New Girl Scouts Heart of NJ CEO talks mission

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

The Girl Scouts in Central New Jersey have a new champion who’s bringing a new focus to the organization by opening programs in under served communities like homeless shelters, expanding horizons to include sciences, connecting girls with incarcerated mothers and training girls to lead. The first African-American woman CEO of Girls Scouts Heart of New Jersey Natasha Hemmings joins Correspondent Leah Mishkin.

Mishkin: Thank you for being here. I think the first thing I should say is congratulations on your new position.

Hemmings: Thank you so much.

Mishkin: I had read something that your dad had said, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. So, how does it feel to be the first African-American woman to hold this position?

Hemmings: Well, my dad giving me that quote and he said that most of my life. Being the first African-American CEO at Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey is overwhelming and exciting. And that girls can see me in this position and can aspire to be a CEO, even if it’s not a Girl Scout CEO, is an incredible honor for me.

Mishkin: And I have written down on my paper ’empowerment and leadership.’ I think those are big things that the Girl Scouts stand for, and I know you have a push to bring the Girl Scouts to more communities. Tell me a little bit more about that.

Hemmings: We are focused on bringing girl scouting to communities that have not traditionally had strong service units and strong troops in them. Service units like Newark, and Elizabeth, and Jersey City, and Irvington are all areas that have had small pockets of girl scouting, but not in large ways. And those are emerging communities that could use the benefit of empowerment and leadership for their young people.

Mishkin: Why do you think that hasn’t been there?

Hemmings: I think it hasn’t been there because it’s not traditionally an area that has had larger populations of white suburban families. Quite honestly, girl scouting is for every girl. Everywhere in New Jersey can benefit from the leadership experience, and the growing populations in those cities, are African-American, and they are Hispanic families, Latina families and families of Asian decent. Therefore, having a woman of color, and having families that look to girl scouting for leadership experiences for their girls, is going to be important for them.

Mishkin: And along the same topic, I know you’re trying to branch out. I read you’re trying to get Girl Scouts into homeless shelters. Tell me an example. Tell me a little more about that.

Hemmings: Yes. We have a new initiative called Troop 6000 and it’s for girls in transitional housing and homeless shelters, areas that we have not been in here in New Jersey.

Mishkin: And Girl Scouts Behind Bars is another one of those initiatives?

Hemmings: Another great initiative which is really taking the Girl Scout leadership experience and sharing it with girls whose mothers are incarcerated at the Edna Mahan facility in Clinton. So, it gives girls the opportunity to share with their peers maybe similar experiences that they have in their communities — and with their mothers. Learning the Girl Scout leadership experience firsthand with them on a monthly basis with their mothers and in a troop setting with girls who have similar experiences.

Mishkin: And I know we say that, but that can be a life changing experience for some of these girls.

Hemmings: Girl scouting has the potential to change the trajectory of a girl’s life, the things she wants for herself and her family. And, therefore, having Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, having girl scouts in Troop 6000 are all going to be important for these girls and their families to move forward in this region.

Mishkin: And I’m sure you speak with many of these girls, you are a co-leader yourself, and I know you like to share their inspiring stories. Any girl that comes to mind when you got this position that you were thinking of?

Hemmings: I’ve been in girl scouting for the last 17 years. It’s been the thrill of my life to share girl stories with this region. There have been several girl stories that I’ve told over the years that shared how they were shy and didn’t really want to speak out for issues that were important to them or their families. But, girl scouting gave them the courage and the confidence to take what they wanted to do in their lives and for their communities and scream at the top of their lungs that, you know, I’m a Girl Scout and this is what I want for my community and the change that I want to see where I live and go to school and where my family works.

Mishkin: What are your top three goals that you want to accomplish for your future?

Hemmings: So that is a really tough question.

Mishkin: What is your favorite Girl Scout cookie, just kidding.

Hemmings: So, my favorite Girl Scout cookie is the Thin Mint. It is most of people’s traditional favorite. But, I love Thin Mints. I also love S’mores. It’s my daughter’s favorite cookie, too.

Mishkin: Going back to the top three though if you had to list a couple things off. I’m sure you’ve been thinking about it over these years.

Hemmings: I’ve been thinking about it over the past few months. Membership and building girls of courage, confidence and character in regions that we have not traditionally been in is going to be important for us. Expansion and growth of our programs and our STEM initiatives is going to be really important for us. We are doing a really exciting mobile STEM unit with design students at Kean University. And STEM is one of the areas that people don’t normally think of girl scouting and think of STEM, but science, technology, engineering and math and pathways for girls in the future, is being built within our STEM program right now. So, STEM, life skills, entrepreneurship are all pillars that girl scouting is building programs in in order to empower young women.