Anthony sits down with Sara Shaw Meyer, Director of Development at the Girl Scouts River Valleys (GSRV), which serves over 20,000 girls annually throughout Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Sara talks through recent and evolving DEI initiatives, ways that GSRV is engaging STEM interest in girls at a young age, and their upcoming Celebrate Changemakers event – both virtual and in-person – on May 11th.
Girl Scouts River Valley: https://www.girlscoutsrv.org/
Celebrate Changemakers: https://www.girlscoutsrv.org/en/support/changemakers.html
Anthony DeGraw: Welcome to another episode of The Helpdesk podcast, hosted by Integris. Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming Sarah Shaw Meyer. She is the Director of Development at the Girl Scouts River Valleys. In her role, she works with corporate foundation and individual leaders to support the Girl Scout movement.
Girl Scouts River Valleys serves nearly 20,000 girls with just over a hundred staff members and nearly 10,000 volunteers. Integris is a longtime vendor of the Councils and one of the top corporate donors at their annual fundraising event, Celebrate Changemakers, taking place on May 11th, both in-person and virtually.
Sarah, welcome to the show.
Sara Shaw Meyer: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Anthony DeGraw: So it blew my mind, Sarah, when reading through your strategic plan and even on the website of, the overall size and scale of the organization that you guys serve in the River Valleys. Can you just give the audience just an overall picture of the states that you serve and the number of members that you service as well?
Sara Shaw Meyer: Sure, yeah. So, Girl Scouts River Valleys is one of the top 15 councils across the nation. There’s 111 councils across the nation. And we’re in the top of that. We serve, like you said, about 20,000 girls annually. Those represent mostly the Twin Cities – St. Paul, Minneapolis – and the outer areas of the suburbs as well as rural areas.
So if you think of Minnesota and you cut it in half where like from the Twin Cities all the way down, to the Iowa border. And then we have a county in Iowa that we serve as well as a handful of counties in the Wisconsin border. So overall we serve Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
Anthony DeGraw: Outstanding. The thing we wanted to get into talk about today, there was two main topics, but when I read through your strategic plan, I think they were articulated very well in your core principles. Those two main topics, which we’ll touch on throughout the episode was STEM, as well as diversity inclusion topics as well.
GSRV’s Diversity & Inclusion Plan
Anthony DeGraw: So I’m going to jump right into the first core principle that I saw in your strategic plan, which was keep diversity, equity, inclusion, access, and racial justice at the center of everything we do. I’m just going to let you take the floor on that core principle and run with it.
Sara Shaw Meyer: Yeah, sure. So Anthony, when we think of what’s happened over the past couple of years, it’s been a really tough and challenging time for not only adults, but girls as well and our community members.
And when we think of 2020, when we were isolated, alone, in home because of COVID, we really took a step to look at what is Girl Scouts and how do we serve Girl Scouts? Layer that on with the racial injustices that are happening specifically in Minnesota, but across the country. We knew that we need to do something. Girl Scouts as a whole has been a leader in equity and justice for the entire time of the 110 years that we’ve been around. And actually in Girl Scouts River Valleys, we’ve had a strategic plan. Probably about four years ago now, that really focused on our diversity equity and inclusion efforts. This keep diversity equity and inclusion and racial justice is something that we knew we wanted to make sure that it was front and center of our strategic plan and our core purpose of our organization. And actually, I did want to share that our goal is to ensure that Girl Scouts in our purpose is to boldly lead as an anti-racist organization, that uplifts and empowers every girl to know their worth and lead in their world.
And that seems very specific and that word anti-racist, some people might say, “wow, why didn’t they just go with equity as a purpose in their organization” and for our organization, our leaders that we’re looking at this, what is the next step for Girl Scouts? It’s black and white. It’s not gray. And saying that you’re an equitable organization, seems to be more in that gray area. We want to make sure that people know who Girl Scouts stands for and what Girl Scouts is. And that’s why we said, our purpose in everything that we do moving forward, we will have that diversity, equity and inclusion lens in everything that we do.
