TERRE HAUTE — Building confidence, character and courage in girls has been a hallmark of Girl Scouts since the organization’s beginning in 1912. Celebrating its 100th anniversary in a festival environment like the Indiana State Fair is a natural fit. “Girl Scouts of Central Indiana has participated at the Indiana State Fair in various ways for the last 10 years,” said Cathy Ritchie, Girl Scouts chief operating officer. “We approached the fair about our sponsoring the livestock nursery, and we also worked out celebrating our anniversary on the fair’s ‘Free Stage.’ Our participation at the fair is a natural fit for the girls’ celebration, and is a central site. It is a signature event for us.” While the national Girl Scouts organization is celebrating its 100th birthday, the Central Indiana unit is highlighting its 95th anniversary. “We started in Indiana five years after the organization was founded nationally,” Becky Buse, GSCI’s advocacy and community development director, said. “It’s also important to note we are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the first African American girl joining Girl Scouts.” The Central Indiana unit’s territory covers from the Illinois state line on the west side of Indiana to the Ohio state line on the east, and from Grant County in the North and Ripley County in the South. Scouts from 45 counties within GSCI traveled to the state fair to participate in a variety of activities on the fair’s first two weekends. GSCI is co-sponsoring, with Dean Foods, the fair’s livestock nursery at the east end of the grandstand on the fair’s Main Street. They designated six days earlier this month as specific Girl Scout event days, Ritchie said. “We had 3,000 Scouts travel here on August 4th alone, so we’re expecting great Scouting crowds.” Buse, whose office is in Terre Haute, said a charter bus was hired for Aug. 4 to take scouts from the Terre Haute area to the fair. That day, activities were conducted in tents in Celebration Park in the northwestern corner of the fairgrounds. “The fair event is a great place for our Scouts to get a jump start on their next Girl Scout Journey program,” Ritchie said. “We offer three leadership journeys now: ‘It’s your world, change it,’ which teaches about advocacy; ‘It’s your planet, love it,’ which teaches about stewardship; and ‘It’s your story, tell it,’ which teaches how to communicate effectively.” A style show featuring Girl Scout uniforms spanning from the organization’s early days to the current was presented on the “Free Stage.” Scouts could also learn about different cultures, learn dances, sign up with fellow Scouts to fish in the DNR Fishin’ Pond and join in the daily parade on Main Street. Visitors who crave Girl Scout cookies can feast on a Deep Fried Samoa Girl Scout cookie in the Midway. The Midway is donating all money (after expenses) from cookie sales back to the Girl Scouts. Buse believes in the Girl Scouts’ mission and sees their programming as leadership-based. “I see our organization as a leadership program where the girls are exposed to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), environmental issues and advocacy, not just selling cookies, camping and making crafts. “Personally, I love to see the girls coming together from the various areas and counties. I see them becoming cohesive during their activities and participation, and being encouraged to pick something they are passionate about and doing it well.” GSCI’s 2012 Legislative Day on March 15 in the north atrium of the Statehouse was another coup for the young leaders, Buse said. “We had both former first lady Judy O’Bannon and Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman share with hundreds of girls that they had each been involved with Girl Scouts. They said they appreciated the leadership they had learned through their participation. And all pages in the House and Senate that day were Girl Scouts. Some girls even got to meet with the governor. It was such an awesome opportunity for the girls.” The GSCI serves 40,000 girls a year with more than 20,000 volunteers. “We’re always looking for more volunteers; they are our heart and soul,” Ritchie said. “Girl Scouting is one of the most affordable activities girls can do. They can be leaders starting in the first grade. Our partnering with the Indiana State Fair this year is a wonderful way to celebrate leadership and our 100th anniversary.” For more information about Girl Scouts go to www.girlscoutsindiana.org.
Susan Hayhurst is a freelance writer from Terre Haute and is a member of the Indiana State Fair Commission.