Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In Memory of Gwen

Earlier this month, my longtime friend Gwen Ifill died at the age of 61. My sadness was met with reminders of her incredible legacy and the work she leaves behind. She exemplified extraordinary courage and inspired countless individuals, especially women and girls.

Gwen was a groundbreaking journalist whose career spanned three decades as she covered politics, the White House, and most recently co-anchored “PBS NewsHour.” She broke barriers for African-American women on several fronts in the male-dominated field of journalism.  In 2013, Gwen became part of the first all-female anchor team on network nightly news as she and Judy Woodruff co-anchored “PBS NewsHour.”

I met Gwen at business school in the late 1970s, and we stayed connected through the years. She wanted to learn about how businesses worked so that she could be a better reporter. She succeeded. Gwen will be remembered not only for her professional accolades but for her genuine compassion. She dedicated her life to service by telling stories, asking questions, solving problems, challenging the norm, and staying true to her beliefs. Gwen lived a life of action and will be deeply missed.

In memory of Gwen, I am making a donation to Girl Scouts of Alaska, contributing to the mission I wake up and work toward every day: Building girls of courage, confidence, and character. Thank you for leading the way, Gwen. Alaska’s girls will continue in your footsteps of making the world a better place.

Getty Images


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Girl Scouts Give Back

This summer, girls throughout the council created projects to make their communities and the world better places. Camp projects varied depending on location, but the underlying goal of giving back was a common thread among Girl Scout campers.


Girl Scouts paint flower boxes during Day Camp in Valdez.

Across the state, Girl Scouts demonstrated leadership as they planned and implemented girl-led projects from start to finish. Girls attending Valdez Day Camp painted flower boxes for a nursing home, while girls in Soldotna decorated pillows for St. Jude’s. Another Take Action community project was environmentally focused as girls conducted a beach cleanup in Homer. In Seward, Girl Scouts took the initiative to paint a local playground. I am confident girls will continue to focus on their communities as a new Girl Scout year begins, especially in regards to long-term Take Action projects. 
Girl Scouts in Soldotna hold up pillow cases they decorated for St. Jude's.

Girl Scouts clean up the beach in Homer.
Girl Scouts in Seward pose on the playground they painted as their Take Action project. 


For high-school aged girls, Gold Awards are the perfect way to carry out such initiatives. The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest and most prestigious achievement in Girl Scouting. The award challenges girls to make a difference in the world through a Take Action project (with a suggested minimum of 80 hours), uphold standards of excellence and complete journey requirements. Younger girls can also earn Bronze and Silver awards, which are both great preparation for the Gold Award. For questions regarding the Gold Award, contact Program Development Specialist Maggie.

Our 2016 Gold Award earners made huge impacts in their neighborhoods, schools, and state. From leading historical tours to starting a teen suicide prevention club, girls created lasting differences in their corners of the world. Click here to view a video about 2016 Gold Award earners' Take Action projects. 

Aside from camp and Gold Awards, Girl Scouts are finding other unique ways to make their community a better place. The Eagle River-Chugiak Service Unit 918 completed a service project for Community Covenant Church of Eagle River. The church is generous in donating space for leader and service team meetings, and the service unit wanted to give back in a big way!

The project involved painting one of the main hallways leading to the library, gym, and classrooms. Senior-Ambassador Troop 916, led by Chris Kelliher, anchored the project, with help from several other ER-Chugiak Girl Scout adults and troop volunteers.



Girl Scouts paint a hallway at Community Covenant Church of Eagle River.



As girls go for Gold and troops complete community service projects, we’d love to hear their stories and see photographs of their journeys. We’re excited to be building girls of courage, confidence, and character and look forward to learning about all the different ways girls will give back this year.







Friday, October 30, 2015

Board Chair & CEO Conference Focuses on Girl Outreach

With virtually all 112 Girl Scout Councils represented, the 2015 Girl Scout Board Chair & CEO Conference provided the opportunity for board chairs, CEOs, and representatives from GSUSA to discuss organizational policies and procedures and develop strategies for bringing the Girl Scout Leadership Experience to even more girls. 

