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South Florida Girl Scouts proudly wear 100 years as badge of honor

Florida Girl Scouts preparing for cookie sales in the 1960s.
Courtesy of The Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida
Florida Girl Scouts preparing for cookie sales in the 1960s.

When people learn that Brittnie Bassant is a Girl Scout, one thing comes to mind: cookies.

Never mind that she's 34 years old. Her friends and family just want to know about the Thin Mints and Samoas.

She's a member of Troop 305, a group made for older Girl Scouts in South Florida who want to stay involved or in Bassant's case, never got the chance to. And much to the chagrin of her and her loved ones, the troop is not involved in the cookie sales.

"You can't give someone with credit card access a bunch of Girl Scout cookies and not expect them to just purchase all the boxes and eat them themselves," she said jokingly.

Troop 305, a recent initiative of the Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida (GSTF), makes Girl Scouting more accessible — an ethos that speaks to the organization's longevity.

"Having that sisterhood is probably the best part. That transcends age," Bassant said. "You can have that when you're a little girl. You can have that as an adult. You can have that throughout your entire life. So that, I think, is the heart of what the Girl Scouts is."

The first Girl Scout troop in Miami-Dade County was founded in 1923, in Coconut Grove. This year marks the centennial anniversary of what is now called the Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida — that's 100 years of cookie sales, patches and sisterhood.

The organization has come a long way since the time of polyester skirts and knee high socks in the South Florida heat.

Girl Scouts of today learn how to code, for one thing, or spearhead community projects with a network of former Girl Scouts at their disposal. GSTF has blossomed, expanding its reach beyond Miami-Dade County and into Monroe County — and offering opportunities to girls and women at all stages of life.

Erica Rule, 47 and also a member of Troop 305, had a relatively short stint as a Girl Scout, spanning from second to fifth grade. She did not expect to be as involved in the organization as much as she is today.

"The first thing I said when [my first daughter] was born is, 'I get to do Girl Scouts!' It was sort of interesting to see how much I was looking forward to having that shared experience with my daughter," she said.

Girl Scouting tends to be a family affair. Rule was a troop leader for her daughters just like her mother was for her growing up.

"What I love about this program is it is one of the most open and inclusive groups. You're connecting with other women at this very pure level," she said. "Everybody just has this one common interest and we're there to all make it happen together."

Leaders and members of GSTF said the organization has become more diverse over time. At least half of the Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida's current members identify as Hispanic or Latino, and 14 percent are Black, according to self reported data.

The organization is dedicated to recruiting girls from every zip code, said CEO Chelsea Wilkerson.

"We have such a great opportunity to bring awareness to Girl Scouting to families that are new to this country, that are learning about what it's like to raise children here and what the education system is like," she said.

For those unfamiliar with the Girl Scout's structure, it takes on a choose-your-own adventure approach. Girls have the agency to set their own goals and activities by coordinating with their own troops.

Scouts can earn patches and badges through various activities and excursions. Girls are encouraged to earn at least one badge in different areas — ranging from STEM to outdoor activities — so they have the opportunity to try various types of activities they had not been otherwise interested in doing.

It's an overall personalized experience.

"You know, when you give that girl an opportunity to sell those Thin Mints at a cookie booth, she finds her voice," Wilkerson said.

When a South Florida Girl Scout isn't selling boxes of Trefoils or Tagalongs, she can be found earning a hurricane preparedness badge or cleaning mangroves in Biscayne Bay.

Having that sisterhood is probably the best part. That transcends age ... You can have that throughout your entire life. So that, I think, is the heart of what the Girl Scouts is.
Brittinie Bassant, member of Troop 305

Gabrielle Placide, a 15-year-old Girl Scout senior, just got her 10-year pin to pair with the array of patches on her vest. It serves as a testament to her commitment to the group, despite juggling her school responsibilities.

"It just shows that I really stuck through Girl Scouts through all of this time because people usually say that you grow out of Girl Scouts as you get older. And yeah, it does get hard sometimes, but in the end it really just works out," she said.

People join the Girl Scouts in search of sisterhood, but Placide joined because of her older sister who was also a Girl Scout. It was an activity that they could share together.

"My sister is 21 now, but she still is active in Girl Scouts," she said. "When she came home from college, she always made sure to volunteer at events and stuff."

Now, she's creating new memories and traditions with her troop in Miami Gardens.

"My favorite part about being a Girl Scout is basically just being able to meet new people and create new experiences and just being able to get myself out there and bond with other people that may not be like me," she said.

To celebrate a century of Girl Scouting, Wilkerson said the HistoryMiami Museum will host an exhibit that plots out major events in South Florida Girl Scout history. Displays will include various uniforms, patches, badges and pins from over the decades. The exhibit will start on March 31 through June 11.

Wilkerson said they aim to be good stewards of their council's legacy and keep the hearth warm for the next generation of Girl Scouts.

"Because just like Girl Scouts, girls needed Girl Scouting in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, they will need it as well in the 2020s, 30s and 40s."

Girl Scouts of generations past

Sarah Artecona's mother was not a camper by a long shot. Her mom had a 9-to-5 job and attended junior league meetings. She was the kind of lady who wore pantyhose until the day she died, she said.

But when it came to Girl Scouting, her mother was not afraid to rough it in nature for her daughter.

Sarah Artecona, the board chair for the Girls Scouts of Tropical Florida, pictured wearing her Girl Scout Brownie uniform in the 70s.
Courtesy of Sarah Artecona
Sarah Artecona, the board chair for the Girls Scouts of Tropical Florida, pictured wearing her Girl Scout Brownie uniform in the 70s.

"None of the moms did anything like that — to get out of their comfort zone for themselves — not only that but to say to their girls, 'get out of your comfort zone, we're going to do something that we don't traditionally do,'" she said.

As a fourth-generation Miamian, Artecona's mother was a member of the first Girl Scout troop in Coconut Grove. Now, the 57-year-old serves as board chair for the Girls Scouts of Tropical Florida.

Some of her fondest memories with her mother entail their Girl Scout excursions. They would camp, learn archery or search for bugs with other girls around her age.

"We thought that it was cool that we were doing things that boys traditionally did," she said.

Amid the women's rights movement of the 70s, Artecona noted some of the ripple effects trickled down to Girl Scout troops when the uniform code expanded to include pants — not just skirts.

They did almost everything a Boys Scout would do, except for cookie sales, which aims to help girls develop entrepreneurial and communication skills, she said.

"It gives you a very comforting feeling to know that you have a bunch of girls around you that maybe are totally different from you, but they all have your back," she said.

Alyssa Ramos is the multimedia producer for Morning Edition for WLRN. She produces regional stories for newscasts and manages digital content on WLRN.
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