Girls in kindergarten through 12th grade wearing distinctive vests, sashes and tunics are fanning out to supermarkets, big-box stores, bistros and boutiques all across Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

They’re carrying boxes of Thin Mints, Samoas, Peanut Butter Patties — clearly a sign that it’s Girl Scout cookie season.

But there isn’t a troop on the Hill from which to buy these delicious old-time favorites. The last troop shut down a few years ago.

One resident is having them shipped from Hawaii. Others are pre-ordering cookies for themselves and for their customers. “Everyone

Girl Scouts at Skyland Ranch. Photo courtesy Girl Scouts of San Bernardino Council

wants cookies, lol!!!,” one resident wrote on social media.

Banish the thought that Hill folk won’t be able to satisfy their sweet tooth and support the aspirations of local girls who want to run their own businesses, speak to the public, earn money and make decisions about what’s important to them.

Girls living on the Hill can and do join troops in Hemet to benefit from Girl Scouting, but local Mom Amy Miller-Hayley said she was “surprised to find there wasn’t a local troop in Idyllwild.

“I was a Girl Scout from kindergarten to middle school and now have a 7-year-old girl. We have a lot of good buddies up here who are bored,” Miller-Hayley said. “We’re looking to branch out and learn more about nature, building fires, and setting up camp. Girl Scouts seems a natural [fit].

“I can’t imagine the girls won’t have the perfect environment to thrive.”

In January, Miller-Hayley, Mom Stacy Kretsinger and enthusiastic volunteer Bridget Noer put their heads together to ensure that local girls can experience Girl Scouts in their own backyards.

Troop 533 will be up and running before the end of the year and is open to girls from kindergarten through high school. To join, contact Miller-Hayley at [email protected].

Idyllwild Librarian Shannon Ng, a Girl Scout alumna with more than 30 years of service and a member of the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council in Redlands, is mentoring the troop’s leaders.

“Girl Scouts is much bigger than doing crafts after school and selling cookies once a year,” Ng said. “That’s not all there is.

Hemet Girl Scouts selling cookies outside the Idyllwild Post Office on Super Bowl Sunday.
Photo by Bill Gianakos

“Today’s girls experience science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM), robotics and government. They find social problems and solve them.

“Girls explore and work with media, journalism, broadcasting and communications professionals in the ‘Our Girl Reporter’ program.

“Our G.I.R.L. initiative is designed to unleash the go-getter, innovator, risk-taker and leader in every girl, preparing her for a lifetime of leadership. Our goal is to build strong women.

“Girl Scouting has always been that way,” Ng added. “That’s what Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low intended.

“I don’t ever want to have a young lady tell me she doesn’t think she can do something — be a mathematician or run a Fortune 500 Company — because she just can’t. Whatever the reason in her head, it is just not true.”

Ng, Miller-Hayley, Kretsinger and Noer are looking to foster honesty, fairness, courage, respect, consideration and other qualities in Girl Scouts. They want to expose them to concepts, training, traditions, and programs that help develop world leaders and game changers like Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Every female secretary of state in U.S. history is a former Girl Scout.

Clinton, a former First Lady and U.S. senator, was the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in the 2016 election.

First Lady Barbara Bush was a Girl Scout. So were feminist Gloria Steinem and the late Sally Ride, America’s first female astronaut in space.

Add to the roster Ride’s fellow astronaut Mae Jemison, aviation pioneer the late Amelia Earhart, and the late Karen Visel, Idyllwild School librarian.

Many alumni climbed the ranks from Brownie to Ambassador and earned their Gold Award, the highest in Girl Scouting.

Troop 533 will be covered by the GSSGC, which increased its programming capability in 2015 with the purchase of Camp Skyland Ranch — 191 acres of wilderness and indoor/outdoor facilities located at 5,100-foot elevation, halfway between Banning and Idyllwild on Highway 243.

“We’re determined to turn this awesome property into a world-class STEAM center,” Cynthia Breunig, president and CEO of GSSGC, said.

The map includes “some of the structures and program spaces the GSSGC is planning to build.”
Map courtesy Girl Scouts of San Bernardino Council

“Outdoor activities make for ideal learning experiences in every STEAM field.”

Skyland — “the camp that cookies built” — operates year-round, allowing girls to enjoy STEAM programming, environmental studies, horseback riding, archery, fencing, camping and many more activities that help them to learn, grow, take chances and face new challenges in a safe environment.

“We purchased Skyland because we believe we can give girls an experience they cannot otherwise have,” GSSGC Development Chief Chuck MacKinnon said. “They can gain important insights into how a life lived … connected to nature and the outdoors is a life well-lived.”

MacKinnon explains, too, that “girls’ tastes are changing … it appears that this generation of girls does not want to sleep outside.

“Another big factor is they don’t — won’t — go to camp if they can’t have their phones … and so we need to overcome that to get them there.

“We are going to draw upon computers and everything else in program delivery, but they will be untethered from their personal devices and still be in touch with their parents as needed.

“Grades K-5 is an ideal age to capture a girl’s attention,” MacKinnon added. “If they come into Girl Scouts at an early age, then barriers don’t need to be overcome. They already have their sense of self in nature and in being willing to take risks and to take independent action … even when they are quite young.”

“Our council is noted for cyber security,” MacKinnon added, “in partnership with Cal State San Bernardino, which is in the top echelon nationwide for cyber security study, research and programs, according to Cal State San Bernardino Professor Tony Coulson.”

Existing Camp Skyland facilities include: two lodges, nine cabins, two water towers, several open-air camping shelters, a barn and orchards.

“We’ve raised $1.9 million of our $3 million capital campaign and are just about finished with renovation of Duncan Lodge,” Mackinnon said. “We are going to try to raise and spend $12 million to $15 million within a 10-year period.

“Girl Scouts is girl-led and volunteer-driven; the girls decide what they want to do. They run the troop. The big heavy lifting is done by adult volunteers,” MacKinnon said. “And we do expect to provide some financial assistance. Low-income and under-served girls are a huge area of interest and focus for us.

“We have Idyllwild in our sights, connecting it to Skyland for visual and performing arts and theater collaborations. We are very much interested in collaborating with organizations and groups on the Hill.”

Skyland and other GSSGC camps, including Camp Azalea Trails in Idyllwild, are open to Girl Scouts and non-Girl Scouts in kindergarten through 12th grade. Boys are also welcome at Camp Skyland Ranch programs.

“It’s a community and a Girl Scout resource,” MacKinnon said. “We feel it is almost a sacred trust to have this property, and to care for and make it the best that we can, not only for our Girl Scouts, but also for communities-at-large.”