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Washtenaw United: Girl Scouts expand historical offerings to meet modern needs in Washtenaw County and Michigan

JoAnna Roach, adult education and enrichment director for Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan.
Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan
JoAnna Roach, adult education and enrichment director for Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan.


"I was born and raised in southern California. I made incredible memories and learned lifelong skills with my mom and our Girl Scout troop growing up. We learned how to care for one another, how to respect the world around us, how to do hard things, how to take the lead, how to step back and ask for help, how to make the world a better place with everything we do. Working for Girl Scouts is the best job in the world; I learn something new from our girls every single day, I am lucky enough to support our volunteers through so many avenues, and I get to watch our girls grow courageous and strong and make a huge impact on their communities. In my free time I enjoy exploring the beautiful nature Michigan has to offer with my family."


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David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to the first Women's History Month edition of Washtenaw United. Today, we're not going to look at a particular woman, but an organization and American institution. I'm David Fair, and, for 112 years, the Girl Scouts have worked to help transform young girls into women of courage, confidence and character. It's their mission. Much like life in America and the girls themselves, the Scouts have had to evolve and change with the times. What does that mean today? And what does it mean right here in Washtenaw County? Our guest can help answer those questions. JoAnna Roach is a former Girl Scout and now works as adult education and enrichment director for Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan. Thank you so much for making time today.

JoAnna Roach: Oh, thank you for having me.

David Fair: I think when most people think of the Girl Scouts, the first thing that comes to mind is the cookies. Why has it become a foundational part of Girl Scouts?

JoAnna Roach: Well, you know, Girl Scout cookies: not only are they delicious, but they also offer an incredible learning outcome for girls. And we know that by looking at financial literacy and entrepreneurship as some of the many aspects of Girl Scouting and with the Girl Scout cookie program, we know that that also works really well with girls practicing leadership development. The girls get to kind of grow and learn and try new things and better themselves and become problem solvers and work with their communities and kind of learn and grow from there as well.

David Fair: So, they're managing sales and money and time expenditures. And that is about personal and professional growth. How do you make sure that the parents aren't taking over the sales?

JoAnna Roach: Yeah, that's a great question. So, we offer so many different opportunities for training for adults, but also for our girls, so that they get to practice asking questions and they get to practice sharing what their troop is going to be doing with those troop proceeds, what community service projects they'll be participating in, and kind of giving them the ownership over everything that they get to do at our organization. It's very girl lit. So, the girls get to plan. They get to facilitate. And they have adults there to kind of help them along the way. But we really encourage girls to take the lead and share what they're getting out of this Girl Scout experience and what they get to do with what they're learning out of the Girl Scout cookie program.

David Fair: I mentioned you were a Girl Scout at one time. What did you get out of the program?

JoAnna Roach: You know, so many things. I don't know that we have enough time for my list today, but I was the shy girl in class. I was a little too scared to speak up for myself. And, you know, with Girl Scouts, I was able to kind of learn from my friends and make friends. And we created this safe space where it was okay to try something new and to fail. And we knew we always had a team to back us up. And so, just being able to experience things as I wouldn't outside of Girl Scouts, we spent a lot of time outdoors, but also a cookie was just a great example, you know? We get to see a shy girl who maybe is a little bit too afraid to speak up in the moment. But after another cookie booth or so, you can see her standing out in the front, holding the sign, shouting across the Walmart parking lot, offering Girl Scout cookies and talking about how they're going to support their communities, you know, just getting all of that experience and growing lifelong friendships with my Girl Scouts when we were girls. And we're now adults together doing incredible things and kind of sharing all of those experiences with each other. I think one of the biggest things is that we learned that it's okay to try new things because, if we fail, it's a learning experience, and we're going to take what we've learned from that and continue to grow.

David Fair: We're talking with Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan's adult education and enrichment director JoAnna Roach on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. Do you know how many Girl Scouts there are in Washtenaw County?

JoAnna Roach: I do. They're a little over 1200 currently.

David Fair: In so many different aspects of our lives, there are deficiencies when it comes to equity and access to opportunity. Do young women of color have the same access in Washtenaw County as their white peers?

JoAnna Roach: Absolutely! So, we have several different ways that girls can participate in Girl Scouts. And one of the many pathways is through our community troops and our outreach programs. So, we have an incredible community troop and outreach program staff who run programs in all of our schools and in community centers for girls who may not have that transportation or any other barrier that might inhibit them from being able to participate in Girl Scouts. One example of those is we have a program that we're currently working on: the community troop staff are running through the Huron Valley Women's Correctional Facility. So, this program is a staff-run program that helps girls develop healthy behaviors and promotes leadership skills and work on badges with their mothers. But in addition to that, we're also hosting programs during lunchtime at school. So, they get to communicate with their peers. They get to share these special Girl Scout experiences. They still get to participate in all things that Girl Scouts offer, including trips to our Girl Scout camps that they might not have gotten outside of maybe their particular experience, if they don't have volunteers who are able to participate in the area or any other barriers that there might be.

David Fair: Again, we're in a much different place in America now than we were 112 years ago when the Scouts were getting their start. How much of a priority is now being placed on being as inclusionary as possible and of finding equitable community solutions?

