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Girl Scouts coming after the holidays

VALLEY —What’s something we can count on seeing in the Valley once Christmas has passed?

The answer is: Girl Scout cookie sales.

This year’s local sales will start on Dec. 26 and continue for the next eight weeks.

Alicia Schneider, chief development officer, and Carla Williamson, customer care specialist, with Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama, were guests of the Kiwanis Club of Valley for Wednesday’s weekly program. They talked about Girl Scouting in general and the upcoming 2020 cookie sale.

“Let’s get this out of the way,” said Schneider, “What do you think about when you think of the Girl Scouts? Cookies!”

In most years, the Girl Scout cookie Thin Mint ranks behind only the Oreo as the best-selling cookie in the U.S. The annual cookie drive began in 1917 and has continued every year since then. 

It’s the No. 1 girl-led business in the world.

And it’s more than just selling cookies. 

“The girls are learning key leadership skills they will carry with them all their lives,” Schneider said. “They learn to run a business, to plan their work, to stay within a budget and to set goals for the future. Girl Scouts are more likely than other girls to have the entrepreneurial mindset. Over half of all female business leaders were Girl Scouts in their youth. Almost all women astronauts and women members of Congress were Scouts when they were young.”

Schneider said Scouting was made in the South. 

Founder Juliette Gordon Low of Savannah, Georgia had 18 girls at her first troop meeting on March 12, 1912, one month before the Titanic went down.

“Girl Scouts is the premier leadership organization for girls, period,” Schneider said. “Girls learn to discover their own values, connect with peers and adults and take action to improve their own communities.”

Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama serves 30 counties including Chambers. Currently there are two Girl Scout troops in Valley and one in Lanett.

“We serve approximately 4,000 girls and 1,500 adults in the southern half of the state,” Schneider said.

Scouting is attempting to address some misery index numbers in Alabama. 

“The Girl Scout Research Institutes ‘State of the Girl’ report detailed some harsh realities for many girls in Alabama,” Schneider said. “Our state ranked 30th in overall well being, 21st in terms of emotional health, and 42nd in education. Around 26 percent of girls are living in poverty. Despite these stats, we believe in the power of a girl. Our programs have proven results and with research-backed programming. Girls meet quality leadership development now more than ever.”

Almost half of the girls served by GSSA are underwritten by the council. 

“That’s why we continue to seek other funding opportunities outside of our cookie sales,” Schneider said. “It’s pretty amazing with what we have going on in Scouting.”

At Camp Kiwanis on Lake Martin, for example, there’s a high power telescope that helps the girls study astronomy. At summer camp, the girls can have fun on a zip line, canoeing and kayaking. They can learn to safely shoot BB guns and bows and arrows.

“The jobs Carla and I have are fun, and we get to do a lot of different things,” Schneider said. “We want our girls to embrace the Girl Scout tradition. For the past several years we have gotten grants to help us. We have outreach programs with Boys & Girls Clubs. In the three years I’ve been with our program I’ve seen us come a long way. We encourage our girls to go to summer camp. There are scholarships available to help them do that. Since its founding, Girl Scouts has placed an emphasis on diversity and providing Girl Scouting to all girls, regardless of race or economic status.”

Some of the cookies are made in east Alabama at the ABC Bakery in Opelika. 

“They bake Thin Mints, Do Si Dos and Tagalongs,” Schneider said.

The cookies that aren’t sold are repurposed. 

“They go to our hometown heroes,” Schneider said. “They go to active duty military personnel and their families, veterans and first responders. 

For any business that sponsors this we will put a sticker on the side of the box saying that the sponsor supports Girl Scouts and hometown heroes. We donated over 4,000 cases of cookies in this program last year.”

“As many of you know,” concluded Schneider, “Girl Scouts is a youth organization for girls whose mission is to build girls of courage, confidence and character, who will help make the world a better place.”

Schneider has more than 15 years of experience in working with Alabama nonprofits in fundraising, marketing and public relations. 

A native of Montgomery and a graduate of Lee High School, Schneider has a Bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in public administration from Southern Illinois University. She and husband Eric have two children, Addison, 12, and Evan, seven.