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More than cookies: Mother, daughter share experiences of selling Girl Scout Cookies

As a Girl Scout, Mary Heslop made a personal goal to sell 500 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies. Now, Heslop, a teacher from Orem, recently helped pick up the nearly 25,000 boxes her daughters' Girl Scouts troop is planning to sell this year.

The Girl Scout Cookie season is in full swing as orders were collected from Jan. 18 to Feb. 7. The preordered cookies are being delivered through March 11, and cookie booths will be open March 11-27.

The cookie craze began in 1917, when a small group of Oregon-based Girl Scouts organized a bake sale at their local high school, according "How the Girl Scouts Built Their $700 Million Dollar Cookie Empire" on NBCNews.com. Throughout the decades, cookie sales gained momentum, turning into a $700 million industry, according to the article.

Heslop participated in Girl Scouts from 1985 to 1998, and her mother was her Girl Scouts troop leader. She said her mom would often use the money the troop raised for trips for the girls. It was these trips, she said, that kept her involved in scouting and inspired her love for travel.

“We went to the Abraham Lincoln Memorial, and we would camp. We would go to a local amusement park called the Holiday World. We went to the Smoky Mountains one year, and we went camping and we went whitewater rafting,” Heslop said. “And so it was really the trips and the experiences that really kept me in Girl Scouts.”

As a teenager, she applied and was chosen to go on a backpacking trip through Europe and to travel to Mexico to visit with Girl Scouts internationally. She got a job and paid for the trips nearly all on her own.

Heslop said her experiences as a Girl Scout impacted her deeply and that she wants the same or even better experiences to be available to her daughters, 12-year-old Gloria and 6-year-old Olive.

The Heslops take their cookie-selling seriously, but so does the rest of their troop. On Feb. 27, Gloria’s troop picked up nearly 25,000 boxes of cookies. The quantity is relatively common for them.

“I think in our troop alone, we have three or four girls that sell as least 2,500 boxes,” Mary Heslop said.

Heslop said selling cookies is not really a hobby for Gloria, who plans to sell 3,000 boxes this year, but rather is more like a personal business. She estimated Gloria has about 1,500 repeat customers who expect her to come to their door.

“The first Saturday of cookie sales, she’s knocking on doors from nine in the morning to nine at night,” Heslop said.

Rachel Thiesfeld, marketing communications specialist for the Girl Scouts of Utah, said the girls are expected to learn five skills from the cookie-selling process: goal setting, decision-making, money management, people skills and business ethics.

“So it’s more than just knocking on doors and selling cookies,” Thiesfeld said. “These girls are building real-world skills that they can take to other applications.”

Gloria said she has gained an appreciation for hard work through her cookie sales.

“They’ve opened my eyes to the struggle of hardworking people, like my mom,” Gloria said. “It just gives you an opportunity to see what life is like outside of school.”

Heslop said one of the biggest changes in the Girl Scouts program is how the money earned from cookie sales is distributed. Today, girls can earn prizes relative to how many boxes they sell. For example, she said, the Girl Scouts could earn a badge for selling 35 boxes. For 1,000 boxes, girls can go on a free trip to Lagoon, and for 2,500, they can earn a tablet or headphones.

“The troop got a portion of the cookie sales, but as a girl, I never saw any as an individual,” Heslop said. “I got a T-shirt, and that was the cool thing then.”

In her daughters' troop, each girl is awarded cookie credits and activity credits relative to what she earns.

“It’s just like paper play money, but they can use it for Girl Scouts-sponsored events or at the Girl Scouts shop,” she said.

Gloria said it feels good to be able to choose how she spends the credits she earns. She recently signed up for three weeks of summer camp, paying for the $1,000 camps — registration fees aside — using the activity credits she’s earned selling cookies.

Through cookie sales, each troop earns money, too. Gloria’s troop has been saving to take a trip to Savannah, Georgia, to visit the place where Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts program.

Heslop said she’s seen the programs and activities the Girl Scouts are involved with each week develop over time.

“The patch programs the girls go through, they’ve significantly changed, but they’ve changed for the better because they’re working on things that the girls need in their lives right now,” Heslop said. “When I was a girl, we were working on things that we needed then, but it’s much different now.”

She said many of the skills she learned were domestic; she remembers a lot of troops learning how to sew, and her mother, who was their troop leader, liked to craft.

“Most weeks that I can remember, we were doing some kind of craft, lots and lots of crafts,” Heslop said. “I still have a couple of Christmas ornaments we made.”

Heslop said Girl Scouts today are learning practical skills such as budgeting and that she’s seen a lot of sciences being taught as well.

The Girl Scouts programs are placing a greater emphasis on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — activities, Thiesfeld said. She said the programs have changed over time along with the interests of the girls.

Heslop said she’s seen the Girl Scouts program have an impact on her throughout her life as it’s prepared her to take on management roles.

“I think for me personally, the biggest thing that I took away was that I could be a leader,” she said. “It taught me skills and it brought out my personality so I could do things that I don’t know if I necessarily would have done before.”

Gloria said she has gained confidence to be who she is no matter what other people want or think.

“A Girl Scout is someone that’s empowered and can just be herself,” she said.

In 1912, Low began the Girl Scouts program to help girls develop greater courage, confidence and character, according to the history on the Girl Scouts website at girlscouts.org. Three million girls are currently enrolled in the program, and over 59 million alumnae having graduated, according to the history.

“It’s not all about selling cookies,” Heslop said. “That’s what a lot of people believe, but it’s so much more than that.”

Email: aramirez@deseretnews.com