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One Smart Cookie

Merion’s Andrea Kramer propels the region’s Girl Scouts into the future.

By Dawn E. Warden
One Smart Cookie

Girl Scouts of the USA will celebrate its 96th birthday in March, one month after its annual cookie drive. But until we see those Thin Mints cropping up, most of us won’t devote much thought to the group behind the product.

Not so for Merion’s Andrea Kramer, who eats, drinks and sleeps Girl Scouts—and has done so for almost two decades. One of the area’s leading labor attorneys, with more than 30 years of experience representing Acme and other clients, Kramer has served the Girl Scouts in a number of leadership roles over the years, beginning with its Greater Philadelphia council.

Kramer’s commitment to women’s advocacy is a culmination of her mother’s influence and the years she spent as a student at Wellesley College in Mas-sachusetts. Hers is a life loaded with what her family terms "harmonic convergence." She has three daughters (now in their 20s), a spot on the Pennsylvania Honor Roll of Women (1996) and active ties to the Forum of Executive Women in Fort Washington.

"We all have stories," says Kramer. "I don’t think you always see it, but everything we do leads up to the next thing. Working in labor law has exposed me to all kinds of people in a range of situations."

Since joining the Girl Scouts in 1988, Kramer has overseen two major mergers, including one in 1996 between the Girl Scouts of Delaware County and Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia. That union created the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which Kramer served for three terms as its first vice-chair. The second merger happened just last May, bringing together the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Girl Scouts of Freedom Valley and Girl Scouts—Great Valley Council to form the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania (GSEP). In July, Kramer was named GSEP’s board chair after serving as co-chair of the Human Resources Committee during the merger. "When you’re dealing with a huge organization like [GSEP], you have to be able to deal with different constituencies—urban, suburban, rural—and you have to be sensitive to different needs," she says.

The Girl Scouts’ realignment into what Kramer calls "high-capacity councils" is the organization’s first step in responding to the needs of its membership and making it a more effective business operation. Of the more than 270 Girl Scout councils in the U.S., GSEP is one of only 10 realigned councils. The purpose of this restructuring is to build a stronger, more resourceful Girl Scouts.

Nationwide, more than 300 councils will be combined into 104—three of them in Pennsylvania. With 17,000 adult volunteers and 50,000 scouts, GSEP is the state’s largest organization serving girls, with nine camps and 130 paid employees. "Having a professional staff will allow us to become stronger than ever," Kramer says.

Ultimately, Kramer’s job is that of problem solver. As board chair, one of her first tasks is to form a unified body out of three "legacy councils" with different cultures, populations and views. "It’s a big job at every level—staff, volunteer and board," she admits.

And the Girl Scouts "is not just cookies," says Kramer, citing programs such as MBA (Money, Business and Achievement); the Healthy Living Initiative, focusing on self-image, diet and exercise, and substance abuse; and Girl Scout Interventions for Tomorrow, which addresses the problem of increased gang violence among girls in Philadelphia. "We have all kinds of things to get girls ready to take their place in the fields of mathematics, finance and science."

And this, of course, is all done in conjunction with the outdoors. "Camping is a great way to bring about self-confidence and decision-making skills," Kramer says. "Many of our girls have never gone out into the wilderness. We’ve been at the forefront of the green movement for years."

Successfully changing with the times has helped the Girl Scouts stay relevant—and adopting a more business-like mentality has helped them stay viable. "Girls are confronted with challenges every single day," says Kramer. "We need to reach as many of them as possible." 

Growing up in Springfield, Mo., Andrea Kramer was a Campfire Girl, starting as a Bluebird and continuing through the Horizon level as a senior in high school. "I did a lot of the same things they do," she recalls. "We earned beads instead of badges, sold candy instead of cookies. I sold so many two years in a row that I got a free week of camp. I also did a lot of outdoor camping and public speaking, and I gained an enormous amount of self-confidence. It had a huge impact on my life—and I know it can on girls today."

As a Campfire Girl, Kramer made trips to the Caribbean, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Columbia and South America to meet girls her age and learn about their cultures. These days, participants in the Girl Scouts’ Destinations program travel throughout the world to promote cultural and social awareness and diversity. "We live in a global society; we need to prepare girls to interact with people from other countries and cultures," Kramer says. "That goes along with our commitment to serve girls of all racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds."

As chair of a Girl Scouts governing body comprised of 30 members, Kramer is also responsible for the policy and strategic direction of her council, along with the budget—much of which comes from cookie sales. The rest originates from the United Way, grants and private donors.

"Based on the information we have today, we are doing well," Kramer says of the organization’s solvency. "But we could use money to increase our programs, and we need adult volunteers. They’re the ones who make all of this. If we had to pay people to do what they do, we wouldn’t be able to. They’re irreplaceable."

Most of the members’ involvement comes through "traditional" troop participation at schools, churches and community centers. But many troops are neighborhood based, and several are coordinated as a special interest to reach out to underserved groups. Programs at homeless shelters help provide stability.

The organization prides itself on accessibility: A $10 registration fee covers membership and accident insurance. "We work to remove all barriers to participation—including financial," Kramer says.

To ensure the success of its mission, GSEP is creating the Center for Girl Research and Leadership, an initiative designed to assess program strengths and weaknesses in an effort to provide better services. The goal, says Kramer, is to position GSEP as the region’s "girl experts."

"Today’s girls need our programs," she says.

The learn more about the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, visit gssp.org.