According to a recent news story in USA Today, a tweet has caused some people to boycott Girl Scout cookies this year. But concerns with the Girl Scouts started before Twitter — they were a subject of a much-discussed piece Kathryn Jean Lopez did for National Review Online in 2000, “The Cookie Crumbles,” after looking into the organization and its materials. In the years since that piece, there have been increased concerns over the Girl Scouts, leading pastors to advise alternatives and parents to embrace them. As the Girl Scouts celebrate their annual Thinking Day this weekend, some American parents are thinking about alternatives for their daughters.
Patti Garibay is a founder and executive director of the American Heritage Girls, which started as a small club in response to the Girl Scouts’ taking God out of their pledge and has grown into a leading resource for families, schools, and parish communities. There are no Do-Si-Dos, but there is an emphasis on Christian service rooted in love of God. Garribay talks about the American Heritage Girls with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why would a girl want to be an American Heritage Girl? Why would her mom want her to be?
PATTI GARIBAY: If a girl wants to have fun, make new friends, learn new skills, care about her community, and serve others while having experiences she may never otherwise have — then the American Heritage Girls is for her! If moms are looking for a confidence-building and inspiring adventure for their daughters that helps them realize their potential while becoming women of integrity — then AHG is for them!
LOPEZ: Why did you found American Heritage Girls?
GARIBAY: American Heritage Girls was founded for the love of girls. As a mother of three daughters, I found the Girl Scout program was lacking – sure, they had fun activities, but there appeared to be a weak and crumbling moral foundation on which to build the moral compass so necessary to navigate the confusing seas of today. AHG was born out of necessity when the other girls’ program determined an Oath to God was no longer necessary. I never anticipated American Heritage Girls would be something larger than a club for my daughter and her friends. AHG was birthed from a mother’s love, and God watered it and allowed a great harvest.
LOPEZ: What motivates you?
GARIBAY: Girls discovering that they are made in the image of God, that the Father has a great plan and will for their lives, and that, by discovering this plan, they can have great influence on their families, their churches, their communities, and their world. I love to see a girl go from a backward, shy state of being to a confident, God-loving woman of influence in a short amount of time.
LOPEZ: You’re getting attention for being the leading alternative to the Girl Scouts. But does that, in a way, do you a disservice, making you the Samoa-less girls?
GARIBAY: Yes, I believe it does. American Heritage Girls is an eternally influential program that is multifaceted and unique in its delivery. It comes alongside parents and churches, offering a tool that encourages girls to serve, lead, and build friendships while being mentored by faith-filled adult leaders in a safe and fun environment.
LOPEZ: You recently wrote that “Girls love service.” Explain.
GARIBAY: When I have the privilege of visiting girls across the U.S., they are very excited to show me their service stars sewn on their vests or sashes. Those stars tell a very important story — that this girl loves her neighbor as herself and knows that through serving she is fulfilling one of God’s great commandments.
LOPEZ: What service projects of late make you grateful you founded American Heritage Girls?
GARIBAY: I am amazed that God uses AHG in such profound ways. Girls have identified needs in their community, their churches, and even the world. One girl in San Antonio identified the need for her local food bank to have a loading dock to make emptying a truck of donations quicker, so they could get to the hungry while the goods were still fresh. She built that loading dock as her service project for her Stars and Stripes. Another girl thought it was sad that her Christian high school did not have a pro-life club, so she started one. Another found that budget cuts to her public-school district prevented junior-high kids from experiencing music until high school. She started music clinics to encourage the kids to consider band in high school. AHG girls have a “can do” attitude, and it’s not because of “girl power.” It is because of the power of God in their lives.
LOPEZ: Why is God such an important part of your identity?
GARIBAY: AHG was founded due to the Girl Scouts’ change to its Promise in 1993, allowing girls to replace the word “God” with whatever their beliefs were, including no belief in God at all. The parents around the kitchen table at the founding of AHG felt it integral that God was the foundation for the new character- and leadership-development program for girls.
