Do you like cookies? Do you want young girls to develop math skills? How about encouraging entrepreneurship and building self-esteem? For just $5, and a potential hit to your waistline, you can answer yes to all of the above by buying a box of Girl Scout cookies from any of the young women currently hitting local streets.

Girl Scouts are selling cookies door-to-door and with booth sales outside of local storefronts through March 8. Cookies are $5 per box, except for the special limited gluten-free cookie, Toffee-tastic, which sells for $6.

The Girl Scout Cookie Program evolved from an event in Oklahoma in 1917 and, according to the local Girl Scout council, is now the nation’s leading business/entrepreneurial program run by girls. Organizers said the program has tremendous benefits to the scouts, including funding their year-round activities and providing an opportunity to develop a host of valuable life skills.

Carol Dedrich, spokesperson for Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles, said the cookie sales project develops different skills in girls depending on their age including social skills, basic math, business development, sales, marketing, team building and ultimately a strong sense of self-confidence.

“We are an organization that really focuses on the developmental stages of girls, because we work with girls from 5-17, K-12 grade, each age level is very different and the learning abilities are very different,” she said. “There’s so many skills these girls are learning that is developing them as they progress through elementary, high school and prepares them for their future. They go on to be business leaders, family leaders, community leaders and leaders among their friends. Girl Scouts is more relevant today than ever before because these life skills are being lost because of the digital age. Girls don’t have many opportunities to do things manually. The Girl Scout program really gets them to explore these opportunities through experience, not just seeing online or on TV, but actually get to do it and step out of their comfort zone.”

Santa Monica troop leader Lisette Gold said it’s a rare opportunity for young women to develop real-world skills, including inventory, logistics, budgets, accounting and sales.

“What the girls get the most sales skills out of is booth sales,” she said. “The girls have to set up the booth, make a display, they have to turn into sales people, engage customers, tell them what their project is, why they love girl scouts – we’ve had some shy girls that wouldn’t speak to strangers but they’ve been able to feel comfortable, to engage and talk and sell. It’s actually a lot of fun and at the end of the night they have to tally up the sales.”

She said the experience has a visible impact on girls that extends into other aspects of their lives.

“We sold 600 boxes on the Promenade and you see these girls swell with pride. They see a direct correlation between outgoingness and energy and the sales. My girls have become good sales people and business people,” she said. “You have better confidence and can sell yourself. I think they carry it into school when they have to do verbal presentations, you can engage and talk to adults and have conversations with strangers.”

She credited the larger organization for providing the opportunity for girls to grow. “Girl Scouts is a phenomenal organization that lets girls build character and leadership. You don’t see where you can get these same skills except for in Girl Scouts,” she said.

Gold’s troop will use the money to support travel projects, including overnight camps and international trips. They will also use the money to support their ongoing service project that teaches young girls computer coding.

Emily and Victoria, from local troop 15495, were selling outside Pavilion’s on Montana last week. They said they will use their money to finance overnight trips to Seaworld, visit a sleep-away science camp and to pay for troop-wide CPR certification.

“I used to be embarrassed to talk to people, but now I’m really confident,” said Emily.

Victoria agreed that social skills were a big part of her learning experience. “I’ve learned to be friendly and really be nice to people,” she said.

Girl Scout cookies can differ by region based on the individual supplier. Two bakeries produce cookies and individual councils choose which bakery to purchase from with each council negotiating its own contract. While both bakeries produce versions of the same classic cookies (albeit with sometimes different names) each also produces unique cookies. Dedrich said the two-bakery system provides another learning opportunity for girls while creating the best possible product for consumers.

“There is kind of a competitive spirit between the two bakers,” she said. “They want to bake a better cookie, which creates a better product and encourages the bakers to keep their standards up. They also really listen to what the public wants and needs and what the girls hear the public wants and needs.”

She said the development of a gluten-free cookie was a direct result of girls advocating on behalf of their customers. “It’s about scaling up the voice of girls,” she said. “They can make a change for the better by sharing what they are finding out in the community.”

Local cookies come from Little Brownie Baker. Scouts are selling Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Do-si-dos, Trefoils, Rah-Rah Raisins, Savannah Smiles and the limited-edition Toffee-tastic.

ABC Bakers, who supply to nearby Orange County, produce Thin Mints, Caramel deLites, Peanut Butter Patties, Peanut Butter Sandwich, Shortbread, Thanks-A-Lot, Cranberry Citrus Crisps, Lemonades and Trios.

Dedrich said the end result of cookie sales is girls become confident women.

“They develop self-esteem and confidence,” she said. “When you have that, you can take on and learn skills, take on and interact with people. Without that, girls hold back and step back from opportunities instead of stepping into them.”

She said it can be almost magical to watch a girl realize her potential and that’s why they encourage customers to interact when buying cookies.

“It’s kind of magical really, it really is,” she said. “Ask girls a lot of questions when you do buy cookies because that really challenges their abilities.”

To find booth sales in the area, visit girlscoutcookies.org or check the What’s Up Westide calendar to see the day’s list of locations.

Note: To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Samoas, there will be a special contest Feb. 28. Several golden tickets have been hidden in select boxes of Samoas in the greater Los Angeles area. Purchase a box of Samoas on Feb. 28 for a chance to win a month or year’s supply of cookies. Clues to the locations of the special boxes will be available by following @GirlScoutsLA on Twitter.

matt@www.smdp.com

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