Being a Girl Scout takes a lot more than a good cookie pitch.
While selling boxes of Thin Mints and Samoas is an important part of each troop's work, devoting time to community service and growing as people is what it means to don that green sash with merit badges.
Bel Air Troop 821 is a prime example of what troops across the country are accomplishing: donating food to local food banks, giving back to U.S. soldiers — even if it means making them smile with a box of their famous cookies — and rubbing elbows with politicians to promote women in leadership roles.
To do so is no easy task, but the 19 fourth, fifth and sixth graders in Troop 821 are already surpassing their goals. And they're not stopping.
"It's very important to give back," Troop Leader Lisa Shue said. Shue, along with Janet Slaughter and Andria Swanson, leads the group of girls. All live in Churchville, in the same neighborhood, no less, and all have daughters in the troop of Junior Girl Scouts.
Shue proudly said the girls of 821 have been the top-selling troop the past two years in cookie sales in all of central Maryland, and the last three years in Harford County.
More than that, they donated 1,800 boxes of cookies to military men and women, community food banks and Johns Hopkins pediatric oncology center in 2011.
Now, the girls are aiming even higher.
"A big part of girl scouting is community service," Shue said. "They [the girls] understand people aren't as well off as they are."
With that understanding, the troop started its Just One More project — part of earning the Bronze Award, the highest award a Junior Girl Scout can receive.
"If you do just one more, buy one item and take it to the food bank, we can start stamping out hunger in America," Shue explained of the project's premise.
Slaughter said she, too, is a "firm believer in those who have the ability to make a difference have the responsibility to make that difference," a moral strongly instilled in the girls she leads.
Just One More is equal parts educating and doing.
Shue said the girls wanted to do something relating to food and hunger in Harford County since they have worked with local food banks.
"We really stress to the girls that just doing a project that has a short term impact is not what we look for," Slaughter said. "If we need to change things, we need to change how people think."
At first, their goal was to donate 20,000 pounds of food, which is enough to feed 150 families for two months, Shue said, and give back to Harford food banks.
Three girls from the troop gave a presentation to Rosedale Federal Savings and Loan Association on how important it was to receive money to purchase food through the Bel Air United Methodist Church, which partners with the Maryland Food Bank, and then give it back to the community. The bank gave them a $3,000 grant for the project — more than enough to reach their goal.
In the spring, the troop is planning to hold neighborhood and school food drives, this time hoping for 10,000 to 20,000 more pounds of food in addition to what they've already received. The girls also want to go to various grocery stores and give shoppers information on the project, hoping to change the way people think about donating.
"Everybody can make a difference if they try," Shue said. "It's as simple as buying one extra item."
In an economy where more and more people are relying on help from others, this project is more important than ever.
"A lot of us are just a paycheck from being homeless ourselves," Slaughter said. She explained that there are families who don't have much money in the bank and don't have family members to fall back on. That's where community service and organizations like local food banks become essential.
Troop 821 also recently participated in a national campaign for Girl Scouts USA, Together We Can Get Her There. The campaign is part of the organization's 100th anniversary.
Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez and several politicians spoke Feb. 1 in Washington, D.C., about the campaign, which focuses on women as leaders and how to encourage girls to aim for those roles — another important lesson Girl Scouts learn.
The troop spoke to many people in attendance that day, Shue and Slaughter said, and heard inspirational speeches from leaders such as Sen. Barbara Mikulski and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
"Anything they want to do, they can do," Slaughter said of the campaign's message. "It's what we've been teaching them all along."
She added that in the Girl Scouts, the organization emphasizes "the 3 c's:" confidence, character and courage. It's these traits, along with compassion and commitment, Troop 821's leaders see in their girls and achievements.