Located in Country Club Hills, Illinois, the Friendship Center opened in September 1991 much to the delight of the community, especially then Mayor Dwight D. Welch who thanked Girl Scouts for selecting the city as the site for the program center.
“Girl Scouts are the spirit of America,” he told the Southtown Economist at the groundbreaking in September 1990. “Someday these young ladies will be standing behind the podium.”
According to the same article, the center was designed to “give area Girl Scouts a place to pursue activities and hold programs on topics such as drug prevention, literacy, family crisis matters and disability awareness.”
“In retrospect, we were way ahead of our time,” said Karen Schillings, a GSGCNWI council historian and former board member. “It was the first facility of its kind in the country. I remember the CEO from Girl Scouts of the USA came to visit within six months after it opened because she wanted to see what we had built. It was an awesome time.”
Today, the 32-acre facility boasts walking trails, as well as four individual suites containing kitchenettes, sleeping areas and restroom facilities, in addition to a large assembly hall and attached kitchen for day events.
But after more than 25 years of serving thousands of Girl Scouts and the community, the beloved Friendship Center is in need of some upgrades, including a new security system, roof and windows.
“It really has been the heart of the South Suburbs,” said Schillings. “I know some troops meet there and we host different events for a large number of girls and the staff has meetings there as well. It’s really an important facility not just for Girl Scouts, but for the community around it.”
To learn more and donate to the Friendship Center, click here.
Girl Scouts are pioneers when it comes to innovation, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Newton Busters, a team from Wilmette, Illinois, earned 10th place at the FIRST LEGO League World Championships earlier this year in St. Louis.
“Getting to the world championships was really cool,” said Yara Goldina, a 16-year-old Girl Scout Ambassador. “There were a lot of teams and they were all pretty advanced, so it was really interesting to see all of the different robots and strategies. It was also our first time getting to far in FTC and because we’re only a second-year team, I thought it was really cool that we go through to the last level and performed pretty well.”
Teammate Simone Wall, a 17-year-old Girl Scout Ambassador, agreed.
“I really enjoyed my experience. The days were long and tiring, but in a good way,” she shared. “It was interesting to see all of the creative solutions people came up with and to talk to them about their design and how they came up with it. It was also fun to meet teams from others countries – some of them spent almost 24 hours traveling just to make it to St. Louis.”
The four-day event featured more than 15,000 students from 33 countries. In preparation for the competition, the Newtown Busters team performed driving tests for their robot and held meetings to practice their presentation.
“We focused a lot on testing robot components this year to improve them,” said Athena Zheng. “We mainly tested our robot for any imperfections in our programs, as well as revised some mechanisms of our robot to make it more efficient.”
Simone was also happy to see her design come to life.
“With Newton Busters, I was able to learn a lot more about programming, hardware design and fabrication,” she said. “It was exciting to see a design I drew out on paper become a real thing that actually worked.”
Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana (GSGCNWI) has sponsored more than 500 girls on teams in LEGO Robotics programming throughout the last seven years. This year, Girl Scouts LEGO Robotics program sponsored 27 teams at various levels of FIRST Robotics for a total of 140 girls.
“We’re committed to encouraging girls to embrace their imaginations and develop the creative problem-solving skills that will empower them to tackle 21st-century challenges in their communities, classrooms, careers and beyond,” said Candice Schaefer, director of program for GSGCNWI.
The Girl Scouts LEGO Robotics program is made possible through generous funding from Exelon and additional funding from Motorola Solutions Foundation.
“What we love about the LEGO Robotics program is that it helps gets young girls interested in STEM in a really fun and creative way,” said Steve Solomon, vice president, Exelon Corporation in Chicago. “We fund programs like this one to get more young women interested STEM and thinking about careers in the energy industry. Not only does it teach them skills to build the robots, but this program teaches problem-solving, critical-thinking and team-building skills which they can use throughout their lives.”
Gloria Fountain, a Girl Scout troop leader and Newton Busters coach, couldn’t agree more.
“Girl Scouts helps our girls recognize their potential so that when they go into a male-dominated industry, they feel empowered,” she said. “At the end of the day, I’m so amazed by their journey,” said Gloria Fountain. “They start with nothing and create innovative solutions. People marvel at their presentations and it’s so amazing.”
In addition to the LEGO Robotics program, ComEd, an Exelon company, also hosts an annual Icebox Derby competition for young women.
“Girl Scouts has provided me multiple opportunities to learn about STEM,” said Athena, who has also participated in ComEd’s Icebox Derby. “In FTC, I have learned how to innovate new solutions to problems; write programs for testing; analyze date results from our test programs; create complex algorithms to complete tasks and much more.”
Newton Buster teammate and fellow Icebox Derby competitor Jasmine Wu has also enjoyed learning more about STEM through Girl Scouts.
“Girl Scouts helped me develop my love for STEM by creating and sponsoring so many programs,” Jasmine, a 16-year-old Girl Scout Ambassador, said. “In the summer of 2014, I took part in the Icebox Derby. We built a car from a fridge and raced it. My interest in STEM was furthered when we won and traveled to the national flight academy the next year.”
“Girl Scouts helped our team stay together so that we could afford to participate in FTC and les us continue to build robots and compete,” said Yara, who plans to pursue a career in mechanical engineering. “They encourage us to keep going and work hard to learn more.”
And the encouragement doesn’t stop there. Several of the girls have mentored younger Girl Scouts who’ve expressed an interest in STEM.
“I have been mentoring Girl Scout [First LEGO League] teams since fifth grade and find it so rewarding since all the girls gain so much from the experience,” said Samantha Fountain, a 15-year-old Girl Scout Senior. “Girl Scouts is the perfect place to find STEM activities to try and see if you have a passion for it.”
To learn more about the Girl Scout LEGO Robotics program, click here.