accessible, it’s likely they will respond in a kind way, creating an open environment.
Offer Assistance When Appropriate
It is okay to offer assistance, but wait until your offer is accepted before you begin to help. Listen closely to any instructions or preferences the person may have.
Speak Directly to the Individual
Speak to individuals with disabilities directly, not through a parent, guardian, or friend. When speaking to an individual by using an interpreter, speak to the individual directly.
Be sure to use people first language that eliminates generalizations and stereotypes, by focusing on the person rather than the disability.
When greeting an individual with a visual disability, always identify yourself and others. For example, you might say, “Hi, it’s Sheryl. Tara is on my right and Chris is on my left.”
Be Considerate of Individuals with Wheelchairs
When speaking to an individual in a wheelchair for an extended period of time, or for a personal matter, place yourself at eye level. Keep in mind that leaning on an individual’s wheelchair can be an invasion of space.
Try encouraging cooperation instead of competition. Activities that don’t only result in winning or losing can engage girls in problem-solving skills and will ensure everyone feels accommodated.
Here are some examples of ways to modify activities:
- Invite a girl to participate in an activity she has observed others doing.
- If you are visiting a museum, find out if a girl who has limited vision can get permission to touch some of the pieces. Scope out the sound pieces the museum might have.
- If an activity requires running, a girl who is unable to run could be asked to walk or do another physical movement.
- If you feel a family is not participating in the Cookie Sale because of socio-economic reasons, arrange for the girl to participate in troop booth activities, troop door-to-door selling and troop goal setting. For example, the Girl Scout can send invitations to friends and family to visit their booth to purchase cookies for her troop. She can also help make booth decorations or help plan the event.
Girl Scouts River Valleys maintains a list of books, print resources, DVDs, Videos, and web resources for inclusivity. We are happy to recommend recourses unique to your situation.
To request an American Sign Language interpreter or to request reimbursement for interpreting services, our Request for American Sign Language Interpreter Form should be submitted at least one week in advance of needing interpretation services.
Summary of Resources
- Meet My Girl Form – Troops can have parents/guardians fill out this form to help identify girl needs.
- Request for American Sign Language Interpreter Form – This form must be completed at least one week in advance of needing interpretation services.
- People First Language – This article from TheARC.org describes what people first language is and how to use it.