Last week, the Blaze's report about the Girl Scouts of the USA's “MEdia” book and its encouragement that young girls visit Media Matters to clear up "misinformation," gained a great deal of attention. The story, though, wasn't the first time in recent memory that the Girl Scouts have come under fire.
In October, we reported about the Girl Scouts of Colorado's decision to let a little boy into the organization's fold. And, on a grander scale, there have been countless accusations of liberal bias waged against the group. Some have felt so passionate about the organization's alleged leftist allegiances that they have launched alternative groups for families seeking more traditional scouting experiences.
Take, for instance, American Heritage Girls (AHG), which describes itself as, "a nonprofit organization dedicated to the mission of building women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country." AHG was founded back in 1995 in West Chester, Ohio, by a group of parents who were looking for a Christ-centered alternative to some of the increasingly-secular organizations that had been setup for young girls (i.e. the Girl Scouts).
In searching for a Judeo-Christian alternative, they simply decided to launch their own endeavor that, just 16 years after its founding, has grown into something more massive than they ever imagined.
"We are a Christ-center character development program for girls ages five to 18," Patti Garibay, executive director of AHG, told the Blaze in an interview.
Garibay, one of the founding members, explained in detail what led her to work with other concerned parents to create the Christian non-profit. When I asked her what spawned the decision, she quipped, "Certainly not spare time." The mother of four went on to explain that creating AHG was not something that she wanted to do, rather it was something she knew she had to do.
"I just thought that we were creating a little club for my third daughter. I had led my older girls through Girl Scouting," she explains. "In 1993, when the Girl Scouts allowed for flexibility of the word 'God,' I began to have a moral dilemma."
It was during this year that the Girl Scouts, having trouble attracting individuals who did not necessarily embrace a Judeo-Christian view of God, voted 1,560 to 375 to alter its pledge. While the Scout's promise would retain its official wording, individuals were allowed to substitute "God" with words they deemed more fitting. While the original reference to a higher power was never definitively said to be Christian in nature, this change was a major milestone in many families' decision to separate from the group.
Garibay explained that, prior to leaving, the Girl Scouts had become part of her personal ministry, but the organization's new proclamation -- one that no longer definitively defined God as a central figure in its pledge -- caused her great pause. So, she and other concerned parents sat around the kitchen table and planned AHG.
"We started a little club," she said. "Before we knew it, people from California were calling us."
The group's tagline -- "faith, service and fun" -- has apparently been very attractive to parents looking for a more Christ-fueled service opportunity for their children. What started around a kitchen table has grown into a massive non-profit that has 30 staff members and over 17,000 young girls in 44 states and four countries. While AHG is Christian in its curriculum and nature, girls of all faiths are invited to take part.
The group's growth seems to be growing along with the more secularized nature of the Girl Scouts. AHG has expanded dramatically and, according to Garibay, membership is 50 percent ahead of where it was last year. "Over 90 percent of the people who come to us have left the Girl Scouts – we’re like the best kept secret," she says.
Much like the Girl Scouts, AHG has badges (over 240 opportunities, in fact), uniforms, service projects and other related elements. In fact, service projects are required for the girls to advance. The group's web site explains what an AHG troop might look like:
• meet during the day, in the evening or even on the weekends. Most Troops meet during the school year but some meet year-round.
• meet once a week, every other week or twice a month. Those details are determined by the Troop Leadership with input from the interested families.
• vary in size. Some Troops have as few as 10-12 girls and some are as large as 150 girls. The average number of girls per Troop is about 35-40.
• be chartered through a church, private school or other non-profit organization that abides by the AHG Statement of Faith.
The organization prides itself on a stellar relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, a group that is a separate entity from the Girl Scouts (but one that has retained many of its faith-based values). In fact, AHG and the Boy Scouts have been working together, due to their commonality, since 2009.
Garibay says that they share resources and that AHG helps the Boy Scouts by providing leads to appropriate families and by "re-explain[ing] what the Boy Scouts are all about."
When it comes to drawing distinctions between AHG and Girl Scouts, Garibay was respectful, but didn't hesitate to make the differences clear. "It's basically a secular worldview versus a Biblical worldview," she explained. After mentioning the Media Matters dilemma (this was prior to the Blaze's report on the matter), she said, "I wish the Girl Scouts would be honest and open about what they really stand for."
Fundraising, of course, is always a challenge for non-profits. AHG doesn't rely on any government funding, as the group sees support come in from families and others who see the benefits of its work.
"The blessings we’re seeing are incredible," Garibay says. "God had all those fruits in mind." You can get information about AHG, learn how you can start a local troop or simply explore more about the organization.