Debbie was just in second grade when she first got involved with Girl Scouts, a girls’ youth organization she said provided her with mentorship and education that would positively impact her for the rest of her life, from her college education to her career in public accounting. Now retired, Debbie is fully giving back to the organization that helped shape her.
She is currently the Board Chair of Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, presiding over the Board of Directors, Executive Committee and Delegate Council Meetings. She dedicates anywhere from four to sometimes 12 hours a week attending meetings, conference calls and fundraisers, along with multiple other operational duties. Debbie’s dedication comes from her desire to give back to the organization that motivated her.
“People need to know people care and that people are still willing to give a hand,” Debbie said. “And that they will share their time and talent and their experiences which may motivate another person — in this case, girls — to take a chance, take a risk, don’t be afraid, don’t give up.”
Describe to me your volunteer work with Girl Scouts.
I am the Chair of the Board of the Girl Scouts. As Chair, I work closely with the CEO who reports to me and I work with all the other board members. I run the board meetings, that includes executive committee if needed. We meet at least twice a year but typically not more unless there’s a need to do that. I run the Executive Committee, I’m also currently serving as chair of the HR Committee because we have newer board members and had some rotations so we’re trying to get some folks to take my place in that role. Prior to that, I served for several years as the Finance and Audit Committee Chair. I am the invited guest to all over committees because we do all our work, the bulk of our heavy lifting, in committees. We are our own 501(c)(3) not-for-profit. We have our own articles of incorporation, our own budget, our own board, and we operate under charter. Each Girl Scout council across the country has a charter under national Girl Scouts which are headquartered in New York.
It’s been a very busy two-year first term for me. I met for the first two years with our CEO every week, either by phone or in person, as we got to establish working relationships and cadence. Kim E. Fraites-Dow, our CEO, was also a new CEO, so plotting the strategy and being there to be a resource to her to bounce ideas. … Now that we’ve developed that relationship and cadence, we touch base every other week. At least an hour, upwards of two, because we’re in the process of starting to reset our strategic priorities. We just concluded our three-year strategic plan and we’ll be launching meetings of the board and others to come up with our next three-year strategic plan. In addition to that, I’m on committee calls. I go to most of the fundraisers. … I still try to attend finance audit committees by phone or in person.
When did you get involved with Girl Scouts?
When I was in second grade. I was a Girl Scout in this area over toward Fort Washington, PA and got involved at a very young age. We were Brownies. My mother agreed to be an assistant troop leader. Depending on the year, she was cookie mom, meaning taking inventory and keeping track of who had what so we could have successful cookie sales. I basically stayed in Brownie, Cadettes, Senior, Junior, etc., and earned my First Class Award which is now called Gold Award. Then I had a hiatus from the movement because I pursued my career coming out of college going into public accounting, which was the profession I chose and stayed with that my whole career. I raised three children. I did get involved in not-for-profits in Pittsburgh, which is where I started my career.
When we moved to Philadelphia, I had gone to a couple of the [Girl Scouts] fundraisers but had not actively participated as a board member. I was rolling off some other boards at the time because I knew this was going to be a working board and one I would want to give my all, so I didn’t want to take it on and not deliver. When they asked me, I went on as a non-board volunteer, I think that was 2012, 2013. That is an unusual arrangement where they have non-board volunteers working with the board members on committees. Our committee was called the development committee. We were the committee that does governance, assessment of board members, interviewing them on how they think it’s going, how the organization feels about their contributions and the like, so it was great. A great way to relearn the group, the organization and mission, and ultimately move on to the actual board.
Why did you want to get involved with Girl Scouts again after taking a hiatus?
As a partner at a firm like Deloitte … we’re precluded from doing paying boards. When you’re an equity partner in a firm, there’s SEC restrictions and all kinds of stuff. My usual focus was on women and girls’ organizations and I always had a passion for arts organizations as well. The Girl Scouts just weren’t on my radar largely [before] I had been recruited, probably because in Pittsburgh, it just wasn’t as visible to me at that point, between the two-career family, younger kids, and I traveled a lot. And I was already involved in these other groups like I said including the firm’s group, I was helping run our women’s initiative, mentoring younger people.
But when I moved to Philadelphia and was getting more involved here, it had always been in the back of my mind to reengage at some point [with Girl Scouts] when I could do justice to it. A friend approached me again after a fundraiser and as I was looking at my tenure on some other boards, it was like you know what, if you’re interested, I would do this non-[board] role and get re-acclimated with how it’s working in eastern PA at this time and whether I can contribute. From there I got reengaged, because I do attribute my growing up as a Girl Scout with all the volunteers who helped me, for giving me the courage to pursue my dreams despite adversity and make it happen. All that training, all those experiences, paid off for me to have the career I had and the desire to give back to other girls.
How did Girl Scouts impact you when you were younger and how is it impacting your life today?