Hiring BIPOC employees. That means training our staff. That means training our volunteers and our leaders to ensure that every single girl that wants to join Girl Scouts and every single community member that is interested in Girl Scouts feels that they have a place in Girl Scouts.
Anthony DeGraw: Yeah, I just want to truly recognize that I feel like you all took the flag and really put it in the ground and said, “we are going to own this, and we’re going to come out and be very public and driven and have it back our entire purpose to put that flag and stake in the ground and say, we do stand for this and our mission now going forward is going to be to serve this specific thing.” I love that you all did that.
And we’re going to get into some other conversations specifically that address some of those shortcomings that we’ve all had in the past. And how do we continue to change the future projections here? So great work on that.
The second core principle that you all have listed out here is building mutually beneficial partnerships between girls, families, volunteers, neighborhoods, partners, and funders that strengthen the connections of our communities. What is the thought process behind that core principle?
Sara Shaw Meyer: Yeah. Like I said, Girl Scouts has been around for 110 years. And when you think of Girl Scouts, you probably think of if you’ve ever been a Girl Scout or know somebody that’s been a Girl Scout, they usually are part of a troop that’s probably about 10 girls strong and they have a volunteer leader.
That’s usually, a mother, a grandmother, someone in the neighborhood that wants to lead this troop. When Girl Scouts River Valleys looked at, how do we make sure that Girl Scouts is equitable and there for every single girl, we looked at our communities and we asked our communities, what are the things that Girl Scouts is missing that would help you want to join the organization? And what they said was representation. And so what Girl Scouts has done, since 2008 actually, is have different pathways for girls to join Girl Scouts. I don’t want to call it traditional, but the way that people picture Girl Scouts being brought to the girls is through that volunteer lens – the mom, the sister, the neighbor. And so when we were talking with our community members, they said it would be really great to find another pathway for girls that might not be able to do extracurricular activities.
And so we launched our ConnectZ program. It’s connects with a Z, not an S. Our girls actually came up with that name of the program. And that program is actually based out of our schools. Prior to the pandemic, we served about 3,000 girls through this in-school program and what it was, where we actually have trained staff mostly staff of color that go into the schools, work with the schools or the community centers to identify girls that might benefit from programming. And we work with them to help them get set up, feel supported, help them become leaders in their community, and hopefully go on to do great and amazing things. Actually, one of our Girl Scouts alumni who went through this program is now the director of the program. And then right before the pandemic happened, we launched a new strategy.
So we have the volunteer led strategy, the in-school program or site program connects. And then we launched a mentored troops program. Mentored troops is really about families, communities, and neighborhoods. That means where we go out into the community and we identify women of color that are interested in creating an opportunity for girls to grow.
And we recruit these women of color to then lead troops of color. We think that this is very important. It’s really important when we talked to their community members that that girls that are part of the program have mentors that look like them and that they can identify with. And we know that this program actually works really well.
So far we have over 40 mentored troop volunteers leading our mentorship program. And it’s been very successful. In fact, we will be featuring one of our mentored troops led by Carvey and Paulette. They’re amazing women, and we’ll be featuring them at the Celebrate Changemakers event on May 11th.
Anthony DeGraw: That’s awesome. I could see too, like for all folks, right? Being able to look up and identify leaders in your local communities and what are they doing? What roles do they have? They could be teachers, they could be business owners. They could do a million different things and having those examples early on in your life, and as you’re growing, I think those role models will really help shape the future of the girls and what they may even want to do with their life or where they’re going or give them even hope and direction.
That mentor probably well beyond once they get out of Girl Scouts at whatever age that may be and rotate them back in to come back in as leaders. Have you seen any examples of that, that you could share with us?
Beyond Cookies & Camping
Sara Shaw Meyer: Yeah, actually I have quite a few and it actually goes into our next core principle, which is to create innovative and adaptable programs. It dovetails into that nicely.
At Girl Scouts River Valleys is when you think of Girl Scout programming, some people think cookies or camp. Those are amazing programs that we have in our organization and are the cornerstone of our program. But there are so much more that Girl Scouts programming has to offer specifically in ensuring that girls can explore different careers and pathways for them, where they see women in those careers.
