A horde of uniformed little lobbyists swarmed the Florida Capitol today asking lawmakers for funding. Girl Scouts from across the state came to persuade policymakers there’s more to their organization than addictive snacks.
Twelve-year-old Sarasota scout Reanna Washington says she’s perfected her elevator pitch in case she runs into a lawmaker.
“You have to persuade them and let them think that we’re important,” she explains. “And we are.”
Washington and other scouts got a taste of the lawmaking process Monday morning when they debated and voted on anti-bullying legislation on the Senate floor. And just like grown-ups, they didn’t always see eye to eye. When another girl suggested the government set up an anti-bullying camp, Washington saw some flaws in the plan.
“She said ‘the government,’ and there’s a lot of people in the government, so, who? And it was, like, not calculated enough, not well-organized enough,” she says.
Immokalee scout Chelsae Lorestal added, “When they’re in a camp, they’re still with each other, they’re still gonna bully each other. I don’t see the point in a camp.”
The girls were among dozens of scouts at a pinning ceremony attended by Democratic Reps. Amanda Murphy and Daphne Campbell and Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville).
The scouts recited their pledge, “On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times and to live by the Girl Scout law,” as three of the girls affixed pins to the lawmakers’ lapels. In Scouts jargon, the ceremony welcoming new members is known as Investiture. And invest is exactly what Girl Scouts of Southeast Florida CEO Denise Valz hopes the Legislature will do.
“If the senators and representatives are not familiar with the program, then they’re going, ‘Why would we give Girl Scouts that kind of money?’ ‘cause they still see it as the overall Girl Scout program of cookies, crafts and camping,” she says.
Scouts famously sell cookies to fundraise for their troops. But Valz says the state funds the organization’s mentoring program called Get REAL!. She says with a current budget of just less than $500,000, the program serves about 1,500 girls with discipline issues.
Valz says, “We found that going through this program that the girls—85 percent of them—have better grades, have better attendance, have less opportunities in their schools where they are disciplined, so we’re seeing a lot of great results in this.”
In its proposed budget, the House has renewed the $500,000 for Get REAL! for another year. But the money’s not in the Senate budget. So Sen. Gibson gave the scouts a tip how to identify her colleagues around the Capitol:
“When you see somebody with one of these badges, look at it—if you’re in the elevator, walking, wherever you are—and start talking. Because those are the people that vote on the budget,” she said.
Get REAL! began in 2004 with a budget of $500,000, initially targeting middle schools receiving “D” and “F” grades. The number of girls served has increased each subsequent year and funding increased for a short period to $800,000. Current year funding is $367,635.
Corrected: The original version of this story said "Get Real has received $500,000 in funding every year since 2011. The program was cut entirely during the national recession." Girl Scouts of West Central Florida spokeswoman Jennifer Medeiros says the program was never cut entirely, although it did have to seek federal funding for a couple of years.