Girl Scouts hope to speak young Latinas’ language

Times Staff Writer

Reflecting an increased effort by the Girl Scouts to attract young Latinas and their mothers, the Spanish Trails Council in Montclair is offering a bilingual camp for the first time this summer.

The one-day “Las Divas de Hoy” will be held twice over the summer. Many of the planned activities are the same as other Girl Scouts camps -- painting nails, crafts and fashion shows -- but there will also be salsa dancing and flower arranging.

Most important, said Idalia Silva, the council’s community partnership manager, is that Spanish will be the predominant language.


Latino parents “usually don’t get involved in Girl Scouts because of the language,” Silva said, and children will only get involved if their parents know about the program.

“So now people can be free to speak in Spanish. They’re not going to be embarrassed, so they can speak their own language with the girls, because most of the parents don’t speak English. . . . This is so they can volunteer and get involved,” she said.

Nationally, Latinas made up about 11% of Girl Scouts in 2007, nearly double the 159,797 Latina Scouts in 1999. The organization projects that by 2010 at least 20% of all Girl Scouts will be Latina.

Silva said very few young Latinas come to summer camps and participate in the Spanish Trails Council, and she hopes the bilingual camp can be a gateway to increased participation, “so they can become leaders and also so they can participate with all the events.”

In recent years the national Girl Scouts organization has targeted young Latinas with new initiatives. Materials are now offered bilingually and events are being held in predominantly Latino communities. Four years ago, the organization created a Spanish language website.

Patricia Diaz Dennis, chairwoman of the organization’s board of directors, said that flourishing programs in Washington, D.C., San Antonio and St. Paul, Minn., have had success tapping into Latino communities.


“The demographic growth is in the Hispanic communities,” Dennis said. “For Girl Scouts to remain vibrant and strong, we really have to bring in girls from the populations that are growing the fastest, and of course that is Hispanics across the board.”

Dennis, who in 2005 was the first Latina elected to the scouts’ highest-ranking volunteer position, said getting more Latinas to join requires a change in cultural mind-sets.

“The problem culturally for us is Hispanics don’t really identify with the Girl Scouts,” she said. “We have to really compel the parents and the caregivers of young girls who want to join.”

In addition to “Las Divas de Hoy,” the Spanish Trails Council offers about two dozen other summer camps for young women, including a camp teaching Chinese cooking and baking, a day camp dedicated to beach cleanup, and nature and outdoors camps, among others.

The Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign gave $15,000 to the Spanish Trails Council of the Girl Scouts last year. Thanks to $1.7 million raised last year by the campaign, about 8,000 children will go to camp in Southern California this summer.

The annual campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which matches all donations at 50 cents on every dollar. Unless requested otherwise, The Times fund makes every effort to acknowledge in the newspaper donations of $100 or more received by Sept. 1.


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