So I’ll give you a couple of examples. A couple of years ago, Girl Scouts River Valleys launched a program called Power Girls. Now we know that women are underrepresented in the trades, right? Very underrepresented in the trades. And we also know that the trades have a workforce shortage, a lot of organizations right now have a workforce shortage, but really the trades was really hurting and has been really hurting to recruit electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and Girl Scouts River Valley said, you know what?
We know that is a great field for girls to get involved in and get interested in. And it’s a great pathway for a successful career. And so we launched the Power Girls program where we work with corporations and constructions and trades organizations to create trades programs.
So an example would be, we work with a national electrical contractors association. So we work with the women within that organization to create electrical patch and badge programs for the girls to participate in. I was at an event in November where the girls came together about 20, because of COVID, we couldn’t have any more, but about 20 girls came to the apprentice school.
And that’s about 12 different women apprentices in the electrical fields. And they learned how to wire a socket on an outlet, learned how to do a light switch and a light bulb. It was a really cool experience and the girls loved it and they still talk about it to this day. And we see that as a pathway for girls to continue to grow and get interested in it.
Sara Shaw Meyer: Another example is STEM. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, again, continues to be a male dominated field.
And there is so much potential to have more women join the workforce. And we know that women will bring in new skills that maybe hasn’t been realized before. So Girl Scouts actually as a whole, we launched a program to focus on STEM outreach. And our goal was to engage about 2.5 million girls in STEM careers by 2025.
And we are very close to reaching that goal. And in fact, Girl Scouts River Valleys were one of the top councils that bring STEM program to our girls. This past year we had about 13,000 of our 20,000 girls participate in a STEM program. And what that means is we work with corporations. We could work with a corporation like Integris to identify who are women within the Integris community that want to participate and volunteer with our organization.
We then work with them to create a curriculum and a patch or a badge program for girls to participate in. This can be either in-person or virtual. And the key component is having those women there at the event, whether it’s virtual or in person. So girls can see themselves. See themselves in these careers and ask questions about how did you get into this career?
What advice do you have for me? And this truly sparks that interest and piques their interest. And I think that’s the key thing about Girl Scouts is that there are so many things that we want to make sure that girls have the experience to do.
And we can only do this if we have these volunteers or there’s these companies that financially support and support with volunteerism to ensure that girls can see themselves in these cases.
Anthony DeGraw: Absolutely. I go back to like, you don’t know what’s out there until somebody shows you it. So if you’re not getting exposure to all these different things that are, that you could do in your life or be a part of, or set a career in, I just absolutely love it.
You and I initially connected on this specific topic around what Integris is looking to roll out to the entire country, which we started in New Jersey and then got it approved by the Department of Labor, but it was an apprentice IT program.
One of the top reasons was women and getting women into the workforce. We knew this talent was out there. Every time we post the jobs, we would get literally zero resumes from women. And we knew that women were getting engineering degrees, and IT degrees, and all of this stuff from four year colleges.
But then at some point they were almost removing themselves from that workforce or from that career path. And we couldn’t understand why, and we had no answers for it. So what we ended up doing is why don’t we go deeper or earlier in this. Why don’t we look into the community colleges that have two year programs and bring in individuals in that, in their first year or two of college and bring them in and show them a career path. And some of those individuals are full-time employees with Integris and have been with us for over five years.
And they literally started in that program. Some of them moved around, they’ve gotten promoted. It’s one of the best things that we’ve ever done. And it still continues to be the number one way we bring women into our business in the IT fields and on the marketing side as well.
That the next step is partnering with organizations like yourself. I know we will, and we’ll get involved even earlier, like even younger than community college, we can get in and show and train and lead at an earlier age so they are continuing to look at that as a future potential opportunity as well.
Sara Shaw Meyer: Yeah, no, I love that Anthony. And of course, the invitation is open for us to partner in an IT trades program like that.