As the largest girl-serving organization in the U.S., Girl Scouts has incomparable reach. The organization is:
  • In virtually every residential zip code,
  • Socioeconomically diverse,
  • In schools, churches, temples, and mosques, and
  • Inclusive of all racial and ethnic groups. 
Girl Scouts says "yes" to every girl and breaks the leadership barrier for girls of all backgrounds. Our membership reflects the rich diversity of our communities, state, and country. In Alaska, with the help of 1,500 adult volunteers, we serve 5,000 girls who live in 90 communities both urban and rural. Thirty-seven percent live off the road system and 40 percent receive financial assistance.
GSAK serves 5,000 girls in 90 communities south of the 63rd parallel
"Girl Scouts is the only girl-focused, girl-led leadership organization in Alaska," Girl Scouts of Alaska CEO Sue Perles said. "GSAK seeks to serve more girls while providing fantastic programs and activities."

Held October 15-17 in Chicago, the Board Chair & CEO Conference gave Sue the opportunity to: 
  • Network with other CEOs, 
  • Meet board chairs from other Councils, 
  • Hear from other Councils that have implemented GSUSA's latest software, and 
  • Discuss ways GSUSA can support Councils and learn how Councils can increase membership. 
Sue attended in person and GSAK Board Chair Lynda Zaugg participated via phone.


GSAK CEO Sue Perles, center, with Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains
CEO Patricia Mellor, left, and Girl Scouts of the Desert Southwest CEO Diane Flanagan
A highlight of the conference was speaking with GSUSA Board President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan. As a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and GSUSA's first Native American board president, Kathy was particularly interested in hearing about how Alaska Natives participate in GSAK. 

More than 30 percent of girls served by GSAK identify as Alaska Native. They participate in all our Pathways including: 
  • Troop membership, which enables girls to earn badges and complete Journeys promoting community service, skill building, environmental stewardship, world cultures, arts, sports, STEM, and collaborating as a team to set and accomplish goals;
  • Summer resident and day camps; 
  • Women of Science & Technology Day in nine communities, including Bethel and Dillingham; and 
  • Our own Council Patch series, which includes the Alaska Native Heritage and Alaska Traditions patches.
2015 summer day camp in Bethel 
Also discussed at the conference was the Girl Scout Gold Award, which will celebrate its centennial in 2016. 

“Only five percent of eligible Girl Scouts earn Gold Awards. It is a prestigious award that speaks boldly of each recipient’s commitment to community service, maturity, and integrity," Sue said. "We would love to see more girls pursue their Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards. They are a fantastic learning experience for girls and a wonderful way to give back to the community." 

Girls who earn the award report greater success in reaching their goals in many areas including: 
  • Higher education and career 
    • Distinguish yourself in the college admissions process
    • Earn college scholarships
    • Enter the military one rank higher
  • Life skills 
    • Be seen as a role model and distinguished leader
    • Master time management skills
    • Make the world a better place
  • Community 
    • Use your vision for change
    • Tackle an issue, locally or globally
    • Establish a lifetime network
    • Create your community legacy with a sustainable solution to a problem
For information about the Girl Scout Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards, including upcoming orientations, click here.


GSAK's 2015 Gold Award earners
The Board Chair & CEO Conference was "three days well spent," Sue said. "Talking to other CEOs and board chairs drove home the message that our girls can, and are, changing the world. We're here to help girls discover their strengths, passions, and talents. Any girl in grades K-12 is encouraged to reach out and see what Girl Scouts can do for her!"

For information, visit our website or call 907-248-2250 / 800-478-7448

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Summer camps held in Cordova, Seward, Talkeetna, and Valdez for first time


Girl Scouts of Alaska brought day camp to four new locations in 2015. Girls in the communities of Cordova, Seward, Talkeetna, and Valdez experienced a classic and timeless GSAK summer camp experience for the very first time, which included activities such as arts and crafts, community services projects, cookouts, nature hikes, outdoor education, and more.

Camp staff were dispatched to the four communities June 20-25 due to the Sockeye Fire, which forced us to close Camp Togowoods during that time.  

Campers outside the program yurt at Camp Singing Hills
Day camp in Valdez

In all, this summer GSAK served 2,300 girls through camp programs in 40 locations. 

"Camp matters because it gives girls vital engagement," Chief Mission Officer Amanda Block said. "It not only teaches them skills they can use in the future, but it allows them to practice those skills today."


Campers in St. Mary's
Beachcombing in Sitka

Whether new and challenging or familiar and comforting, the activities girls partake in at Girl Scout camp help them develop the character traits youth need to develop into successful adults: 
  • A sense of wonder about the world
  • Social intelligence
  • Zest for/love of life
  • Optimism
  • Grit
  • Self-control
  • Gratitude

A visit to the Borough Public Safety Building in Haines

Because GSAK feels the camp experience should be made available to ALL girls regardless of ability to pay, we offered financial assistance (known as "camperships") for up to 90 percent of the camp fee to any girl who wished to attend camp.

Outdoor education in Kotlik

In several communities in Western Alaska, we offered camp at a significantly reduced cost. Our key sponsors included Alaska Commercial Company, Calista Corporation, ConocoPhillips, and Donlin Gold. We also received generous in-kind donations from Avis Alaska, Grant Aviation, and Ravn Alaska. 
Outdoor education in Bethel
Feather Winds resident camp in Juneau
GSAK wishes to thank the girls, parents, volunteers, camp staff, and donors who helped make the 2015 Girl Scout camp season a success!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Girl Scouts Aid Fire Relief Efforts

Alaska's dry summer has led to one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, with 4.5 million acres burned as of July 13. The Mat-Su Sockeye Fire and Kenai Peninsula Card Street Fire led to a host of evacuations, with many properties and structures damaged or destroyed. As always, when disasters occur, Girl Scouts young and old are at the ready! 

Sockeye Fire

For "outstanding support and professionalism" during the Mat-Su Sockeye Fire, GSAK received a Certificate of Appreciation from the Alaska Incident Management Team, an organization that provides response to complex emergency incidents.


Certificate of Appreciation from Alaska Incident Management Team

Mat-Su troops assembled more than 600 American Red Cross of Alaska "comfort kits," which included personal care items (soap, deodorant, Q-tips, etc.) and kids' items such as crayons and coloring books, games, and puzzles. Girl Scout Cookies were also given to first and secondary responders, shelters, and non-profit agencies that assisted with food distribution.  

"At first I only gave cookies to the shelters, but when I gave some to the Red Cross staff they were so grateful and happy," Mat-Su Member Services & Program Specialist Emily Tiller said. "In that moment, I realized we needed to go further than just the survivors. We are all in this together." 

Mat-Su girls assemble Red Cross comfort kits

Emily came to GSAK in the spring of 2015 from the Department of Homeland Security: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) where she worked to support flood survivors and volunteers as they helped to rebuild eight rural Alaska communities adversely affected by 2013 Alaska flood. Emily also formerly worked for the American Red Cross of Alaska.

Emily's experience and procedural advice proved invaluable during not only the Sockeye Fire but to the Kenai Peninsula Girl Scouts when, several days later, the Card Street and several other area fires forced evacuations on the Peninsula. 

A big thank you to Emily, our girls and adult volunteers who collected items and assembled the kits, all those who donated items, and the folks at J&J Independent Living for providing a space for donation drop-offs and kit assembly.

Card Street Fire

Like their Mat-Su neighbors to the north, Kenai Peninsula Girl Scouts channeled their leadership skills into helping their neighbors in times of disaster. In addition to assembling 50 comfort kits, girls stood outside Safeway grocery store in Soldotna and collected $560 in cash donations and three carts of food for evacuees and firefighters.


Kenai Peninsula Brownies collect donations outside Safeway

"These fires have really driven home for me the importance of Firewise," Kenai Peninsula Member Services & Program Specialist Billeen Carlson said. Firewise is a cooperative effort among local, state, federal and private agencies and organizations to promote fire safety in the wildland/urban interface. When adequately prepared, a house can withstand a wildland fire without the intervention of the fire service.

"It's great to see Girl Scouts actively seeking roles to assist their communities in times of need," Billeen said. "After all, helping girls become leaders in their own lives while preparing them for future leadership roles is what the Girl Scout Leadership Experience is all about!" 

