Dana Borrelli-Murray, 41, is laser focused and ready to collaborate. The new CEO of Girl Scouts of Southeastern New England (GSSNE) has entered her ninth month in the position and has big plans for …
Dana Borrelli-Murray, 41, is laser focused and ready to collaborate. The new CEO of Girl Scouts of Southeastern New England (GSSNE) has entered her ninth month in the position and has big plans for the council.
“I really think that Girl Scouts has the ability – post-Covid especially – to be a health equity solution for youth,” said Borrelli-Murray in a recent interview.
With kids emerging from the pandemic with mental health needs and more, Borrelli-Murray said the GSSNE can provide strong peer-to-peer relationships and mentorship opportunities between youth and troop leaders. Individuals can also earn program badges at their own pace and engage in outdoor learning which can be therapeutic.
Borrelli-Murray came to the CEO position with 15 years of working in education. Her background includes several years as a director of a small Providence school followed by running a start-up nonprofit that grew out of the institution. In a matter of years, the several person start-up expanded to a multi-million dollar organization made up of 30 individuals. She received her undergraduate degree and masters in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst and obtained a masters degree in urban education policy from Brown University.
After working in education, Borrelli-Murray was ready for a new adventure and wanted to use her skills in a different venue and area which led her to GSSNE. While she was never a Girl Scout herself, the more Borrelli-Murray learned about the organization and its history, the more interested she became in the position.
“I saw a vision on how to make this the most relevant, engaging, youth-centered inclusive leadership program available for anyone,” Borrelli-Murray said.
Girl Scouts is a 110-year-old movement with a rich history. Borrelli-Murray explained that it all started with a single, disabled woman named Juliette Gordon Low who sold her pearls to get the organization up and running. Low wanted to create an opportunity for girls to learn, have fun and make friends since – at the time the organization was founded – women couldn’t vote, go to most schools, play sports or divorce their husbands.
She added that Girl Scouts has been about inclusion from the very beginning, saying that Martin Luther King Jr. called it a force for desegregation in the 1950s. The organization was also front and center on the LGBTQ+ movement in the 2000s.
GSSNE is part of a federated model and is one of 110 councils across the country. This council stretches across all of Rhode Island and includes 13 communities in Massachusetts and Connecticut. This year, GSSNE will serve between 5,000 and 6,000 youth and adult volunteers.
The Edgewood mother of four said the whirlwind experience has been fun so far. She enjoys that GSSNE’s end user is youth and loves that everything the organization does is focused on making sure Girl Scouts have incredible opportunities and enjoy what they’re doing.
The organization’s numbers are 11 percent higher this year than in January of 2022, and GSSNE is expanding its model of what it means/looks like to be a Girl Scout. Borrelli-Murray said the organization is looking at how GSSNE can bring new and fresh perspectives into the movement.
“I really care about moving away from Girl Scout grown to Girl Scout growth,” Borrelli-Murray said.
She thinks for a long time Girl Scouts relied on nostalgia as their recruitment mechanism. Individuals signed up to be part of the organization because someone in their family had been a Girl Scout, and she thinks this mentality marginalized entire communities of people and families who did not feel that connection.
“We have the ability to use our platform and our voice to continue to speak for and to push for growing and expanding our movement to include youth and families that were potentially not included before,” Borrelli-Murray said.
The organization is also making it easier for individuals to get involved as troop leaders. Borrelli-Murray said she could double the number of Girl Scouts tomorrow and provide opportunities for them if she had enough adult volunteers.
The Girl Scout model is built on the premise that adults will volunteer and lead troops, however, this can be hard in a day where two parents are working and rents are high. She added that individuals don’t have to be a parent to be a Girl Scout troop leader and that it’s a neat opportunity for someone in college or a recent retiree.
“It's a great way to connect with our leaders of tomorrow,” Borrelli-Murray said.
Borrelli-Murray said there is also flexibility in how often troops meet. For example, youth could meet once a month or once a week – it’s completely up to the troops. Additionally, some troops may want to take more of a STEM-based, arts-based or outdoors-based approach to their activities.
“There are so many different ways to do Girl Scouts that you can really do it all,” Borrelli-Murray said.
One of Borrelli-Murray’s big goals is making sure GSSNE starts defining itself and tells its story in public.
“The Girl Scout brand is one of the most recognized brands in the world and yet has one of the poorest elevator pitches. No one really knows how to define what Girl Scouts is and what it does. I think it's because so much of it is individualized it's hard to say it does one thing. The mission is around building youth of courage, confidence and character that make the world a better place,” Borrelli-Murray said.
The organization is currently amidst cookie season which dates back to 1917. Girl Scouts USA works with two major commercial bakers in the country, and last year the GSSNE council sold over 750,000 cases of cookies – there are 12 boxes of cookies in each case. All profits from selling the cookies go directly to troop programming.
Following cookie season, GSSNE will hold a cookies and cocktails event at the Crowne Plaza on March 9. For this fundraiser, local restaurants will create beautiful displays of special bite-sized desserts made of Girl Scout cookies. There will be cooking demonstrations, live music and more. Tickets are available for purchase via GSSNE’s website.
GSSNE is located in Warwick at 500 Greenwich Ave. To learn more about the organization or for more information on volunteering opportunities, visit gssne.org/.