Girl Scouts wear their uniforms. Credit: Courtesy / Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas

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The United Nations declared Oct. 11 as the International Day of the Girl. In the U.S., the Day of the Girl is a 100-percent youth-led movement to fight for gender justice and youth rights. At the forefront of this charge is Girl Scouts, an organization that for 106 years has been empowering girls.

While the Girl Scouts are widely known for selling cookies and camping, our programs build future scientists, educators, and politicians. In spite of our many success stories, statistics illustrate why the Day of the Girl shouldn’t be the only time we focus on young women. Texas ranked 42nd in the nation when it comes to factors impacting the well-being of girls, according to national data the Girl Scouts compiled in 2017. In Texas, the number of girls ages 5-17 living in poverty is 5 percent higher than the national average. And the number of fourth-grade girls who do not participate in any organized activities is 6 percent higher than the national average.

Research has proven repeatedly that getting young girls involved in organizations positions them for success. An amazing 64 percent of female leaders in the U.S. were once Girl Scouts. The list of famous Girl Scouts is long and includes the former first lady Michelle Obama, journalist Barbara Walters, the first Latina astronaut Ellen Ochoa, San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley, and former State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte.

Moreover, 52 percent of the world’s female business owners are Girl Scout alumnae. Former Girl Scouts turn into women who vote and volunteer more and have a higher level of education than non-Girl Scouts. These facts support this year’s current United Nations theme, “With Her: A Skilled GirlForce.”

In any zip code, from the North Side to the South Side, girls may experience bullying, poverty, and depression. Through our programs, we build resilient girls who can navigate through adverse challenges we know they will face. Knowing we offer vital tools, we constantly seek ways to expand our reach. In San Antonio, we have evolved to serve girls wherever they are.

For example, the West Side Girl Scout Leadership Center specifically targets girls who face obstacles due to their socioeconomic status. The center offers summer day camps, after-school care, and troop and community programs that are centered on girls and their families.

Our Gamma Sigma Girls® and Gamma Sigma Pearls™ are school-based programs that also provide us a way to reach more girls. This program serves nearly 900 teens in 17 high schools and nearly 1,100 girls in middle schools across the greater San Antonio area. While they may experience challenges, 100 percent of Gamma Sigma participants are advancing grade levels, and many of our older Girl Scouts are college-bound. These girls focus on identifying causes they are passionate about and work to impact social change.

As the world commemorates the Day of the Girl, we ask that you empower a girl who may need to expand their world view. It’s just $25 to sponsor a Girl Scout’s membership dues for the year. A donation of $340 – the cost of a Girl Scout’s activities and uniform for a year – will remove an even larger financial barrier for many San Antonio families. Volunteers are also needed to create more troops in areas where there may be a void. Companies and organizations also can underwrite programming across our area that includes 15,000 girls and 21 counties in the Southwest council. Just recently, thanks to sponsors, Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas held its second annual STEM Expo at San Antonio College.

Data is not destiny, and neither gender nor zip code should limit opportunity. Stand for girls on International Day of the Girl. You can start locally by clicking here.

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Jelynne LeBlanc Burley

Jelynne LeBlanc Burley is president and chief executive officer of The Center for Health Care Services and a member of the board of directors of the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas.