When it comes to scouting groups for girls, the one that has become famous for its cookies is not the only option.
In the wake of recent revelations of problems with Girl Scouts USA, many Catholic parents are looking for — and finding — alternatives for their young daughters.
"Better options exist for our young, not yet formed, Catholic girls," said Chris Reister, a parishioner of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Carmel, Ind., who launched a Little Flowers Girls’ Club at her parish when her conscience would no longer allow her to lead her daughter’s secular scouting group.
"I want my daughter to learn about the beauty of chastity, authentic femininity and the sanctity of life," said Reister. "Sadly, these topics are not addressed by secular girls’ clubs. I want my daughter to become a strong woman, but our Catholic faith measures strength much differently than our secular society."
A new springtime in the Church blossoms as a national trend toward authentically Catholic girls’ clubs abounds like a bouquet of fresh flowers.
At least 2,000 parents followed a similar road as Reister, according to Joan Stromberg, founder of Behold Publications, which publishes the Little Flowers Girls’ Club manuals and sews the girls’ blue sashes. It’s a growth trend that Stromberg, a mother of 10, confirms has continued in recent years: between 10% and 15% annually. Prior to the economic downturn, Stromberg said the growth was at 25%.
"When I started this program in 1993, I was merely looking for a nice group my daughters could join that would allow for some fun, formation and social time," recalled Little Flowers Girls’ Club creator Rachel Watkins, a mother of 11, who chose St. Thérèse of Lisieux as the patron saint of the program. "I had no expectations. Over the years, the garden of Little Flowers just kept growing. I like to laugh that, in the case of Little Flowers Girls’ Club, St. Thérèse is not showering us with roses, but flooding us!"
American Heritage Girls, a Cincinnati-based Christian scouting movement founded in 1995, saw a 45% increase in new members from 2011, according to Patti Garabay, the founder and executive director of the group. Based on early registration, Garabay expects 100% growth. If the current trend continues, many new members will be Catholic.
Julie Goodwin, who started an American Heritage Girls troop at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Batavia, Ill., in May 2009, said, "Many parents and girls are looking for an alternative. They want a wholesome, character-building scouting program — one that will enrich their Catholic values."
Goodwin, who will chair the national American Heritage Girls Catholic Committee and tracks Catholic growth, added, "Nationally, Catholics are the largest-growing denomination in AHG." Out of a total of 495 troops, 94 troops are affiliated with a Catholic school or parish.
Challenge, a girls’ club for ages 10-18, which was founded in 2000 by the Regnum Christi lay apostolate, also experienced growth over the past year, according to Nadine McMillan, Challenge’s national director. "Each year we have new groups start up in parishes and schools," she said. "Most groups grow over the years. We have some groups with over 100 members." McMillan does not necessarily attribute the growth of Challenge to concerns with other secular groups.
"One of the great things about our Catholic Church is the richness of so many different organizations. There is really something for everyone," said McMillan. "I think Challenge is a great complement to existing youth groups in parishes; or it can be a stand-alone program in a parish or school."
Attracted by Truth
What’s the attraction to these authentic Catholic clubs?
"Parents are drawn to Little Flowers Girls’ Club because of its distinctively Catholic nature, its flexibility, its affordability and the overall beauty of the program," said Stromberg. "We have had a lot of interest in 2012, especially since we were featured on Johnnette Benkovic’s Women of Grace on EWTN in February."
As Reister said, in addition to the solid Catholic programming, "I wanted to financially support a Catholic publishing company which is working to build a culture of life. I feel good about supporting a family business and a home-schooling family with 10 children. I also have peace knowing where my money is going."
Teresa Rodriguez, a Little Flowers’ leader at Good Shepherd Catholic School in Garland, Texas, describes the program as having "lasting value that helps us to live our faith and live it boldly. It is a way to put our love in action.
"We were created to know, love and serve God. Little Flowers Girls’ Club assists us in doing precisely this."
Beth Gath, a Little Flowers’ leader for a club serving four parishes in the Long Beach, Calif., area added, "Little Flowers reflects our faith and values 100%. Also, I like that it is flexible, and all my girls can be in the same group even though they are different ages."
As Sue Edgerly, a Challenge leader from Grand Rapids, Mich., said, "Challenge is developing young women who know how much they are loved by God, their dignity as women, and who see the culture of death around them and don’t give in to it. These young women are vocal in their resolve to fight against this culture of death by standing up for life issues.
"I see them serve beyond measure, selflessly. These are virtues that the world cannot give them, but Challenge opens them up to seeing the world through different lenses."
Sally Ivers, a Challenge leader at St. Thomas More parish in Centennial, Colo., added, "Challenge fosters the gift of self at a time in life when they tend to be quite self-absorbed. It’s truly remarkable to see how these girls grow into beautiful young women, formed in their faith."
"In today’s secular climate, Catholic parents need a tremendous amount of support to raise holy children," emphasized Reister. "Our young, impressionable, spiritually fragile girls need a consistent dose of solid Catholic formation and an understanding of the strength, beauty and the dignity in authentic femininity as God designed. Why, as busy parents, would we want to spend time on anything else? Secular clubs do not provide this, and their messaging may actually be confusing, diluting or inadvertently undermining solid Catholic formation."
"In one short year, my daughter and I have grown together in our knowledge and love of sacred Scripture, Christian virtues, in awe of the beauty of our Catholic faith," she continued. "Little Flowers is not only providing solid Catholic formation for my daughter and her friends, but provides formation that I missed as a child. It is truly building a culture of life in St. Thérèse’s Little Way, one soul at a time."
Brigid Curtis Ayer writes from Carmel, Indiana.
Catholic Girls’ Clubs At a Glance
Little Flowers’ Girls Club
Catholic girls’ club designed for girls 5-12 to develop Christian virtues exemplified by female saints.
For older girls 10-18: Our Lady’s Honor Guard or Little Women’s Hospitality Program.
Membership: 5,000 Little Flowers; 800 Honor Guard or Little Women’s Hospitality.
For Boys: Blue Knights Boys’ Club
American Heritage Girls
Christian girls’ club for girls 5-18 designed to build women of integrity through service to God, family, community, country.
Membership: 20,000 members and 425 troops in 46 states.
Boys’ groups collaborate with Boy Scouts of America.
Catholic girls’ club designed to help 10- to 18-year-old girls learn and grow in Catholic faith and friendship with God while working together to make a difference in the world around them through team service projects.
Membership: 3,500 members in 150 parishes, with about 600 teen leaders and 200 adult volunteers.
For boys: Conquest is for boys 5-18.