Girl Scouts of Central Indiana’s new chairwoman has continued working on behalf of a passion for youth and the outdoors that started when her own daughter was a little girl.
Diana Sullivan, a retired nurse, continues to teach and volunteer in her professional field. But she says staying involved in nursing and scouting has kept her as busy as when she worked full time. And she’s looking forward to new challenges ahead.
Years ago when her daughter was in first grade, Sullivan took over her daughter’s Girl Scout troop, and that experience was the beginning of many years of work on behalf of the girls’ youth leadership organization.
Story continues below gallery
Now, Sullivan, 63, a Greenwood resident, has been named chairwoman of the organization that is seeking to reinvent itself and attract more girls into outdoor activities in a world growing more consumed with indoor-centric technology.
In Johnson County in 2015, nearly 1,500 girls participated in scouting, which was a 9 percent decline from 2014, according to Girl Scouts of Central Indiana.
“The national organization and council is working with how to re-engage girls, especially with younger girls. They’re starting preschool, dance and other activities at a much younger age. We’re looking at how we can engage more younger girls and retain those girls in girl scouting,” she said.
Another major new emphasis for today’s 21st century youth is STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills in scouting programming — for example, using GPS compasses on smart phones for outdoor orientation activities, Sullivan said.
But in addition to keeping up with changing tech trends, the national council is also emphasizing instilling a love for the outdoors in both youth and scout leaders, something Sullivan has remained strongly committed to, she said.
“I’m a real outdoor person. I believe strongly that our children should be safe and comfortable in the out-of-doors. I do a lot of hiking and camping myself. I share that passion with the girls,” she said.
Not only are bonds forged through scouting activities themselves, but as troop leaders get to know their scouts, they become trusted mentors as well, she said. After Sullivan initially took over her daughter’s troop, she stayed with the group through their high school years.
“I believe strongly that every girl should have another female adult to relate to. If they’re dealing with any family or interpersonal crisis, scout leaders are another resource for them, a trusted resource so that the girls can feel safe. … If there’s something drastic going on, they have a resource to go to.”
Sullivan sees scouting as a youth development program that teaches skills girls will use their whole lives. Studies have shown that leadership development, combined with outdoor activities, gives girls a calmer demeanor in school and helps them perform well on tests and get better grades, ultimately leading to higher graduation rates and even better-paying careers, Sullivan said.
Unlike some sports and other extracurricular activities for kids where performance is based on immediate results and stricter performance standards, scouting lets youth develop at their own pace and advance in activities on their own. Kids can make leadership decisions and learn as they go.
“It puts girls in a position to make a decision and advance without feeling threatened,” she said.
Among the things Sullivan is eagerly anticipating as chairwoman is the creation of the new Girl Scout Leadership and Learning Center, a center that will house training programs for adult troop leaders, as well as older scouts. The building is in the final stages of construction on Camp Dellwood on the west side of Indianapolis.
State and national leaders are looking into ways to make leadership for adults more palatable, such as through troop leadership that might only last a few weeks or months instead of an open-ended commitment, she said.
Sullivan said another type of leadership development she’d like to facilitate is one specifically for young mothers that would teach them outdoor skills and activities, which would then make them comfortable leading their own children in it, she said.
“That’s why leadership and learning are going to be so important,” she said.
Name: Diana Sullivan, new chairwoman for Girl Scouts of Central Indiana
Town: Greenwood, originally from Fort Wayne area
Occupation: retired registered nurse from Indiana University Health, teaches a class for local nursing students
Volunteer activities: continues to be active in Indiana State Nurses Association, as well as Girl Scouts activities, including accompanying them on trips, mentoring new troop leaders and serving in other leadership roles in the region