Catholic Girls’ Clubs Are in Bloom Nationwide

Originally published in NCRegister:

News 20When it comes to scouting groups for girls, the one that has become famous for its cookies is not the only option. In the wake of recent revelations of problems with Girl Scouts USA, many Catholic parents are looking for — and finding — alternatives for their young daughters. “Better options exist for our young, not yet formed, Catholic girls,” said Chris Reister, a parishioner of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Carmel, Ind., who launched a Little Flowers Girls’ Club at her parish when her conscience would no longer allow her to lead her daughter’s secular scouting group. “I want my daughter to learn about the beauty of chastity, authentic femininity and the sanctity of life,” said Reister. “Sadly, these topics are not addressed by secular girls’ clubs. I want my daughter to become a strong woman, but our Catholic faith measures strength much differently than our secular society.” A new springtime in the Church blossoms as a national trend toward authentically Catholic girls’ clubs abounds like a bouquet of fresh flowers. At least 2,000 parents followed a similar road as Reister, according to Joan Stromberg, founder of Behold Publications, which publishes the Little Flowers Girls’ Club manuals and sews the girls’ blue sashes. It’s a growth trend that Stromberg, a mother of 10, confirms has continued in recent years: between 10% and 15% annually. Prior to the economic downturn, Stromberg said the growth was at 25%. “When I started this program in 1993, I was merely looking for a nice group my daughters could join that would allow for some fun, formation and social time,” recalled Little Flowers Girls’ Club creator Rachel Watkins, a mother of 11, who chose St. Therese of Lisieux as the patron saint of the program. “I had no expectations. Over the years, the garden of Little Flowers just kept growing. I like to laugh that, in the case of Little Flowers Girls’ Club, St. Therese is not showering us with roses, but flooding us!” American Heritage Girls, a Cincinnati-based Christian scouting movement founded in 1995, saw a 45% increase in new members from 2011, according to Patti Garabay, the founder and executive director of the group. Based on early registration, Garabay expects a 100% growth. If the current trend continues, many new members will be Catholic. Julie Goodwin, who started an American Heritage Girls troop at Holy Cross Catholic Church, Batavia, Ill., in May 2009, said, “Many parents and girls are looking for an alternative. They want a wholesome, character-building scouting program — one that will enrich their Catholic values.” Goodwin, who will chair the National American Heritage Girls Catholic Committee and tracks Catholic growth, added, “Nationally, Catholics are the largest-growing denomination in AHG.” Out of a total of 495 troops, 94 troops are affiliated with a Catholic school or parish. Challenge, a girls’ club targeting youth ages 10-18, which was founded in 2000 by the Regnum Christi lay apostolate, also experienced growth over the past year, according to Nadine McMillan, Challenge’s national director. “Each year we have new groups start up in parishes and schools,” she said. “Most groups grow over the years. We have some groups with over 100 members.” McMillan does not necessarily attribute the growth of Challenge to concerns with other secular groups. “One of the great things about our Catholic Church is the richness of so many different organizations. There is really something for everyone,” said McMillan. “I think Challenge is a great complement to existing youth groups in parishes; or it can be a stand-alone program in a parish or school.” What’s the attraction to these authentic Catholic clubs? As Sue Edgerly, a Challenge leader from Grand Rapids, Mich., said, “Challenge is developing young women who know how much they are loved by God, their dignity as women, and who see the culture of death around them and don’t give into it. These young women are vocal in their resolve to fight against this culture of death by standing up for life issues.I see them serve beyond measure, selflessly. These are virtues that the world cannot give them, but Challenge opens them up to seeing the world through different lenses.” Sally Ivers, a Challenge leader at St. Thomas More parish in Centennial, Colo., added, “Challenge fosters the gift of self at a time in life when they tend to be quite self-absorbed. It’s truly remarkable to see how these girls grow into beautiful young women, formed in their faith. “In today’s secular climate, Catholic parents need a tremendous amount of support to raise holy children,” emphasized Reister. “Our young, impressionable, spiritually fragile girls need a consistent dose of solid Catholic formation and an understanding of the strength, beauty and the dignity in authentic femininity as God designed. Why, as busy parents, would we want to spend time on anything else? Secular clubs do not provide this, and their messaging may actually be confusing, diluting or inadvertently undermining solid Catholic formation.”