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February 22, 2016 OTHER VOICES

The ‘skinny’ behind those thin mints

Mary Barneby

It won't be long before you will see a Girl Scout Troop at your local supermarket asking you to support her troop and the Girl Scouts by buying Girl Scout cookies. In recent years during cookie sales, popular flavors like thin mints have out-performed top national cookies including Oreos. These tasty indulgences have delighted us since 1936, and Girl Scouts all over the U.S. are responsible for selling nearly 200 million boxes by going door to door, person to person, and now, even online through their Digital Cookie app.

As you are buying your cookies you may not realize all the deep, social good they are doing. Let's start with the girls. Ask any woman who has been a Girl Scout and she will tell you that selling Girl Scout cookies was not only fun, but helped build her courage and confidence. She will tell you that it encouraged goal setting, decision making, handling money responsibly, helped her learn to deal with the public, and also how to embrace fair business practices (e.g., how do you handle the unhappy customer who returns a half-eaten box of crushed Trefoils?). Many successful women business owners will tell you they got their entrepreneurial spark selling Girl Scout cookies.

What she may not have shared with you is all the good that selling cookies did for her troop and the community. Each year, an estimated $100 million to $140 million goes back to the Girl Scouts all over the U.S. who sold cookies. In Connecticut, the number that is earned and returned is just under $2 million. Our girls use these funds for community service projects, to save for fun and educational troop experiences and outings, and to provide funding for other girls who otherwise can't afford to be Girl Scouts. And for those Connecticut customers who so choose, more than 125,000 boxes of cookies every year are donated to our service men and women overseas and at home through our Cookies for Heroes Program.

Consider Eliana, a Cadette Girl Scout in Madison. Eliana has been saving her cookie earnings for a few years to host a free special movie event at a local cinema for girls in her surrounding communities. Modest donations will be suggested at the event and the proceeds will go to help buy pajamas for residents at a homeless shelter in New Haven. With 35,000 Girl Scouts in Connecticut and almost $2 million in cookie proceeds earned by the girls — that's large-scale social enterprise.

For adult Girl Scout volunteers, the cookie program helps them to develop and build important skills. I remember my then stay-at-home mom served as our “Cookie Mom” for my troop in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn decades ago. Mom had to develop business, sales leadership, and organizational skills handling a myriad of order cards and balancing the “books.” When we were older, she went on to be a successful floor supervisor in a large retail store.

And finally, the cookies do a world of good for the Girl Scout organization itself. The proceeds provide us the ability to work and live our mission. In addition to our iconic and confidence-building outdoor programming for girls, we offer relevant programs that address key issues confronting today's girls — physical and emotional health, financial literacy, anti-bullying, and STEM.

So, the next time you see a girl outside the grocery store selling Girl Scout cookies, stop and ask her why she is motivated to sell cookies. Help her to live her dream and reach her goals. And while you are at it, enjoy indulging. You've earned it.

Mary Barneby is the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Connecticut.

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