Suffolk hosts Girl Scout meeting

Published 8:05 pm Saturday, March 21, 2009

At one table, a group of elementary school students was laughing and clinking glasses together in mock toasts.

At another table just across the room, state Sen. Yvonne Miller (D-5th), Mayor Linda T. Johnson and former Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf chatted over lunch.

On one end were girls still at the beginning of finding their true potential; at the other end, women who were there to encourage them in their pursuit of achievement.

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It was the exact scene leaders of the Girl Scout Council of Colonial Coast envisioned as they planned this year’s annual council meeting at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

“Girl Scouts is really claiming our space as leaders in the world,” said Eileen Doyle, the national vice president of program development for the Girl Scouts. “It’s good for girls to have access to women of all ages for examples of leadership.”

Throughout the council meeting, the scouts, troop leaders, volunteers and family members got to hear of new programs coming for today’s Girl Scout. They also got to hear first-hand from Johnson, Miller and Oberndorf. Johnson was the keynote speaker, and Miller and Oberndorf were being honored as Women Of Courage, Confidence and Character.

Miller said that supporting organizations such as the Girl Scouts is “critical” in order to produce strong women leaders in the future.

“It’s critical for me, because I’m in a body that is 20 percent female when we have 51 percent women in the population of Virginia,” she said. “Girl Scouts provides the opportunity for young women to develop their skills and their talents. It’s critical for young women to develop their confidence. I think it’s marvelous.”

There are more than 2.5 million Girl Scouts across the country, with about 16,300 here locally. In the city of Suffolk, there are about 25 different troops to plug into.

Dawn Gilbert, a leader in Troop 519 in North Suffolk, echoed Miller’s comments. She said membership in Scouting provides a safe and nurturing environment for young women to grow.

“It gives them an outlet, a support system, to go after their goals,” Gilbert said. “It’s a way for them with girls their own age to do something positive, to give to the community.”

Gilbert said her troop has about 25 members, and they take their volunteerism very seriously. In the past year, they have orchestrated a toy and food drive for the children and families at the Suffolk House, which serves as a place for homeless families to begin to get their feet back on the ground.

“It really does promote a sense of community for these girls,” Gilbert said. “It gets them thinking of what they can do.”

In her comments to the crowd of about 150 people, Mayor Johnson said each girl in this country has limitless potential and the ability to make anything possible. She said that she is thrilled to see such a change in public perception now, compared to when she was growing up.

“Girls were not encouraged to do a lot of things in that time if they didn’t fit the mold,” she said. “Today, girls are not hearing that anymore. And I think today they understand they are equal to anyone else.”

For more information on the Girl Scout programs near you or how you can volunteer, visit