JoAnna Roach: Absolutely! We are always working to improve. We're always working to grow. We feel really strongly that the only way that we're going to make the world a better place is if we change along with it and continue to grow and continue to fight for our communities. So, we're constantly working to develop new skills and new programs. So, we're looking for what the need is in our community. And often, that comes from our volunteers and from our girls who do that community service themselves at a troop level and sometimes at a family level. And they'll bring those ideas forward to say, "Hey! You know, we've noticed something that's lacking in our community," whether it's their classroom at school or their town that they live in or a greater area. And they'll create these incredible community service projects that can benefit their communities. And then, we'll also kind of grow those into the Girl Scout Silver and Gold Awards, which are a huge community service leadership programs that they will grow sustainable, what we call, "take action" projects that can be something that continually builds the community and grows with the community and supports everyone for years to come.

David Fair: Our first Women's History Month edition of Washtenaw United is about the Girl Scouts and its impacts here in Washtenaw County and as an institution. Our guest is JoAnna Roach from Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan, and I want to further explore the evolution. Most girls, when the Scouts first started, were socialized to believe that becoming a nurse or a teacher were the professional alternatives to housewife. Women have been breaking glass ceilings for the last century, and there are still more to shatter. How is the Girl Scouts changing to help break those barriers and challenges to further equality for women?

JoAnna Roach: Yeah. Great question. So, we have a really strong belief that our leadership outcomes really are changing the world. So, girls who participate in Girl Scouts, compared to non-Girl Scouts, develop a stronger sense of self. They display positive values. They become community problem solvers. And they can also work on forming healthier relationships and seeking challenges. And because of that, we have an incredible leadership--female leadership--pipeline. So, what we know now is that 50% of female business leaders were Girl Scouts growing up, and all of our female U.S. secretary of States were Girl Scouts. 76% of our female U.S, senators were Girl Scouts, and 80% of our female tech leaders were Girl Scouts. So, we can see, over the years, all of the positive things that the girls have been learning in Girl Scouts and growing and changing and trying those new things and pushing boundaries has really helped them excel and become stronger than their peers who were unable to participate in Girl Scouts.

David Fair: Becoming stronger can be more difficult today than ever before. They're facing issues that couldn't have been conceived of a century ago. Have Scout leaders taken notice of the added anxiety and pressures that are associated with social media?

JoAnna Roach: Absolutely! And in addition to our leaders kind of working on their own to find additional ways to support their girls, we've been lucky enough to be able to offer youth mental health first aid training for our volunteers and for any adults who are willing to take a part of our program. So, we really cover a lot of kind of a well-rounded set of topics to help support our girls, especially during the pandemic. We offered some virtual options for our volunteers to learn about the statistics behind the stress anxiety that are coming with the pandemic and what our girls are missing out on socially when we were doing school from home, and now how our elementary-aged girls, didn't get that opportunity when they started in school and kindergarten and first grade to learn some of the skills that we take for granted that weren't available to them during the pandemic. So, we're focused a lot on mental health and how to support each other in everything that we do and incorporate using some strategies and every single thing that we do to make sure that everyone feels supported and has a safe place to be.

David Fair: March 10th through the 16th is National Girl Scout Week. How is that going to be marked in Washtenaw County and the Heart of Michigan?

JoAnna Roach: Oh, great question. So, we are very excited about Girl Scout Week. And we have a set of Girl Scout-kind of themes and traditions that we do with Girl Scout Week every year. And so, we are really focused on kind of covering those same foundational elements of Girl Scouting. And so, through that, we have tons of programs that we're offering with supporting Girl Scouts to their own personal house of faith and also small activities that they can do with their Girl Scout troops, with their families, and also continuing to grow larger projects. We want to make sure that all of our activities that girls can participate in are at every level, so that there isn't a financial or transportation barrier or anything like that. Every single day has a different theme of the week, which is pretty exciting, and we have different activities that they can participate outside and learning about the history of Girl Scouts and supporting one another in community service projects. And we also celebrate the Girl Scouts' birthday on March 12th, where we host a birthday party for Girl Scouts at all of our regional centers throughout the state, where we essentially have a birthday party where they're going to be earning a badge and learning about the history of Girl Scouts. The Girl Scout Week is a really fun time to get together to celebrate everything that we love about Girl Scouts and how we can continue moving forward in the future.

David Fair: I thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today, JoAnna. It's much appreciated.

JoAnna Roach: Oh, thank you for having me!

David Fair: That is JoAnna Roach, the adult education and enrichment director for Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan. For more information, check out our website at your convenience at wemu.org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with United Way for Southeastern Michigan, and we bring it to you every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


March is Women's History Month and United Way for Southeastern Michigan is thrilled to have conversations centering the accomplishments, identities, and adversities of women and girls everywhere.

Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan serves over 1,000 girls within Washtenaw County, with over 30 troops throughout Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Saline, and Dexter. Washtenaw County Girl Scouts are participating in a program called Beyond Bars with the Huron Valley Women’s Correctional Facility. This program, supported by our incredible outreach staff (who run our community troops) helps girls develop healthy behaviors and promotes the development of leadership skills.

Within this program, girls work on their Girl Scout badge projects with their mothers, helping them build self-esteem and empowering these Girl Scouts to reach their full potential while sustaining healthy relationships with their mothers. In addition, it allows the girls to develop close relationships with other girls who are living the experience of having an incarcerated parent.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.

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Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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