By Christie Garton
USAToday.com – April 21, 2011
If we learned anything from the 2010 U.S. Census is that U.S.-based non-profits can no longer afford to ignore the growing Latino population. Indeed, according to the latest demographic data, the Latino population now totals 16.3% of the nation's inhabitants, increasing by 43% over the last ten years.
One organization taking this information to heart is the Girl Scouts of America. Already the 100 year-old organization enjoys some pretty impressive membership numbers among young American girls with one in 10 claiming membership in Girl Scouts.
But in order to keep up with these ever-evolving demographic trends, the organization decided to launch a new national Hispanic-focused media campaign to reach "one of the only girl populations in the country that is growing," according Girl Scout Council of Northern Texas.
In fact, the Northern Texas branch, which currently serves 40,000 girls, localized this effort with it own campaign, featuring Spanish-language recruitment materials, program collateral and Girl Scouting guides. Their goal? To better address the current needs of the girls and their parents in the 32 counties it serves.
I recently caught up with Monica Contreras, director of marketing & communications at Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, to learn more about the initiative.
Kindness: Beyond the Census data, what are some of the factors driving your organization to take on this new initiative of reaching young Hispanic girls?
Monica Contreras: As the largest girl-serving organization with powerful long-term outcomes, we believe that the Girl Scout Leadership Experience offered by Girl Scouts is critical for the future of Latina girls and women. The Hispanic Initiative was identified as one of the five key priorities of our core business strategy, and is in alignment with the core business strategy of the Girl Scouts of the USA. The overarching goal is to build a membership base that reflects the demographics of the communities we serve. The Hispanic population is the fastest growing demographic in North Texas and with that comes many challenges and opportunities.
Moving into the 21st century, girls and women can no longer live in a cloistered environment. Even at a very young age, girls must learn self-confidence and self-esteem - both qualities needed to make good decisions for the rest of their lives. Without these skills, they tend to fall behind in their schoolwork, drop out at an early age because they are unfamiliar with the English language and are then unable to find jobs. Couple that with the increased teenage pregnancy trends for the Hispanic population, and so continues the downward spiral into poverty.
Kindness: How will these materials help you reach them?
Contreras: The materials help us better communicate to the parents where they better understand who Girl Scouts are and the array of benefits that we have to offer. The more we can communicate to the parents and families of the girls, more the likelihood we are better to serve the girl.
Kindness: Once these young women are recruited, how will your organization address their communication needs going forward?
Contreras: Just in two years, we have quadrupled our bilingual staff from 3 employees to 12 and we are continuously making every effort to communicate with them in an effective way. In 2011, we hope to expand our communications efforts through a more extensive Spanish website based on volunteer needs and parental feedback, produce a Spanish video introducing Girl Scouts, its values and activities and how to join, develop a Spanish on-line training for first-time Girl Scout troop volunteers. This training will hope to be accessed at home, in our Service Centers, and through any free computer portal, i.e., the public library. We will also continually be translating our materials and hopefully with the help of sponsors and grants create a local, targeted advertising campaign.
Kindness: How might your programming be modified to address any cultural differences that arise?
Contreras: A 2009 research study that examined what Hispanic families want out of Girl Scout programs for their daughters is the same as what Non-Hispanics want: to grow girls of confidence, character and courage who make the world a better place. The power in the Girl Scout program comes from the girl herself, because it is the girl who leads on the journey-meaning that in Girl Scouts, each girl is given the opportunity to pursue her own interests and passions, whatever they may be. We believe that this model allows for girls is meaningful to her, regardless of her cultural heritage.
Girl Scout programs are delivered primarily in the communities in which girls live, through volunteers and community program partners. Keeping Girl Scouts local allows girls everywhere to participate. It is important that the volunteers can identify with the girls and vice versa, therefore, it is a key priority of GSNETX to recruit volunteers and community program partners who live, work and operate businesses in the same neighborhoods as the girls we hope to reach. In this way, cultural awareness and sensitivity can be built into the program at a very personal level from the very beginning.
Over and above the recruitment effort, specific programmatic plans for the coming membership year include a Family Camp Day at our camp in the Dallas Metroplex, with specific outreach efforts to the Hispanic community, and the establishment of a Girl Scout "Teaming for Tomorrow" college and career exploration series for older Latina girls. Both will be offered in collaboration with the Latina volunteer base, the Hispanic business community, and Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas.
Kindness: How might this learning be of value to Girl Scout councils across the country?
Contreras: When we approached the Hispanic Initiative in 2009, we knew that we had to take a strategic approach and build a 3 year core strategy. We recommend that when trying to recruit a certain demographic, that a plan be put into place to see a return on investment.