Developing what it means to be a Girl Scout

By Emma Bartlett

Dana Borrelli-Murray, 41, is laser-focused and ready to collaborate. The new CEO of Girl Scouts of Southeastern New England (GSSNE) is entering her ninth month in the role and has big plans for the board.

“I really think Girl Scouts have the ability — especially post-Covid — to be a health equity solution for young people,” Borrelli-Murray said in a recent interview.

With children emerging from the pandemic having mental health needs and more, Borrelli-Murray said the GSSNE can provide strong peer-to-peer relationships and mentorship opportunities between youth and troop leaders. Individuals can also earn program badges at their own pace and participate in outdoor learning that can be therapeutic.

Borrelli-Murray came to the CEO position after 15 years working in education. Her journey includes several years as the principal of a small Providence school, followed by the management of a non-profit start-up company that spun out of the institution. Within a few years, the multi-person start-up grew into a multi-million dollar organization of 30 people. She received her undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst and earned a master’s degree in urban education policy from Brown University.

After working in education, Borrelli-Murray was ready for a new adventure and wanted to use her skills in a different place and field, which brought her to GSSNE. Although she had never been a Girl Scout herself, the more Borrelli-Murray learned about the organization and its history, the more interested she became in the position.

“I saw a vision for how to make this the most relevant, engaging and youth-centered inclusive leadership program available to everyone,” Borrelli-Murray said.

Girl Scouts is a 110 year old movement with a rich history. Borrelli-Murray explained that it all started with a single, disabled woman named Juliette Gordon Low who sold her pearls to get the organization up and running. Low wanted to create an opportunity for girls to learn, have fun and make friends because – at the time the organization was founded – women could not vote, go to most schools, do sports or divorce their husbands.

She added that Girl Scouts has been about inclusion from the very beginning, saying Martin Luther King Jr. called it a desegregating force in the 1950s. The organization was also at the forefront of the movement. LGBTQ+ in the 2000s.

GSSNE is part of a federated model and is one of 110 councils across the country. This council spans all of Rhode Island and includes 13 communities in Massachusetts and Connecticut. This year, GSSNE will serve between 5,000 and 6,000 youth and adult volunteers.

The Edgewood mother-of-four said the whirlwind experience had been fun so far. She loves that the end user of GSSNE is the youth and loves that everything the organization does is focused on ensuring Girl Scouts have amazing opportunities and enjoy what they do.

The organization’s numbers are 11% higher this year than in January 2022, and the GSSNE is expanding its model of what being a Girl Scout means/looks like. Borrelli-Murray said the organization is exploring how the GSSNE can bring new and fresh perspectives to the movement.

“I really care about going from Girl Scout growth to Girl Scout growth,” Borrelli-Murray said.

She thinks that for a long time, Girl Scouts have relied on nostalgia as a recruitment mechanism. Individuals signed up to be part of the organization because a family member had been a Girl Scout, and she believes that this mentality marginalized whole communities of people and families who did not feel that connection.

“We have the ability to use our platform and our voice to continue speaking out and pushing for the growth and expansion of our movement to include youth and families who were potentially not included before” , said Borrelli-Murray.

The organization also makes it easier for individuals to get involved as troop leaders. Borrelli-Murray said she could double the number of Girl Scouts tomorrow and provide opportunities for them if she had enough adult volunteers.

The Girl Scout model is built on the premise that adults will volunteer and lead the troops, however, this can be difficult on a day when two parents work and rents are high. She added that individuals do not need to be a parent to be a Girl Scout troop leader and it is a great opportunity for someone in college or a recent retiree.

“It’s a great way to connect with our leaders of tomorrow,” Borrelli-Murray said.

Borrelli-Murray said there is also flexibility in how often the troops meet. For example, young people could meet once a month or once a week – it depends entirely on the troops. Additionally, some troops may want to take a more STEM-, arts-, or outdoors-focused approach to their activities.

“There are so many different ways to do Girl Scouts that you can really do it all,” Borrelli-Murray said.

One of Borrelli-Murray’s big goals is to make sure GSSNE begins to define itself and tell its story in public.

“The Girl Scout brand is one of the most recognized brands in the world and yet has one of the poorest elevator pitches. No one quite knows how to define what Girl Scouts is and what it does. I think it’s because it’s so individualized it’s hard to say it’s doing a thing. The mission is to nurture brave, confident, characterful young people who make the world a better place.” said Borrelli-Murray.

The organization is currently in the midst of cookie season that dates back to 1917. Girl Scouts USA works with two large commercial bakers in the country, and last year the GSSNE council sold more than 750,000 cases of cookies – there has 12 boxes of cookies in each case. All profits from cookie sales go directly to troop programming.

After cookie season, GSSNE will host a cookie and cocktail event at the Crowne Plaza on March 9. For this fundraiser, local restaurants will create beautiful displays of special bite-sized desserts made from Girl Scout cookies. There will be cooking demonstrations, live music and more. Tickets are available for purchase through the GSSNE website.

GSSNE is located in Warwick at 500 Greenwich Ave. To learn more about the organization or for more information on volunteer opportunities, visit gssne.org/.

Developing what it means to be a Girl Scout

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to top