Girl Scouting Shows Girls in Juvenile Justice System
They've Got Choices
We make choices in our personal lives every day. Hopefully, if we're among the fortunate, we have options, and so our choices focus on simple matters.
For some, though, options are limited - poverty, violence, lack of educational resources, and neglect can result in whole communities of people who feel they have no choices. For teens, who struggle with good decision-making even in the best of conditions, these circumstances so often lead to drug addiction, crime, teen pregnancy, incarceration, and loss of life. And the cycle of wasted potential continues... unless someone steps in and says, "Enough is enough."
That's exactly what the Girl Scouts of Northern California is doing through its Got Choices program - seeking out girls in places where it's easy for them to be forgotten or written off by society. Many are referred to Girl Scouts by probation officers, and some are identified as at-risk before they ever enter the system based on violence in their schools or neighborhoods. They include girls in gangs, girls who have experienced abuse and neglect, girls who have been raped or molested, girls whose parents are in jail, girls who are already parents themselves.
Girls like Jessica, already locked away in the juvenile justice system:
"Dear Self," Jessica writes, "Why did you do it? Why did you let your homegirls influence you? Why didn't you pick better friends? You should start doing better. Now I'm facing charges."
Got Choices gives these girls a new perspective on life.
"Really, Girl Scouts helps us be better decision-makers because it makes you think first before you act," a fellow Got Choice participant says. "You can finally see how one little mistake can change the whole direction of your life."
Empowering these at-risk girls to make healthy choices is one piece of the solution to a complex issue, but it takes more than just building skills. It also means helping them see and experience new possibilities.
Prior to getting involved in Girl Scouts Got Choices, Brandi had never considered that she could be college material.
"Ever since Girl Scouts, I've been looking seriously at college when I wasn't before," Brandi says. "I know now that I can have a successful life. I don't think I would have thought that if I wasn't in Girl Scouts. I'm better prepared for my future."
Jessica and Brandi are just two of 650 girls who are part of the Girl Scout Got Choices program, which, because of funding challenges, is currently only offered in a handful of counties.
"If I could wave a magic wand," said Marina Park, CEO of Girl Scouts of Northern California, "we'd be helping girls in the juvenile justice system in all 19 counties we serve."
Maria Angulo, Got Choices program outreach manager, stresses the importance of reaching out to all the other girls like Jessica throughout Northern California.
"We can't give up on girls like this," Maria says. "They will affect our society, if not in a positive way, then a negative way. We want their impact in our communities to be beneficial. That's the beauty of Girl Scout program: when we say we are all inclusive, we mean all girls, no matter where their circumstances may have landed them."
Through our Girl Scouts Got Choices program, we help 650 girls in Santa Clara and Sonoma counties overcome obstacles, develop skills, and create a vision to effect positive choices in their lives. Funding is needed to extend this program to all of our 19 counties - in San Francisco alone, 1,300 girls are cited and arrested each year, and juvenile court cases for girls have increased by 126 percent, compared to 70 percent for boys.
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