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LA TIMES/DAILY PILOT: Girl Scouts of O.C. to expand access, programs with $2.8M MacKenzie Scott donation

Girl Scouts of O.C. to expand access, programs with $2.8M MacKenzie Scott donation
Girl Scouts from Newport Beach troops 7483 and 5381 salute one another during an Oct. 28 meeting at Newport Ridge Community Park. Girl Scouts of Orange County recently received $2.8 million from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)


Sophie Harris lives in Corona del Mar, where most of her transportation needs are met by personal vehicles. But during a recent Girl Scout trip to San Francisco, she discovered the joys of mass transit.

“I liked the public transportation — we went on the trollies and the cable cars,” the 11-year-old recalled of her summertime adventure. “In Corona del Mar we don’t get to do that a lot.”

Lisa Anhalt, mother of two Scouts and leader of Newport Beach Troop 7483, said the trip was packed with new experiences for the girls and for the adults who supervised them.

“We were trying new foods. We rode all the public transportation — it was so much fun,” she said during a troop activity at Newport Ridge Community Park. “The best thing about Girl Scouts is it provides opportunities girls may not be able to have with their families.

Headquartered in Irvine, Girl Scouts of Orange County provides programs, activities and leadership skills for some 15,000 Scouts in 1,200 troops countywide. And now, thanks to a $2.8-million commitment from noted philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the nonprofit is supercharging its mission by expanding to serve more girls in more local communities.

Leaders of the organization were informed they were among 29 councils of the national organization personally selected by Scott to receive a portion of the total $84.5 million in funding.

Chief executive Vikki Shepp said staff have drafted a plan to use the funding to build upon GSOC’s All-Girl Initiative, launched in 2020 to expand access to girls in underengaged communities, bolster career readiness and outdoor programs and invest in research and staff and volunteer training.

Part of the contribution will be used to establish a greater physical presence in Santa Ana by opening a program center and to hire an arts program manager to build upon programming and an inclusion specialist to accommodate Scouts with diverse needs.

“This gift really benefits every girl in some way,” Shepp said Monday. “I know how important the [Scouting] experience is, and I want every girl to have that opportunity.”

Girls assembled last week in a multitroop activity at Newport Ridge Community Park, where they decorated pumpkins and penned cards and letters to first responders. Scouts huddled together at picnic tables, the backs of their vests emblazoned with badges that hinted at what the organization offers its members.

Some heralded completion of units related to storytelling, kindness, self-defense, hiking and climbing. Others advertised trips to national parks in Death Valley, New Mexico and Utah.

Laila Mork, a leader for Newport Coast’s Troop 5381 and the mother of two Scouts, said the news about Scott’s donation to Girl Scouts of Orange County has been spreading among members and volunteers.

“It’s big news around here — I’m very excited,” she said. “This means more experiences and leadership opportunities for more girls. We’re only reaching about 3% of the girls in our area. [Girl Scouts] is so great for the girls who are in it, but who are we missing?”

Mork hopes the funds can help provide more regular meeting spaces for troops that often rely on relationships with schools and other groups that run local facilities. Anhalt said she’d love to see more outdoor events and outreach into underserved communities.

“I think Girl Scouts is great for all girls, and every girl should have access to it if they choose to be in it,” she said. “I would like all the girls in the world to learn leadership skills and make friendships and have those experiences.”

Aside from the many interpersonal skills and opportunities Girl Scouts affords its members, it’s also just fun, say the Scouts.

“It’s something outside of school you can do to not be bored, like sports,” said Mia Balabanian, a 12-year-old Cadette who attends Corona del Mar Middle School. “I’ve done a lot of sports activities and things like camping — there was this whole hiking trip to Crystal Cove. [This] is like a community you can just go to.”

Amari Agren, a sixth-grader at Andersen Elementary School, agrees. She recalled singing holiday carols to seniors in a care facility and earning badges related to acting and endangered animal protection.

“Say you have a bad day at school,” she said. “Then, you go to a Girl Scout meeting, and it makes you feel better. I’ll stay in it as long as I can.”

“They don’t judge you,” chimed in Sophie, the rapid transit fan. “You can be comfortable.”

Shepp said her team is working to make Scott’s donation go as far as possible to impact the greatest number of girls in Orange County and accelerate the organization’s efforts to do more, with more, for more well into the future.

“This life-changing gift for our organization is a starting point, not an ending point,” she said.