Girl Scouts for Life Story by Kelly Caldwell, Summer 2014
For sisters Lori Sewell and Robin Thornhill, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America provided more than just a chance to earn merit badges and sell boxes of cookies. The organization gave them lifelong friends and the belief that anything was possible.
"Our mom knew the importance of Girl Scouts and being in a rural area, she wanted us to have as much as we could," Thornhill said. "Girl Scouts was the vehicle that allowed us to explore and become the women we are today."
Founded in Savannah, Ga., in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America empowers girls from all walks of life and instills values such compassion, honesty, fairness, sisterhood and confidence.
"I can't remember a time growing up that I wasn't involved in Girl Scouts," Thornhill said. "I literally was born on the day of a scout meeting."
Lani Steele, Lori and Robin's mother, was only a Girl Scout herself for maybe a year growing up in Iowa. However, she valued what the organization represented and devoted nearly half her life to Girl Scouts.
"She was a scout leader for 20 or 30 years because she believed in it so much," Thornhill said.
While Lani strongly believed in the importance of Girl Scouts, some of the activities would force her out of her natural element.
"Our mom was very prim and proper," Thornhill said. "She believed you weren't dressed unless you had your nails painted and were wearing earrings. So, you can imagine some of the camping trips and other outdoor activities were not her cup of tea. But, she did them anyway because she wanted us to know that we could do anything the boys could do and didn't ever have to depend on a man for anything."
Robin's love of camping began with Girl Scouts and continues to this day. Her husband and she recently renovated a Volkswagen Westfalia camper. Named "Scout," it is decorated with old Girl Scout and Boy Scout patches, uniforms and memorabilia.
"Scouting was such an important part of our lives that I wanted to honor that," she said.
Girl Scouts also gave Lori and Robin the confidence to be the business women they are today.
"My mom and Lori helped me with my Gold Award (the highest honor for a Girl Scout) project," Robin said. "It was a drama camp and was the first time that the three of us worked on something like that together.
"Fast forward several years, and we open the Ashland Theatre," Robin said. "We like to think that scouting gave us the skills to do what we do."
Lori and Robin's mom passed away last August, but just like the Girl Scouts she continues to be a guiding force in their lives.
"We are still learning little lessons from our mom," Robin said. "As we continue to grow as women and mothers, we realize the reasons behind the things she did and all we can say is 'Mom You Were Right.'"
Robin and Lori are owners of the Historic Ashland Theatre in downtown Ashland, Alabama.