And actually, you were sharing kind of the question that Integris had of why aren’t women applying for these jobs, and anecdotally I’ve seen some memes out there that, men apply. They see a job description, they apply. But for women, when they look at everything and a job description, they want to make sure before they apply, this is all anecdotal. I don’t have the research to show it, but, they want to make sure that they have every single bullet point completed and can do with their best ability. And so I think we need to really change that and ensure and empower women to just take that leap and feel competent. We know compared to boys, girls receive less encouragement from mentors to engage in STEM.
Our hope with working with other companies to encourage women to come in and be those mentors will help girls and it will help them with their confidence. This is a really vital opportunity gap. Because we know that girls who know women in STEM are more likely to feel empowered while doing STEM and possibly even pursuing a STEM career.
Why aren’t women applying, what’s happening? Between the ages of eight and 14, girls confidence drops more than 30%, which is just a crazy amount. When they’re in kindergarten, up until like second grade, they can do anything boys can do. But then about second grade, third grade, girls shy away and they become more reserved and less confident.
And what Girl Scouts does is we create an all girl led environment where they can do things and they can lead and they can feel confident. We have the research that shows that when girls are in Girl Scouts, they are more confident. They are leaders. They are doing great things in their community and they do graduate high school and go on to do amazing things.
Anthony DeGraw: Absolutely. There’s a couple of things on that I’m thinking about on everything you just mentioned. One is I’m thinking about my four-year-old daughter versus my seven-year-old son and I never want her to lose that confidence that she has of like being able to keep up with her brother and do everything even better probably than what he may do one day.
The other thing I was thinking about is I have also read the same studies and I don’t have, I can’t source it right now, but on how girls would view positions versus how men will view positions. Boys will reach a little bit further, even if the job description doesn’t match exactly what they have. And I’ve seen that exactly how you mentioned it, that girls were like, Nope, I have to have every single one of these things before I’ll apply. So you got to change that and then just getting in earlier.
I wanted to give another example to companies out there that are thinking about this and we will be doing this in IT. I know for a fact we will because we’ve already done it. We’ve expanded to Austin now. And I think with the partnership with Girl Scouts of River Valley, we can definitely go there next. I think this is a really good time to do that and get involved.
But another example that Integris has used to bring girls to the table and to have the conversation is events.
Based on the type of event it may be towards a older age group, but we’ve done our standard corporate events and we’ve invited those communities from the schools and our partnerships with those schools to come out as well to our events, get to talk to our engineers, get to talk to the centers of influences and just start to assimilate and get almost mentors within the business unit already.
So any businesses out there, and this could be architecture, it could be accounting. It could be any of these, like I call them professional service firms, should be thinking about how do I engage? Sarah mentioned about hiring is very difficult right now, but one of the best ways you can get over the hiring problems of today is by going in dedicating some time early on into these different communities and bringing them out and just getting that pipeline and they will never forget that. I think some of our most loyal employees have come from these deep seated engagements that started at a very young age.
Sara Shaw Meyer: Yeah, I, that just reminded me something, Anthony, is when we think about the next generation of the workforce, they rely on social media. They rely on experiences. They don’t just go out and Google like, job for X, Y, Z. They think about really internalize, kind of, what organizations have I benefited from? What organizations do my peers talk highly about? And I think just having a corporation that is invested in community, whatever that looks like for them is a key component into driving that workforce into your company.
Anthony DeGraw: Yeah, I just spend some time with a friend. She was helping me do some work painting cabinets and stuff like that. Her and I were talking about our experiences through colleges and sports and how we eventually got to the career paths that we were on.
And she mentioned very specifically, she was a huge soccer player throughout middle school and high school and got college opportunities based off of that. But at that same time, her career path was unknown. She was like, “I knew I was going to college for soccer, but I didn’t know what my career path was going to be. And I just picked physical therapy, even though I knew nothing about it.” She ended up having two knee surgeries while going to school for soccer, and had to go and do actual physical therapy because of those surgeries. And was like, “I don’t want to do this at all.” And she found that out two years into school and, I think I, her and I were talking about, I think all of us have that? That similar type of journey of we went for X and then figured out we didn’t want to do X and went to Y and her path was all of a sudden, she fell in love with economics and business and supply chain.