Thank you to Safeway, Northwest Customs for serving as a donation drop-off center, Soldotna United Methodist Church for providing a space to assemble the kits, and Sterling Community Center for distributing the kits. Kudos also to Billeen, our girls and adult volunteers, and all those who donated items.  

Monday, June 15, 2015

2015 Encampment Draws Girls, Adult Volunteers from Across the State

Learning and leadership, fun and friendship were the hallmarks of 2015 Encampment, held June 4-7 at the Alaska State Fairgrounds in Palmer. 

Nearly 750 girls and 350 adult volunteers turned out for this year's Encampment. Troops came from Anchorage, Chugiak/Eagle River, Fairbanks, the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak, Mat-Su, Prince William Sound, Southeast Alaska, and Southwest Alaska.    

After troop arrival and check-in Thursday, the girls gathered for the Parade of Troops. Bag pipers from Alaska Celtic Pipes and Drums led the parade. Girls carried banners with their city and troop number, wore costumes, and heralded their arrival with noisemakers. 

Parade of Troop 

Afterward troops gathered for the official 2015 Encampment photo and opening ceremonies, which included addresses from GSUSA Board President Kathy Hopinka Hannan; Katie Nitzberg, a geologist with BP Alaska; and Lynda Zaugg, first vice chair of GSAK's board of directors. Kharissa C. from Palmer and Jordan C. from Juneau served as our event emcees.

The 'official' 2015 Encampment group photo
  
Friday and Saturday morning and afternoon were dedicated to workshops. Digital photography, dog mushing, belly dance, and basket weaving - this year's Encampment workshops spanned a range of topics including sports and recreation, music and drama, arts and crafts, and STEM.

"My favorite activity... It's hard to choose between 'Improve Your Improv' - because improv and acting [are some] of my favorite things to do - and photography," Sabrina A. of Troop 124 told Coastal Television Your Alaska Link reporter Caroline Flynn.

Click here to see Caroline's news piece, which was put together with the help of some potential future journalists!

In between workshop sessions girls could rock climb, tackle a bouncy-house obstacle course, enjoy some "me" time, or sit for face painting.


Baton and flag-twirling workshop

A highlight of Encampment was Friday night's presentation by keynote speaker Iditarod musher Aliy Zirkle.

A 15-time Iditarod finisher, Aliy Zirkle has been the runner-up in the Iditarod for three consecutive years: 2012, 2013, and 2014. In 2000 she became the first woman to win the Yukon Quest, a 1,000-mile dog sled race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks.

Along with her husband Allen Moore, who is also a champion musher, Aliy owns 40 dogs and runs SP Kennel in Two Rivers, a town 25 miles northeast of Fairbanks.

The theme of 2015 Encampment was "Superheroes in the Making," and Aliy told the girls that her superpower is to "keep smiling throughout all of the incredible challenges in life."

Aliy said 2015 Encampment was one of the best motivational presentations she has ever given. To quote Aliy when she returned home: “I went to to 2015 Girl Scout Encampment to try and inspire and encourage those girls, and I left the fairgrounds more motivated and inspired than I have been in years!”

Five lucky troops were randomly selected to attend a meet-and-greet with Aliy before her presentation. All the girls received a signed photograph of Aliy with her sled dog Junior.


Troop meet-and-greet with Iditarod musher Aliy Zirkle

After another day of workshops, Saturday ended with closing ceremonies. The girls heard from U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who had been a Girl Scout growing up in Ketchikan and serves as a member of the honorary Congressional Girl Scout troop called Troop Capitol Hill. Senator Murkowski addressed the girls via video:

"We all know that superheroes have superpowers. So when you think about that, where does your superpower come from? I'd say that my superpower is being at my best when I push myself out of my comfort zone," Senator Murkowski said. 

"Those who are familiar with sailing know that you can sail pretty close to the shore to get to your destination, but risking the open seas and the rough waters will allow you to stretch yourself and help you find out what you're made of. You still get to the same place, but the adventures you have along the way? They're really worth it."

After closing remarks from GSAK CEO Sue Perles and Encampment Coordinator Tasha Nichols, the girls sang karaoke and danced the night away.


