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Girl Scouts cookie sale hones skills

John Seelmeyer

By the time this year’s Girl Scout cookie sale is finished, girls in northern Nevada and nearby California communities will have written orders for more than 580,000 boxes of Thin Mints, Caramel Delites and the like.

While the cookie sale is the biggest fundraiser for the group, Girl Scout executives say the program is just part of a growing emphasis on teaching entrepreneurial and business skills to girls.

“Girl Scouts gives girls confidence to try new things.Whatever it is they want to do, they have the support to do it,” says Sally Dault, a program director working with older girls in the Renobased Girls Scouts of the Sierra Nevada.

Later this month, for instance, older Girl Scouts will spend a day learning business skills in a program called “CEO In Training.” Mentors from the business community will provide tips on sales skills, business tactics, boardroom presentations and closing a deal.

The test of the girls’ new skills will come as some of them choose to make cookie-sale presentations to businesses throughout the region.

Other girls not all of them members of the Girl Scouts will learn entrepreneurial skills at the scouts’ annual conference called “An Income of Her Own.” Co-sponsored by the Washoe County schools, the one-day event includes interviews with women business owners, discussion of economic power for teen women and a game called “Product in a Box.” In that game, teams are given a random collection of small items and instructed to devise a product from them.

And Lisa Panko, who oversees product sales for the Girl Scouts in the region, says the cookie sale itself provides a set of business skills for even the youngest members: * They learn how to set goals for themselves, and learn to break down the goal into pieces that can be accomplished.

* They develop communication skills and learn that product knowledge is a key to effective selling.

* They develop skills in basic business math.

And most of all, they learn tenacity.

“We’ve got some girls that really can go out and sell the product,” says Panko.

“These girls don’t know the word ‘no.'”

The skills learned in childhood shouldn’t be underestimated, says Mendy Elliott, a vice president and director of community and government relations for Wells Fargo Bank in Reno.

“Girl Scouts taught me that I could do anything, ” says Elliott.

“I learned that if I wanted to reach a goal, I had to do A, then B, C and D.”

If nothing else, Elliott says she treasured the time she spent with her father when she made cookie-sale presentations to his co-workers.

She notes, too, that many of the skills she uses in her career were learned in Girl Scout programs that on the surface had nothing to do with business.

“I learned teamwork.

The ability to work with different, diverse people,” she says.

“It taught me to be an ethical person.

They teach you honor.”