(WOMENSENEWS)–Hazel Dewey was an outrageous woman in an area that set the bar high.

As a Girl Scout leader in suburban New Orleans, she told corny jokes or wore outrageous costumes to get a laugh out of her girls.

But the thing I will remember forever about Miss Hazel is not outrageous. It’s the quiet words of wisdom she offered to a lonely, sad girl one day in the piney woods of Louisiana.

I was always a sensitive child, my feelings too easily hurt, and that day, I sat alone in the woods nursing some slight or the other. I don’t remember why I was brooding, but I do remember feeling mighty sorry for myself.

Miss Hazel (in the South, we always called adults Miss or Mister) sat down on a pine log next to me. But instead of feeding my self-pity, she told me that feeling sorry for myself was not going to get me anywhere worth going in this life. She advised me to exit my pity party, take responsibility for my own feelings and rejoin the other Girl Scouts who were enjoying this particular campout.

Years later, when I wrote my former Girl Scout leader to thank her for these words of wisdom, she bawled like a baby.

Miss Hazel has some good company among the Girl Scout sisterhood. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, astronaut Mae Jemison, network anchor Katie Couric, 10 of 17 women in the United States Senate, 45 of 75 women in the House of Representatives, including Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), and Congresswomen Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) and Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.), and 53 percent of all women who own U.S. businesses are former Girl Scouts, according to Girl Scouts of the USA.

All those remarkable women were helped along by a Georgia girl named Juliette Gordon Low who, 100 years ago today, founded the Girl Scouts in Savannah.

Daisy, as Low was known, was a plucky woman for her time. When her husband died and left his estate to his mistress, Low was one of the first women of her time to successfully challenge the will and win. In England, she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and was impressed with the youth group. Baden-Powell thought girls didn’t have the skill to be called scouts, but Low thought otherwise, and called her movement the Girl Scouts. She famously sold her pearl necklace to finance the fledgling organization.

Year of the Girl

Today the Girl Scouts does what it can to keep Low’s gumption going.

Low’s followers have declared 2012 the Year of the Girl, including a push to place more women in leadership positions in the workplace and communities. To help girls break the glass ceiling, the Girl Scouts have launched ToGetHerThere, a major push to encourage girls’ leadership potential.

Girls still express uncertainly about being a leader, according to a telephone survey of 1,001 girls ages 8-17 conducted by GFK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. More than a third of the girls surveyed said they would feel uncomfortable trying to be a leader and 59 percent thought it was easier to be a follower than a leader.

Stress, fear of speaking in front of others, concerns about appearing bossy and peer pressure may cause girls to simply disengage from assuming leadership roles, Connie Lindsey, the national Girl Scouts of the USA president, said in a recent press statement on her group’s research.

The Girl Scouts hope to raise $1 billion to fund opportunities for girls to lead, proposing to spend money on services and programs for girls in the U.S. and 94 other countries.

Long-lasting Oath

When my daughter was younger, I became a Girl Scout leader, and even though my daughter is in college now, I’ll always be a Girl Scout.

I watched with pride as my girls learned long-term planning, teamwork, organization, leadership and business skills from organizing and planning such things as camping trips and cookie sales. Walking up to total strangers exiting a Kroger’s to ask them to buy a box of Thin Mints takes guts and I could see the girls’ confidence grow with each box they sold. Even when potential customers refused them rudely, they learned not to take offense at the rejection, and they persevered.

As an adult, I participate in organizing the Mountain Magic Leader’s Weekend in north Georgia, a retreat for scout leaders in which I’ve taught tie-dying and public speaking, learned how to make jewelry and sushi, and zoomed down a zip line from the top of a 50-foot-tall climbing tower.

The 100th birthday has already been celebrated by Girl Scouts worldwide in many ways. In Savannah, girls from Shuman Elementary’s Troop No. 30480 swatted away sand gnats as they helped to plant a live oak in the park named for Low, according to the Savannah Morning News. The national group launched the Girl Scouts Forever Green 100th Anniversary Take Action Project with a two-year $1.5 million grant from the Alcoa Foundation to reduce waste reduction, conserve energy and build rain gardens.

Such initiatives prove what I’ve always known: Girl Scouts are a lot more than selling cookies. Today, I celebrate Low and the other remarkable Girl Scouts who provide more than 70 million hours of direct service to their communities.

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Editors Note: Women’s eNews has a partnership with Girl Scouts of America. Scouts who either actually or virtually walk through Opening the Way, a women’s history tour of Lower Manhattan, earn a special Opening the Way badge. https://womensenewsp.wpengine.com/openingtheway

Diane Loupe has eaten more than her share of Girl Scout cookies. She is a freelance writer and editor in Decatur, Ga., and teaches at the Interactive College of Technology in Chamblee, Ga.