And now that’s what she’s doing. And what’s more important in the world right now than supply chain and logistics. And she’s working for L’Oreal, she’s thriving, and my thought just goes to, if there was supply chain organizations and companies or departments within a big organization, like L’Oreal, that were coming in and educating, or at least giving you a taste of what that looks like.
I think we would probably all be a little bit happier in our overall career paths because it does take a lot of people, some struggle to get to where they actually want to be.
Sara Shaw Meyer: Yeah, but yeah, actually that’s funny that you said about the supply chain because there was a Girl Scout cookie shortage this year. And so our poor girls were waiting on cookies and it was a supply chain issue. And so we were able to take those lemons of the supply chain issue and create a curriculum to give girls a “koala”-fied because – the koala was our theme this year – qualified supply chain expert patch, where girls learned all about the supply chain.
To make sure that this is a learning experience, but gosh, that would’ve been great. If we were able to maybe partner with a supply chain expert to come in and talk about that. Maybe we’ll add that in for next year as well.
Anthony DeGraw: Absolutely, I –
Sara Shaw Meyer: Tell your friend from L’Oreal to hit us up.
Anthony DeGraw: I will! It’s amazing like some of these massive organizations and it’s just a career path that nobody really talked about and all of a sudden, it is one of the most important careers that is out there based on where we are today and where we need to go.
Empowering girls, advocacy
Anthony DeGraw: So with that, we’ll get into the final core principle here, which is empower girls so that they can be a leader and change the world with experiences designed to support them and taking the lead and taking action on issues they most care about.
Sara Shaw Meyer: Yeah. Another piece that Girl Scouts really works on specifically as advocacy, and we want to support girls in whatever is important to them. What issues are important to them? We have a Girl Scout day at the Capitol every year where girls go and talk to their state legislature. And say, you know, what’s important to them and speak about. If it’s in the environment, pollution, animal rights, women’s rights.
We encourage girls to really think about what’s important to them and what’s important to the community and we help make those connections for them so they can make a difference in their own community. And we do that through volunteers who help mentor the girls. We do that through our staff who ensure that the girls are having this great curriculum.
Sara Shaw Meyer: We have an event every year where we actually honor two girls that are doing amazing things. And this is where Integris is actually a sponsor of the event this year, it’s called Celebrate Changemakers because we believe that Girl Scouts are changemakers. There are so many girls that are doing incredible things and everyone can be a changemaker when they put their mind to it.
So this year we’ll be featuring two amazing girls, Kileyah and Katherine, who are both seniors in high school who have really taken the core principles and the mission of Girl Scouts and have brought that into their community. And so on May 11th, we’ll be lifting them up and celebrating them of all the work that they’re doing. People will be joining virtually. And it’s a celebration, but it’s also an opportunity for people to fund our mission. So everything that we talked about our core principles, about making sure that we have partnerships with corporations, making sure that we make sure that every girl has the opportunity to participate in Girl Scouts, ensuring that DEIRJ is in the center of everything we do. That is what we’re going to be raising funds for and lifting up girl voices on May 11th. And if you have any folks out there that are interested in learning more about Girl Scouts, I think signing up and registering for the virtual event on May 11th, again, it’s free, I think that’s a great kind of way for people to learn a little bit more about our organization and be inspired by the great work that our girls are doing. Our community members are doing. And again, just celebrating those girls and celebrating that Girl Scouts is for every girl.
Anthony DeGraw: I love it. Ladies and gentlemen, that is Sara Shaw Meyer, the Director of Development at Girl Scouts River Valleys. As Sara mentioned check out Celebrate Changemakers on May 11th. If you’re in the River Valleys, you can come in person. You can also attend virtually. That being said, if you are not in the Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa area, please reach out to either Sara or your local organization to understand how you can get involved and help out the Girl Scouts and feed that mission and that purpose of what they’re looking to do strategically over the next couple of years. Sara, thank you so much for coming on The Helpdesk. This was outstanding.
Sara Shaw Meyer: Yeah. Thanks, Anthony. Really appreciate it. And thank you Integris for your standing partnership. We could not do this work without you, so thank you.