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SOUTHERN ILLINOIS - Everybody has a favorite Girl Scouts cookie flavor, but most people don’t know the scope of what the Girl Scouts organization does or how it can affect the lives of local young women.

Loretta Graham, the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois, is hoping to change that.

“We are investing in our future and in our world by investing in our girls,” Graham said. “When people think about Girl Scouts, they say, ‘Cookies, camping, crafts! That’s Girl Scouting.’ Well, there’s more. Building girls of courage, confidence, and character, that’s going to make our world a better place. And these girls, some of the projects that they have done in these communities, they’re not only going to lead our world. They’re going to change it.”

Graham has spent much of her professional life with the Girl Scouts organization, working with scouts in North Dakota and South Carolina before coming to Illinois. She explained that the Southern Illinois region serves 40 counties, with over 7,000 Girl Scouts and growing. The organization itself has expanded from 18 scouts in the very first troop in 1912 to 1.8 million worldwide in 2023.

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For Graham, it’s easy to see why Girl Scouts continues to thrive. She said that 91% of caregivers feel that all families are welcomed, and 83% of families agree that Girl Scouts connects them to a larger community. Additionally, the organization encourages kids to engage with STEM, art and themselves, which aids their development.

“We move at the speed of the girl,” Graham explained. “We focus on healthy self-image. We focus on life skills. We focus on social skills. We promote healthy behaviors and positive relationships and financial literacy. You don’t find that even in school these days.”

To promote the Girl Scouts, the Southern Illinois chapter is hosting a “United We Lead Gala” on Sept. 9 at the Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville. Graham invites anyone who is interested to attend. She thanked the 3,000 volunteers in Southern Illinois who make these projects possible.

As the organization continues to grow, Graham hopes to see more young women empowered as they enter the world.

“We believe that Girl Scouting is going to unite America and lead the way,” Graham said. “If you look at our female elected officials, our female astronauts, these were all Girl Scouts. Our success speaks for itself.”

If you are interested in the Girl Scouts organization or want to learn more about the Southern Illinois chapter, including how to enroll or volunteer, check out their website.

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