By Laurie Sterbens
For Hometown News
VOLUSIA COUNTY - Girl Scouts from miles around will gather in what they hope will be a record-setting number at that Volusia County Fairgrounds in DeLand on Saturday. At "The Great Gathering," part of a nationwide celebration of the organization's 100th anniversary, the Girl Scouts of Citrus will attempt to create the largest trefoil ever made.
Girl Scouts troop leader Dana Allen of Ormond Beach said Girl Scouts and volunteers attending the event will surround a giant outline of the clover-shaped Girl Scouts emblem as an aerial photographer captures the image.
"On the face of the logo it will say '1912 to 2012,'" Ms. Allen said. "It's going to look awesome."
Troops from Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusiacounties comprise the Girl Scouts of Citrus, and Allen expects 2,300 scouts and supporters from these areas and others to take part in the event.
The Great Gathering will also include the burial of a time capsule; a fire-and-ashes ceremony with ashes that date back to founder Juliet Gordon Low's campfires of 1920; a special viewing of the Girl Scouts of Citrus timeline with memorabilia dating back to 1912; and other activities.
As part of the 100th anniversary celebration, each county is hosting a signature event. Ms. Allen conceived the idea of The Great Gathering about two years ago, she said.
"I wanted to do something that was spectacular, something that nobody else was doing," she said.
Ms. Allen envisioned the event as one of the local celebrations, but when she presented it to the council, they embraced the idea as a larger, regional event. To carry out her vision, Ms. Allen has been working four to six hours a day with a small group of volunteers.
"I want them to have a memorable time. I want them to look back and think, 'I remember when we did the Girl Scouts Great Gathering, and it wasn't perfect, but we had a blast,'" she said.
Though never a Girl Scout herself, Ms. Allen has been enthusiastically volunteering for the Girl Scouts for 30 years, working with all levels of troops. She holds a degree in horticulture from Daytona Beach Community College and for the past 29 years has worked as grounds supervisor at Halifax Medical Center. Her introduction to the Girl Scouts came in the form of a late-night television commercial.
"I actually started by answering a TV ad that said, 'Interested in being a leader?' and I thought, oh what the heck, I'll give them a call and see what they say."
Despite the late hour, someone answered the call and referred Ms. Allen to a local contact, who happened to live just two blocks away.
"So apparently it was meant to be," she said.
Allen has no children of her own, but raised a niece who grew up in Girl Scouts and went on to become a troop leader.
Being a troop leader can be "extremely demanding," she said. "I have trying moments, but the vision for the girls' future is what I try to stay focused on. If I can stay focused on the girls, then I can continue a positive attitude."
A "vision for the girls' future" also is part of a major initiative announced earlier this month by Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez. Girl Scouts of the USA have declared 2012 the "Year of the Girl," a "celebration of girls, recognition of their leadership potential, and a commitment to creating a coalition of like-minded organizations and individuals in support of balanced leadership in the workplace and in communities across the country."
During the year, local Girl Scout offices across the nation will combine anniversary celebrations with a focus on girls' issues.
"We can't transform American leadership in a year," Ms. Chavez stated in a press release on the organization's website, girlscouts.org, "but we can transform expectations in a year. ... We can set in motion a general change, and make certain that a baby girl born in 2012 will experience her life in a new and vastly different world."
Equality for girls and women has been a goal of the organization since its founding on March 12, 1912, when Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low gathered 18 girls for a meeting in Savannah, Ga. Ms. Low believed girls should have the opportunity to develop physically, mentally and spiritually, and brought girls out of their isolated home environments and into community service and outdoor activities such as hiking, basketball and camping trips, according to girlscouts.org.
"She had girls building treehouses, camping out, flag signaling, she taught Morse code," Ms. Allen said. "She was just very big on women doing the non-conventional. She just didn't want women to be stuck. She definitely saw that women could do so much more."
Today's Girl Scouts focus on skills they can apply to their future roles in the community with such programs as the cookie sale.
"It offers business sense, how to present yourself to the public," Ms. Allen said. "It's very important that people know that it's not just a box of cookies."
Girl Scouts taking part in the cookie program have the opportunity to develop skills in the areas where they're most comfortable such as sales, design, advertising or accounting.
"We offer them a lot of different ways to build their skills and work on their self-potential," Ms. Allen said.
"Girl Scouts taught me a lot of things," said Katy Blanton, 19, of Ormond Beach, who joined Girl Scouts in second grade at the urging of a friend. "One of the biggest is responsibility. It also gave me a lot of courage to do all kinds of things in my life."
Ms. Blanton said being a Girl Scout allowed her to go camping, take a behind-the-scenes tour at Sea World and travel to other cities such as Savannah, Ga.; Charleston, S.C. and Washington, D.C.
"Girl Scouts brought happy and fun times to my life, which are now great memories," she said.
Ms. Blanton, a student at Daytona State College, is a lifetime member of Girl Scouts and currently serves as co-leader of Daisy Troop 1886.
"I know what Girl Scouts brought to me in my life, so I decided I wanted to provide that to other girls," Blanton said. "Girl Scouts is a passion of mine, something that I truly love doing. I plan on always being involved with Girl Scouts in some way for the rest of my life."
For more information on joining or volunteering, visit www.girlscouts.org/join/ or call 800-478-7248 or (212) 852-8000 to find a council near you.