I started as a young girl at a time, we’re talking mid-60s. Being able to get out of that school environment, all girls working on projects, earning badges, going camping, the chance to learn how to use a compass and a map and just take chances, fail, have things not work out and pick yourself up. Learning things like resiliency, teaming, and not being afraid or embarrassed because people are making fun if you. We were helping each other learning to work as a unit and letting each person be successful. I have a CPA accounting background — well guess where I learned my first inventory? Counting all the cookies in my mother’s garage. I was the clipboard holder, doing inventory on a daily basis. Helping her keep track of the Samoas cookies versus the peanut butter patties. And I liked it. Not to mention, going door to door, helping me get over shyness, talking to adults and trying to convince them they should buy my cookies. I [was] in good standing for my future consulting part of the business at Deloitte where I had to meet strangers and convince them to hire us as their firm of choice, whether it was for an audit or a consulting project or IT assistance or whatever, it goes back to those early skills. Looking people in the eye, shaking hands, having a conversation with adults. It was great and it was fun which is why at the time, probably like most of us, I didn’t even think of it that way. I think it helped me do well in college as well. I was more prepared. The motto of Girl Scouts is be prepared. There was not one class I wasn’t always ahead on the notes, syllabus, organization, all of the things you learn in scouting.
Can you describe some different fundraisers and events you have been involved in or that are coming up?
There’s all sorts of exciting programs coming up. I actually just hosted some cookie winners at my home. I did a board challenge for girls who exceeded all the normal goals. So the most rewarding for me was actually hosting some girls and moms at [Girl Scout founder] Juliette Gordon Low’s house down south. I have a home on Hilton Head Island so they came and stayed with me, we saw Savannah. Juliette Gordon Low’s home is like Mecca for Girl Scouts since that’s our founder and where she had her home. We just had our board retreat, that took a lot of work and planning, was extremely gratifying. We have a number of exciting new board members joining us and got to acclimate everyone at [the Girl Scouts’] Camp Shelly Ridge.
I think the next biggie that I’m looking forward to is probably Take the Lead. That is our biggest fundraiser where we honor a number of prominent women in the area but also raise a lot of money for “camperships,” for girls who otherwise might not get to go to camp. One of my best memories is talking my parents into letting me go away. I’m the oldest of six and a girl and they didn’t want me to. Going away to camp for two weeks and hiking, cooking outside, just getting dirty, is still one of the highlights I remember. So that’s why Take the Lead is one of my favorite fundraisers, helping other girls get that opportunity.
We do three Take the Leads because of our geography. We do one in Lehigh Valley, we do one in Reading-Berks and we do the downtown Philadelphia one, because the communities obviously want to be able to help support the local communities in addition to the entire foot print. Philadelphia is the first in March and then the others follow.
I just came from adulting camping weekend at my old camp, it’s called Camp Laughing Waters in Gilbertsville, PA … We own beautiful acreage out there and I got to sleep in a platform tent like back in the day. We were raising money this past weekend with a lot of alumnae and friends interested in helping girls just to raise money for scholarships. Two of our board members and a committee of volunteers, they organized this whole thing and run it with all the proceeds going to girls who graduate and apply to scholarships this coming year. So it was a lot of fun.
This adult camping weekend is one we’re trying to spread the word about, because if you’ve ever been a Girl Scout or you just want to support them, you’re welcome to join that one. Right now there is only one of those a year and it just happened this past weekend. A lot of people don’t know about that, where you can come and have fun and know you don’t have to sleep in the platform tent, we actually have an air conditioned lodge for those that don’t want little critters running around or hear the bats and owls at night. There’s many that Kim E. Fraites-Dow, our CEO, do for current Girl Scout families, [but] I don’t go to everything.
The most special for me that I have not missed because I’ve tried desperately to keep my schedule so I can attend is when we honor our Gold Award Girl Scouts. That’s the highest reward you can receive in the movement. That is not so much as a fundraiser as it is an awareness-raiser with the community at large, celebrating their success and the hard work, because it’s not like other organizations. You can’t go to a park and paint a bench and earn [the award]. They have to identify a problem in their community and they have to come up with a sustainable solution to whatever that issue or challenge is. That awards ceremony is one I absolutely hold near and dear. We’re trying our level best to elevate and make sure our communities across all nine counties see who those girls are and see all the good things they’re doing everywhere.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Working with really smart, energized, committed people to help all of these talented, engaging young women find their way. Trying to aid them, support them in doing that, just like the way I got a helping hand back when I needed it. It’s not just raising money, it’s actually giving time and talent. We did start one new program along these lines which I was thrilled to participate in and help with the launch, although the credit again goes to Kim and her team. We started two years ago a leadership summit, because again we’re a volunteer organization, so many of our troop leaders, service center leaders, the ones who keep the machine running, they have jobs of their own, they have families and they’re not being paid. We started a leadership development conference where we take the lead awardees, past board members, business owners, some of our bank and other partners come, and we do leadership training based on the types of skills, topics that our members are telling us they’re interested in. Because many don’t have the luxury of a Deloitte where I got training from the time I walked in to the day I retired, paid for by them and flown all over the world. We’re bringing these opportunities to all our volunteers and folks so they can participate in all that too, whether their companies do it or not. That’s something I think is different and hopefully will grow and spread across the movement to other locations if they’re not already doing it.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
Our girls are on a mission to make the world a better place and if you’ve watched any TV at all lately, we’re really in need of committed people who mean those words and will actually do something and not be passive. I’m party agnostic, I just want to give everybody the opportunity to find their passion and make it a better place. Our girls really, really do want to make it a better world. They’re doing amazing things, particularly with technology and all of the other opportunities that exist to make a far greater impact than back in my day. I’m kind of jealous, but I’m so thrilled to just be helping in whatever way I can. I think these girls are going to run the world someday.
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