Changing Lives

BURLESON, TX — Terra Peters joined Girl Scouts of the USA in 1984, shortly after she entered the first grade at Nola Dunn Elementary School. “I was painfully shy,” she said. “I didn’t make friends easily and was uncomfortable around others. Girl Scouting changed my life. It taught me to have opinions, to express and trust myself and to be a leader.” Terra ultimately earned Silver and Bronze awards, the second- and third-highest honors bestowed by the organization. She progressed through the Girl Scout program from first grade through
high school, earned scholarships to pay for her college books and served as an ambassador at Texas A&M University-Commerce. Today she leads her daughters’ troop, volunteers with the local service unit and serves as a delegate to the area council.

The first Girl Scout troop met in Savannah, Georgia, on March 12, 1912. Over the next 100 years, founder Juliette Low’s dream of empowering girls to develop strength, confidence and independence grew into the world’s largest educational organization for girls. Girl Scouts of the USA now serves 3.4 million members and is estimated to have influenced more than 50 million girls. “This is a huge year for us,” Terra said. “In honor of our 100th anniversary, 2012 has been declared the ‘Year of the Girl.’”

Terra’s mother, Jody Johnson, remembers her daughter’s transformation from a little girl sitting nervously in the corner to a vibrant, confident young woman. “The Girl Scout program is based on learning through progression and experience,” Jody explained. “Year by year, as the girls were given more responsibilities and choices, I could see the changes in Terra.”

As it happened, Jody experienced her own changes. “After the first year, a few parents decided to form our own troop,” Jody said. From Terra’s second grade through high school, Jody was her troop leader. “Training and experiences as a troop leader helped me to uncover qualities about myself,” she smiled.

“Girl Scouting was something I had always wanted to do but never had the opportunity. Not only did I get to do it as an adult, but I got to do it with my daughters!” Her daughter, Jessie, is four- and-a-half years younger than Terra and, while the girls were in different
troops, being Terra’s troop leader helped Jody relate to both of her daughters’ experiences.

The Girl Scout program encourages personal journeys and shared experiences as it embraces diversity, inclusion and change. In 2008, the organization introduced the Girl Scout Leadership Experience and designated “discovery, connection and action” as keys to promoting the Mission: “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.”

“Girl Scouting taught me to be a leader,” Terra said. “Over time, I gravitated more and more toward leadership roles. I also learned to set boundaries and take on only the things that I can commit to 100 percent. That’s what I want for my girls. I want them to have their own minds.”

Terra’s oldest daughter, Lily, is an 8-year-old in second grade. Her youngest, Rebecca, is a 7-year-old in first grade. “They are 13 months apart,” Terra said. Lily is a Brownie and Rebecca is a Daisy and, though at different levels, they belong to the same troop. At least five girls are needed to form a troop and levels are often mixed.

“Many people are surprised to learn that there is no level called ‘Girl Scout,’” Terra said. “We are all Girl Scouts.” The number of levels has increased over the years. Currently, Daisies include kindergarten and first grade, Brownies are second and third, Juniors are fourth and fifth, Cadettes are sixth through eighth, Seniors are ninth and 10th and Ambassadors are 11th and 12th.

“Each level has a uniform and color,” Terra explained. “Cadettes, Seniors and Ambassadors share the same basic design.” These days, girls tend to wear either the vest or sash over their clothes instead of a full uniform.

“Our troop wears sashes,” Terra said. “Adrienne Owen and I co-lead a troop of 18 girls. We meet on Monday evenings at the Burleson First United Methodist Church. We help the girls decide what badges and patches they want to earn and what activities best reflect their interests and the troop’s budget.”

The $700 million Girl Scout Cookie Program is the largest girl-led business in the United States. Proceeds stay in the area where the cookies are sold and are used to benefit girls. “Every troop sets a cookie goal to fund their yearly activities, including community service and leadership projects,” Terra explained. “We’re so fortunate that the Fort Worth Zoo hosts an annual Zoo Cookies event, allowing our baker to bring truckloads of cookies to the zoo’s parking lot for the girls to pick up.”

“The girls have a lot of fun,” Jody said. “Activities are based on their needs and interests. Terra’s troop loved camping, so that was a big part of our schedule. My favorite memory is the time we went primitive camping at Camp Cedar Brake. The girls had to carry everything in and out, dig their own latrines, sleep under the stars or pitch tents and whittle spoons out of cedar.”

“Girl Scout Camp was the thing I most looked forward to,” Terra said. “Last summer, at 7, Lily went to Camp Timberlake by herself for three days. She fell in love, and going back to camp is all she’s talked about since!”

Of the 3.4 million Girl Scout members, about 880,000 are adult volunteers. “Service units provide support to troop leaders,” Terra explained. The organization is led by a chief executive officer, national board of directors, headquarters staff, volunteers and staff in more than 100 local councils. “Our greatest need is for more adult leaders. They can be mothers, grandmothers, women with grown children or with no children,” Terra said. “People lead full lives these days, but being a leader is only as difficult and stressful as people allow it to be. There’s help from parents, mentors and the service unit and, really, it’s about the girls who need us. With a deficit of leaders, we have more girls than troops.”

Girl Scouts of the USA seeks to create independence and allow girls to become strong, confident young women, so they may choose to become the leaders of tomorrow. “Lily wants to be a scientist and build the first colony on the moon,” Terra said. “So many prominent, successful women in our country were Girl Scouts and, with my whole heart, I believe the program gives back to each girl and to everyone she will meet on her journey.”

Written by Carolyn Wills.