Girl Scouts pursue a wide variety of activities based on their interests, including career exploration sessions and college campus tours. Credit: Girl Scouts River Valleys

by Khadra Mohamed, Girl Scout Troop Leader & ConnectZ Program Coordinator

As a youth mentor working on behalf of Somali girls, back-to-school time is a favorite season of mine. Long summer days are coming to an end and our kids are swapping days at Valleyfair and nights playing pickup basketball for school, sports teams, and yes, Girl Scouting. It’s an exciting time of deep planning and preparation for me, as my troops and I look forward to a new year of growth, friendship, and fun. And for my Somali ConnectZ Troop in Apple Valley, it’s a time to reconnect with their Girl Scout sisters away from school and to have a space filled with other kids who look like them.

Being able to give my Girl Scouts a space to celebrate their shared culture and religion, while simply enjoying being kids, is an honor and a privilege that I do not take lightly. When my troop comes together, it’s a sacred space unlike any other where they get to be themselves—fully and without reservation. We celebrate our cultural identity through food, traditional dance, and writing poetry. And we celebrate the diversity within our diversity, honoring the many different forms a Somali girl’s identity may take. But in addition to the social and emotional benefits Girl Scouting gives them, there are some compelling benefits to our program that have educators and parents alike taking note.

ConnectZ is a program created to remove barriers in Girl Scouting, and includes culturally responsive activities led by staff in partnership with schools and community organizations. Photo credit: Girl Scouts River Valleys.

Most of us already know that out-of-school-time programs provide kids with important extended learning and growth opportunities, in addition to supervision and safety after school. Everything from dance team to theater club gives kids important venues for learning and practicing skills like confidence, teamwork, and leadership. Research even shows that out-of-school-time programs often support better academic outcomes as well as improved social skills. But with so many out-of-school programs out there, caregivers may wonder: what makes Girl Scouts so special anyway?

The impact of Girl Scouts has been articulated in study after study, with research demonstrating that these kids are more likely to have positive values and a strong sense of self, in addition to being more likely to seek challenges, develop healthy relationships, and exhibit community problem solving skills. Girl Scouts are also statistically more likely to achieve excellent grades, pursue future careers in STEM, and just generally feel hopeful about their futures. This is especially important during the challenging tween and teen years, when girls’ level of self-confidence can drop by as much as 30%. In light of this backdrop, being intentional and proactive about providing my troop with a space where they can feel seen, heard, affirmed, and celebrated means the world to me.

Khadra Mohamed, Girl Scouts ConnectZ Troop Leader & Community Engagement Coordinator. Photo credit: Girl Scouts River Valleys.

For so many girls, there’s precious little time to simply have fun being a kid. Too often, girls are expected to grow up faster than their male counterparts and take on numerous responsibilities in addition to their education. For my girls, our troop meetings and outings provide a needed reprieve from the daily pressures of girlhood where they can be in a space that’s designed just for them.

In my years of studying child psychology, one of the lessons I learned was the importance of representation. Having access to a leader and mentor who looks like you and understands your culture is a luxury I didn’t have growing up. Now as an adult, it brings me great joy to know the difference I’m making in my girls’ lives—and the difference they are in turn making in the world. I would invite anyone who cares for a girl to consider Girl Scouting as an option to help build confidence, character, and courage while giving them dedicated space to have fun, build friendships, and make memories that will last for years to come.