LORAIN — It’s not the camping badge, the gymnastics badge or the scrapbooking badge.
No, what is really important, is training girls to be strong leaders, said Daisy Alford-Smith, the new CEO of the Girl Scouts of North East Ohio.
“We want to equip them with skills, knowledge and experience to make them leaders. You’re thinking cookies, and we’re thinking White House,” Alford-Smith said.
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She has a bold initial goal: To double the number of girls in Scouts in the region, from 45,000 to 90,000 in three years.
She also wants to streamline the Girl Scouts’ organizational structure and mission and reorient the organization’s focus on teaching girls to solve problems, excel in science and math and learn to use the tools to one day run businesses or thrive in political careers.
“This is a very new and important era for the Girl Scouts,” Alford-Smith said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become region-ready.”
The Girl Scouts is reinventing itself all across the United States. Since August, Alford-Smith has been working to finalize a merger of the Akron, Canton, Cleveland, Lorain and Youngstown councils, which will eventually mean more services, programming and camp opportunities, she said.
The biggest changes will occur in the executive ranks, said West Region communications specialist Kathleen Shields.
“The Girl Scouts are really not being affected on a local level,” she said. “We still have the same overall volunteer organization and the same troop leaders.”
But the reorganization will broaden what’s available, allowing local Scouts to take advantage of programs in Cleveland and those hosted by other Ohio Councils, which they previously couldn’t do.
Along with the reorganization, there’s a newly honed social mission at the agency. The Girl Scouts will be partnering with volunteers in neighborhoods where girls are at risk, Shields said, places where troops normally wouldn’t thrive but where they are needed the most.
The organization also plans to put a renewed emphasis on motherhood and parenting preparation, said Shields, and expose girls to professional role models and career fairs.
Running the show from her Akron office is Alford-Smith, 60, who will be using skills she learned in Ohio, Europe and Africa in hopes of building a better future for the Girl Scouts.
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., she holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the State University of New York, a master’s degree in technical education from the University of Akron and a doctorate in urban education from Cleveland State University.
A search firm contacted Alford-Smith about taking the top Scouting job in Ohio and convinced her to come out of retirement.
“I was approached and didn’t thing much of it at first,” she said. “Then I thought about it more and more. Why not try to help young girls along the way before they reach that age of mistakes? It was really a tug of the heart.”
Alford-Smith has spent years in the health sector as chief operating officer with the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools and the International Commission on Health Care Professions in Philadelphia.
She also formerly served as health director for the city of Cleveland and spent six years as director of the Summit County Department of Job and Family Services.
Her consulting career also carried Alford-Smith overseas, where she helped Slovakian cities develop health plans.
She later took a position at the University of Zimbabwe in Africa, where she taught leadership and administration classes and worked as a consultant for the South African government.
At the prompting of the International Health Alliance, she led a campaign to distribute health care information to rural areas on the edge of Johannesburg, South Africa.
“That was a city that was hungry for learning that produced bright, young scholars,” she said.
The Girl Scouts of North East Ohio will hold a private reception Monday at the Oberlin Inn in Oberlin to honor Alford-Smith.
Contact Jason Hawk at 653-6264 or firstname.lastname@example.org.