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Girl Scouts strengthen link with United Methodist churches

9/16/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - When Sarah was 7, she got 17 sisters.

It happened when she joined the Girl Scouts and became a Brownie.

The United Methodist Church has a long history as a supporter of scouting. In 1996, the church formed a partnership with the national Girl Scouts organization, committing all United Methodist churches to hosting or supporting a Girl Scout group.

In August, United Methodists and Girl Scout leaders in Tennessee formed an alliance in hopes of providing a model that other faith groups could use in hosting scout troops.

Judith Plummer, scout leader for Troop 2500 and a member of Belmont United Methodist Church, says the concept of family - that all Girl Scouts are sisters - is important to her troop.

"I'll never forget the day when I had gone in to pick up my children from Eakin (elementary school in Nashville) and I overheard one of my Brownies, Sarah, say loudly to a classmate, 'I do too have 17 sisters! Hey, there's my leader. Just ask her!'"

The denomination's Tennessee Annual (regional) Conference formed the alliance with the Cumberland Valley Girl Scout Council, which has 26,000 members and 8,000 volunteers. The Commission on United Methodist Men, responsible for scouting programs in the church, has a representative on the alliance.

Jean Lyon, a troop leader and member of Belle Meade United Methodist Church, has participated in the discussions between the Tennessee Conference and the Cumberland Valley Girl Scout Council.

The national agreement makes forming the alliance and helping troops find a place to meet easier, Lyon said. "People are not tapping into the national level," she said. "It makes a lot of sense to let the church and the Girl Scouts know what is going on and finds ways to help each other."

Belle Meade had as many as 14 troops operating in the church at one time, said Lyon, who has been involved in scouting for many years.

"Scouting is a ministry opportunity for the church," she said.

"I'm excited about the alliance forming," said Larry Coppock, national director of civic youth ministries for the United Methodist Church. "I believe it will really help promote the Girl Scout program in the church. We hope that Cumberland Valley's model will be the first of many around the country."

Girl Scout volunteers, including United Methodist scouting coordinators and members of the Commission on United Methodist Men, met Aug. 28 with Valeri Otey-Nellis, adult development manager and diversity specialist with the Girl Scout Council.

Otey-Nellis said the alliance could be a model for the Girl Scouts in developing closer relationships with other faith communities.

"We selected the United Methodist Church to begin this effort because we already have approximately 35 churches hosting Girl Scout troops," she said. "The Tennessee Conference and the General Commission on United Methodist Men have also been very supportive of Girl Scouting."

During the meeting at the Girl Scout office in Nashville, the group agreed to take several steps to strengthen the relationship, including:
· Encouraging representatives of Cumberland Valley Girl Scouts to hold workshops or provide information centers at meetings of United Methodist Men where scouting is discussed.
· Beginning conversations with United Methodist Women in the Tennessee Conference to discover how the organizations can help each other.
· Seeking ways in which Girl Scouts can participate in "Warmth in Winter," a Tennessee Conference youth gathering in late February.
· Recruiting district coordinators in Nashville and other Tennessee cities - Murfreesboro, Columbia, Fayetteville, Franklin, Clarksville and Cookeville.
· Developing a 2004 Interfaith Retreat.

Studio 2B, a new program from the 3.9 million-member Girl Scouts of the USA, empowers teen girls to design their own program experience through interest groups, clubs or troop meetings. Meeting in age groups of 11-13, 13-15 and 15-17, the girls engage in "high adventure" outdoor recreation, such as mountain climbing and rafting, along with career development and other activities. The alliance hopes a Studio 2B activity can be introduced to youth during the Warmth in Winter retreat.

"The opportunities for girls involved in Girl Scouts are endless," Plummer said. "They learn about themselves, their strengths, and about others. They learn how to cooperate and organize to get things done. Working together with other girls gives them opportunities to try new things and new behaviors.

"I have come to learn that the United Methodist Church is progressive and proactive," she said. "I like that. The opportunities for growth and fulfillment for adults and youth are limitless."

Jim Hardin, Tennessee Conference scouting coordinator, said every local church should have a scouting coordinator responsible for four youth programs - Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the USA, Camp Fire USA and 4H. The coordinators serve as liaisons between the youth organizations and the church, and they coordinate these programs with church activities. The volunteer coordinator also serves on the church council and encourages participation in "God and Country" and "Good Samaritan" award programs.

Hardin said he is recruiting sub-district scouting coordinators who will be responsible for four or five churches. Members of the alliance suggested that would be a way to encourage churches to host Girl Scout troops.
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*Richard J. Peck, communications coordinator for the Commission on United Methodist Men, contributed information for this story.

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