WORCESTER - As long as there are girls and as long as there are caring adults, there are going to be Girl Scouts, insists Colleen Holmes.
Ms. Holmes is the chief membership and strategy officer at the Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts, which covers Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden, Worcester counties and a tiny northwestern part of Middlesex County.
While national membership numbers have been trending downward, locally they have been on the rebound the last couple of years, Ms. Holmes said.
Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the United States of America, said the national Scouts hope to rebuild ranks through technological improvements, including a major expansion of its year-old program "Digital Cookie," enabling Girl Scout cookies to be sold via mobile apps and the girls' personal websites.
In December 2014, the Girl Scouts launched “Digital Cookie 1.0,” the organization’s first-ever national digital platform, which gave nearly 160,000 girls the opportunity to sell cookies via a website or mobile app. More than 350,000 orders were placed using the “Digital Cookie” platform, driving the sale of nearly 2.5 million additional boxes of cookies, according to the Girl Scouts organization.
Worcester Girl Scouts Trinity Millett and Alexis Guertin are both big fans of “Digital Cookie.”
“I feel that it will keep everything organized for cookie season, because it tracks all the cookies you sell and you can sell to people online,” Trinity said. “So it’s pretty cool. I think it will boost the sales.”
“It’s pretty cool that you can order cookies online,” Alexis added. “It was very well arranged online and it did everything I was looking for.”
An enhanced “Digital Cookie 2.0” is being rolled out for 2015-2016 cookie season, further incorporating e-marketing, e-commerce, website maintenance, app usage and digital dashboards (to set goals, track sales and manage money). Digital Cookie 2.0 promises to provide a more robust, hands-on, and entertaining learning experience, including an enhanced cookie website with fun quizzes, games, videos, and other activities that offer girls opportunities to learn budgeting and resource allocation using a “spend, save, and give” model.
For paid staff and volunteers, technological advances include online toolkits, one streamlining the process for joining the Girl Scouts, another empowering volunteer troop leaders to plan a full year of meetings and activities with a single online visit.
Mrs. Holmes said of local membership, "... Our retention rate is in the top third of councils nationwide. What that tells you is we’re doing a great job in Central and Western Massachusetts with the wonderful, amazing volunteers that we have and in having girls that want to come back.”
The Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts reports 6,900 girl members and a total 10,330 members (both girls and adult members).
Ms. Holmes said Digital Cookie 2.0 is a fantastic program that teaches girls five essential life skills - decision making, goal setting, people skills, money management and business ethics.
And not only was the regional organization chosen the user acceptance testing site for “Digital Cookie,” The Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts was part of last year’s pilot program and, last month, was chosen to do user-acceptor testing for the upgraded Digital Cookie 2.0 program that they will start using Jan. 15.
Claire Houston, a lifetime Girl Scout member, an adult volunteer at the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts and co-coach to a Girl Scout robotics team, was an intern with Girl Scouts, working with Digital Cookie.
“I definitely think that technology is an important step that the Girl Scouts need to embrace,” Miss Houston said. “They need to embrace all the aspects and the outdoors, arts and crafts and technology and by putting them all together to make a fuller Girl Scouts.”
Two years ago, the Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts experienced a 14 percent decline in membership and, last year membership was down just over 7 percent, Ms. Holmes said.
According to national figures provided to The Associated Press, youth membership for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 was 1.88 million, down nearly 6.2 percent from 2014, and adult membership was 784,120, down 3.1 percent. Membership, now 2.66 million, is down more than 15 percent over three years, and down 30 percent from a peak of more than 3.8 million in 2003.
Ms. Holmes credits the decline to a whole lot of organizations springing up, as well as school sports vying for girls’ time and attention. But Girl Scouts officials are not worried. After all, in "cookie season" anything is possible.