Join a soccer team or a Scout troop and attend backyard birthday parties. Not long ago, these were standard rites of passage for youth in American suburbia. As teens, you may still be in that Scout troop or playing sports. Spending time with friends at the park on a Friday night with new driver’s licenses. These activities were milestones of a seemingly time-honored tradition.
Many of these milestones are gone, now merely artifacts of days gone by. Community today is not limited by your neighborhood, school or ZIP code. The ability to connect with others has been dramatically transformed by internet access. Lost are the in-person connections we often had with one another.
“I don’t have any friends,” says Emily, a home-schooled 14-year-old. That is until she counts those she converses with in text messages and Roblox, a gaming platform. The list grows into a “Where’s Waldo”-like geography. She lists friends in Walnut Creek and Oakley, Calif., Phoenix, Port Stanley, Ontario and Brisbane, Australia.
At least for Emily, the importance of human connections beyond the internet remains very real.
Emily is also a member of a local Girl Scout troop, though membership has been in decline for several years – exasperated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Livermore counted upwards of 70 Girl Scout troops in 2019. Today, there are just 39, with membership in each also lower. Emily is just one of three girls left in her troop. This alone isn’t surprising; as Scouts age, they have more opportunities to participate in after-school programs, theater, sports and other activities.
Scouts BSA – what Boy Scouts of America renamed to after allowing girls to join starting in 2019 – has seen their membership numbers rebound, from about 762,000 for calendar year 2019 to just over 1.04 million members at the end of 2022. Scouts BSA also put a concerted effort into recruitment last year.
Parents are also challenged to find time for family, parenting and careers, leaving volunteerism on the low end of the priority list. Girl Scout troops use a different operating model than Scouts BSA, shifting more involvement of troop leaders to girls’ families.
“We’ve had parents wanting to open a new [Girl Scout] troop, but no one wanted to help co-lead a troop.” Andrea George took on the acting role of Membership Manager in Livermore, in addition to her role as Leader Support Manager. “Parents don’t have time after working one or two jobs and caring for a family to put in the extra hours and volunteer like they used to.”
39 troops with devoted leaders remain, helping girls learn skills and earn badges here in town. It bears mentioning that you do not need to be a parent to volunteer. If you have a skill, an area of interest or expertise, there is a way to support girls as they grow into future leaders of the community.
Paul George is the copy editor at the Express. Follow him on X @paulGeorgePIO