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Aug 14, 2020

Girl Scouts Increases Its World Domination Online

Dr. Linda Farley and company continue to corner the market on learning and cookies

By Ed Goldman

There’s S’more to Girl Scouts than campfires and cookies. But what’s surprising is that even in our extended period of home confinement, both of those activities (camping out and cookie sales) continue—along with many more that are experiencing a new surge of participation.

That’s among the messages that Linda Farley, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts Heart of Central California, makes clear in a recent Zoom chat. Farley’s job, which she’s held since January 2013, involves overseeing an 18-county council serving more than 16,000 girls in California branches of the international organization. She formerly served as director of development for the historic Crocker Art Museum and the Denver chapter of American Red Cross, as well as ran the Children’s Museum of Denver. She’s also held a number of teaching and tech consulting positions, and has been the principal of an experimental education academy, a school principal and an elementary school teacher.


Linda Farley photo by Karen Higgins

Farley’s mainly been working from home during the pandemic. “I probably work more now than before because nothing stops me from working well into the evening since I don’t need to get home when I already am home,” she says, smiling. And she’s gratified to report that her young charges have also been moving along, also from home. 

In addition to camping out—in their families’ livings rooms—the girls take online STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math; the Sacramento Municipal Utility District sponsored a major event in June). The girls also participate in financial literacy workshops, sponsored by Wells Fargo. “Usually we attract about 800 girls, but 1,200 showed up for the most recent one of those,” Farley says, “because they were able to do it online. I think when things get back to normal, Girl Scouts will do a combination of in-person and online. The hybrid model lets us reach so many more girls.” 

The numbers continue to impress, as does the subject matter. “We had 1,800 participants from three different states in our Zombie Preparedness Program,” Farley says with an admirably straight face since I assume she’s distance-pulling my leg. When she sees me raise one of my eyebrows high enough to snarl low-flying wrens, she says, “No, really. We had girls from 30 different states involved.” 

I’m comfortable that no zombies were injured in the making of the webinar, since it was actually about basic first aid “so you can help those in your household before the need arises,” according to the promotional flyer (like before a zombie takes a bite out of your mailbox or mail carrier, I’m speculating).

More from the announcement (because I get such a kick out of it): “Being able to recognize a problem and design a potential solution is what engineers and inventors do best! The ability to design and invent items would be very useful during a zombie apocalypse, don’t ya think? In this activity, girls will create devices to get ‘that pesky itch in the center of your back.’ Girls will ideate and produce design schematics (sketches), and using a variety of everyday materials and recyclables, prototype their very own back-scratching devices!” 

When I look at the supply list— pencil, paper, straws, pipe cleaners, scissors and plastic forks among them—I’m reassured that the Zombie come-on is very cute but the kids won’t be asked to actually interface with the living dead. In fact, it sounds like the kind of materials an imaginative troop leader could also recommend to create a mask, a puppet and a hodgepodge of other whimsical childhood creations.

Farley refers to events on the Girl Scouts calendar as “opportunities” and points with pride to how her organization “was able to pivot pretty quickly” when the world went indoors in March. “Collectively, Girl Scouts offered 9,400 opportunities in 2019. This year, we’ll have 44,000 opportunities. 

This is the third time I’ve interviewed Farley. If you have a stereotype of a Girl Scouts leader in your mind—a mom with more hands-on experience than formal education, for example—she’ll quickly quash it. First, she doesn’t have children. Second, she holds a doctorate of education from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. And third, she’s both a devotee and teacher of leadership courses who hopes to write her own book on the subject someday.

Yet she’s a Girl Scout booster through and through. Before our first interview a few years ago, she had mock-challenged me to ask random groups of women if anyone there had ever been a Girl Scout. Sure enough, every single group I approached in the next two weeks, in various settings, included at least one, and sometimes more than one, former Girl Scout. I asked Farley at the time if there was a nefarious world-domination plot afoot and she replied, totally deadpan, “Of course.”

By the way, cookie sales re-start in January and Farley is being tight-lipped about “an exciting new product” the organization will be offering. I hope it doesn’t involve zombies.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).