Troop karaoke the last night of Encampment

A big thank you to our girls and troop leaders, adult volunteers, workshop presenters, special guests, and the GSAK staff for making 2015 Encampment a success!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Nearly 400 Attend the 2015 Young Women of Distinction Luncheon

The highest achievement in Girl Scouting, the Girl Scout Gold Award challenges Girl Scout Seniors (grades 9-10) and Ambassadors (grades 11-12) to take action to improve their world. Girls who pursue the Gold Award aspire to transform an idea into an actionable plan with measurable, sustainable, and far-reaching results.    

This year GSAK honored seven Girl Scouts who earned their Gold Award at a luncheon in their honor: 

  • Emily Carman, Anchorage
  • Ariel Hasse, Wasilla
  • Jordan Lane, Anchorage
  • Kathleen Meeds, Anchorage
  • Kelsey Olmstead, Anchorage
  • Sharayah Taylor, Ketchikan
  • Rachel White, Anchorage

The event was held May 4 at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage.


L to R: Emcee Kharissa Chasse and Gold Award earners 
Kathleen Meeds, Sharayah Taylor, Kelsey Olmstead, Emily Carman, and Rachel White

Nearly 400 attendees turned out for the event, which featured speeches from five of the Gold Award earners. Kharissa Chasse, an Ambassador Girl Scout with Palmer Troop 447, served as event emcee and presented the girls their Gold Awards.  

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Girl Scout alumna and member of honorary Congressional Girl Scout troop Troop Capitol Hill, addressed the girls via video:

“The Gold Award is the Girl Scouts’ highest honor, an impressive achievement reflecting tremendous dedication, personal drive, and hard work. I want to thank each and every one of you for all that you’ve done to make our great State of Alaska an even better place to live,” Senator Murkowski said. “Your commitment to your communities – from Wasilla to Anchorage to Ketchikan – is truly inspirational.”   

Olympian Holly Brooks served as the luncheon keynote speaker. A Girl Scout while growing up in Washington State with a troop-leader mother, Holly has served as Girl Scouts of Alaska’s spokeswoman since 2013.


Keynote speaker Holly Brooks with Gold Award earner Kathleen Meeds

Holly talked about the important lessons she learned while participating in the Girl Scout Cookie Program such as courage, goal setting, dedication, and perseverance. Holly sold 1,000 boxes each cookie sale so she could earn enough cookie credits to attend summer camp. 

Holly said those early lessons learned in Girl Scouts set her up for success in life. She also talked about what it takes to go “from idea to action, from dreaming to doing”: 

1. Own it
2. Share it 
3. Be persistent 
4. Get lucky 
5. Pivot 
6. Be true to yourself 

GSAK CEO Sue Perles thanked our Girl Scout supporters, including event Gold Sponsor CIRI and Bronze Sponsor Soroptimist International of Anchorage on Cook Inlet, and GSAK Second Vice Chair Beth Nordlund asked the luncheon attendees for support. 


GSAK board member Beth Nordlund 

Though there was no charge for the luncheon, there was a suggested minimum donation of $100 and many donated more. In addition to our Gold and Bronze Sponsors, corporate donors included Alaska Commercial Company, BP Alaska, and Saltchuk Corp.  

Donors who give to Girl Scouts of Alaska are investing in the next generation of female leaders. Their money supports Alaska's girls through a variety of pathways including troop membership, summer camp in 35 communities, Council events, and series such as our Girl Scout all-girl LEGO robotics teams.


GSAK board member Lynda Zaugg, left, with luncheon guest Janna Stewart

“Only five percent of eligible Girl Scouts earn Gold Awards. It is a prestigious award that speaks boldly of each recipient’s work ethic, maturity, and integrity,” GSAK CEO Sue Perles said. “We know that transformational leadership begins in girlhood, and Ariel, Emily, Jordan, Kathleen, Kelsey, Rachel, and Sharayah have demonstrated they have what it takes to excel, exceed, and lead now and throughout their lives.”

Congratulations to our 2015 Gold Award earners and thank you to all who turned out for our Young Women of Distinction luncheon!