LOPEZ: Faith and family isn’t what it used to be in American culture. Won’t you have to change at some point?
GARIBAY: AHG is a private organization that partners with churches and private schools that agree with its principles. It is funded by those who believe in its mission and the families who enjoy its benefits.
LOPEZ: Do you worry about being labeled intolerant in a day when judges rule that same-sex marriage is a civil-rights issue? What do you tell girls about this?
GARIBAY: American Heritage Girls is very open about what it stands for and the fact that it embraces a biblical worldview. Parents know this before enrolling their daughters, and our charter partners also affirm this. The Bible defines marriage as between a man and a woman. AHG adult volunteers and charter partners affirm this when they sign the AHG Statement of Faith.
LOPEZ: How can you give girls a healthy confidence in the face of a culture that has very different views about women’s health and freedom than you do?
GARIBAY: Again, AHG’s program perspective is from a biblical worldview. Purity is one of the tenets of our creed. Girls who live a pure life will enjoy the rewards of sexuality within marriage, which is what God intended. AHG acknowledges this message is countercultural, but not counter God, and that with self-discipline, girls can achieve a life of purity.
LOPEZ: What does it mean “to raise women of integrity through service to God, family, community, and country”? What responsibility do American Heritage Girls leaders feel to help form a generation of “Christian leaders”?
GARIBAY: AHG volunteers are the most amazing, dedicated people I have ever met. They feel incredibly burdened for girls and the current social mores. They strive to be strong in their faith so that they can model proper, wholesome behaviors for the girls. We are preparing for our national conference. The gathering is amazing, and women and men from all walks of life come to be nourished and encouraged. Their work is so important to building the next generation of leaders and is of eternal significance.
LOPEZ: Where does this leave non-Christians?
GARIBAY: Girls of all faiths are welcomed in American Heritage Girls. We do have Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist girls — not a lot, but some. Their parents know what AHG is about and they have made a cognizant choice in selecting AHG for their daughters.
LOPEZ: When you look at girls in modern American culture, what do you think and how do you hope the leaders you’re forming will help?
GARIBAY: By serving as examples of what God has called women to be — confident yet humble, caring, inquisitive, collaborative, engaged, and relevant.
LOPEZ: Your newsletter recently noted that girls are “wired for intimacy.” That’s something that can lead to a lot of misery in our current culture. Are American Heritage Girls helping with a reordering?
GARIBAY: Yes, we feel we are. Our message is that true self-esteem comes from the acknowledgement that each of us is made in God’s image and that we must first find Him in each other before a relationship begins. These are important concepts that seem simple but make a world of difference, changing the paradigm and the discussion.
LOPEZ: The American Heritage Girls offer social-media guidance. What’s your advice for parents of girls on this front?
GARIBAY: They will engage, so there is no use forbidding it. But girls must be instructed on correct use and the perceptions and misperceptions that can occur by misuse or overuse. It is just a means of communication, not a relationship, and should never be seen as a replacement for relationship building.
LOPEZ: Why have a pro-life patch? Is that getting needlessly political?
GARIBAY: The Respect Life Patch reinforces our organization’s commitment to honoring life from conception to natural death. American Heritage Girls is built on a biblical worldview — the view that life begins at conception, as God “wove us in our mother’s womb.” The issue of life is not a political issue. It is a moral issue and affects the hearts and minds of all youth.
LOPEZ: How can a transition to American Heritage Girls be made easy for schools and parishes?
GARIBAY: It happens every day, as most of our members have come from Girl Scouts or were not permitted to join Girl Scouts. There is a learning curve as with anything new, but parishes, churches, and schools are doing it every day with great success and amazing fruits.
LOPEZ: What do you wish everyone could know about the American Heritage Girls?
GARIBAY: That American Heritage Girls is founded on the principles of faith, service, and fun — and that over the last 19 years, the AHG program and its amazing volunteers and partners have helped develop tens of thousands of young leaders who are compassionate, helpful, honest, loyal, perseverant, pure, resourceful, respectful, responsible, and reverent.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.