You could call her a lifer. Hardly anybody stays in scouting as long as Kathy Storage. A latecomer by scouting standards, she started inauspiciously as a sixth-grader in Missouri, where she earned only four badges. But on those four badges, she went on to build a career with the Black Diamond Girl Scout Council that spans 35 years. The 61-year-old veteran marked that anniversary this month.
As the council manager, she concentrates on recruiting, activity development and other administrative duties, but her heart belongs to outdoor adventures and camping, pursuits that have captivated her since girlhood and drew her to scouting in the first place.
Because of her longevity, she can look back and see the many ways scouting activities have influenced the eventual career choices of former Girl Scouts. That’s the stuff that keeps her going.
She strives to keep the organization relevant to girls in an era fraught with ever-mounting distractions. It’s working. The nurturing purpose and mission of the Girl Scouts endures.
“I was born in Roanoke, Virginia, and ended up here when I was 2. My father was a mechanical engineer. The family was originally from the Williamsburg-Richmond area, so we went back to Richmond and I lived there until I was 10.
“I did not join Girl Scouts until sixth grade, which is unusual in Girl Scouting. The opportunity happened to be around me in Columbia, Missouri, where we had moved for my father’s job. My friends belonged. I was a Girl Scout there as a Junior and a Cadet. It was a pretty good troop.
“I only have four badges. I didn’t have a huge career in Girl Scouting in Missouri. One badge was roller skating, and we did that at the local rink where we learned to skate for six weeks. Then we did the troop camper badge as a group. And I earned this one on my own, a games badge. When I was a cadet I earned the first aid badge.
“I ended up making a whole career out of these badges. I was a child who liked the woods and playing outside in Richmond. My subdivision had probably an acre around several of our houses. My friends had horses. I learned to trail ride and all that stuff and ended up loving being outside.
“We moved from Columbia to St. Louis for my eight- and ninth-grade years, and then my dad got a job in Nitro. I was in a lot of clubs and activities and ran track for three years.
“I went to Alderson Broaddus. I was going to become a physical education teacher, but I learned very quickly that I was more interested in the recreation administration angle and became a social science major. Recreation was in that major as an allied field.
“My first full-time job was as parks and recreation director for the city of Kingwood in Preston County. I was going to grad school at WVU in recreation.
“I moved to Charleston and became program director of health and physical education for the YWCA and I was there two years.
“I ended up with a job offer with the Girl Scouts. They hired me on a six-month grant to make Girl Scouting appealing to teenagers. So I created program activities, special events and things for teenagers in Kanawha and Putnam counties.
“They wrote another grant that kept me on another 18 months. I ended up staying. It’s 35 years now. I started in November of 1982.
“My current title is program manager. What I do now is commonplace, but back then, to do special events for girls to recruit them was very new.
“People thought you should always be in a troop to be a Girl Scout. Now girls can be a Girl Scout in various ways, whether they are in a troop or join because they heard about camp or about the special interests like STEM.
“There are a lot of things competing for their attention, but we manage to hold our own. Membership goes down sometimes as our population goes down. Some of it has to do with the economy. When money is tight, people hold back on the special activities their children are in. But these last couple of years, we are seeing an increase.
“Girl Scouts still has a purpose as far as building up girls, developing girls, encouraging them to be what they are meant to be. I didn’t realize my leader did that for me back in Missouri.
“The premises are still the same. You still have The Promise and The Law and the Mission Statement to empower girls and develop leadership capabilities to make the world a better place. We still develop girls of courage, confidence and character. That’s been Juliette Low’s thing since the beginning of time. She wanted to make a difference and try to improve society through community service, and we still do all that.
“We try to make Girl Scouting relevant and timely today and take advantage of the fads the girls are into to attract them. I’m not threatened by changes. I roll with it. You have to be adaptable to get and keep girls interested in scouting.
“We bring technology to camp. But a salamander is still a salamander and a turtle is still a turtle, and it can still thrill girls to see them and touch them — even more thrilling if they live in a city.
“They do archery. Creek stomping is still in, where you go find tadpoles and water critters in the creek.
“I spent a good deal of my career dealing with at-risk youth. I love seeing their faces when they see a cow driving out to camp, the pure joy. Last summer, I had an autistic child shoot a bow and arrow for the first time. I loved seeing that joy on her face when she hit the target.
“You start as a Daisy, kindergarten and first grade. Brownie is second and third grade. Juniors are fourth and fifth and Cadets are sixth, seventh and eighth grades. High school is divided into two grade levels. Ninth and tenth are seniors and eleventh and 12th are ambassadors. A Gold Award is our equivalent to an Eagle Scout.
“We put out a press release about the Boy Scouts admitting girls. I have to feel about it the way my organization feels about it, how there is still a time and place for girls to be nurtured and developed in leadership ways in an all-girl setting. We are still the preeminent leadership organization for girls.
“We’ve been around since 1912, by evolving and changing to meet the needs of our members.
“Cookies are still a very big deal, especially as funding sources dry up. We look for lots of ways to diversify. Cookie sales are very steady, and we also do nuts and magazine sales in the fall that are keyed more to family and friends.
“This building used to be a car dealership. We’ve been here almost five years. We bring in volunteers and use it for training and activities and rent it out to the public. We have an urban camp next door. It has bunk rooms and a commons area. Visiting staffers stay there. We have 10 weeks of day camp there. Troops rent it and come to the big town of Charleston. And we have two other outdoor camps.
“Uniforms aren’t required. We encourage them all to have a sash or a vest to put their awards on. My adult uniform is a navy blue suit and I wear my membership pins on it and I wear a Girl Scouts scarf.
“We have a Journeys program to encourage girls to learn about a need around a theme and they learn all about the issue. For example, ‘Wow, the Wonders of Water’ deals with it’s your planet and making a difference in terms of water, environmental things. A Brownie, for instance, would learn about the issues of watershed preservation and figure out how to make a difference in her community.
“They’ve recently had the girls vote on the kind of badges they wanted and the last three years those choices have been in the outdoor category.
“I was always encouraging camping and traveling beyond the borders of our council. I love traveling and I love camping, so I couldn’t ask for anything better to do in life. It is a good job for me.
“Whenever I do retire, I want to continue to camp and be on staff somewhere to do it. It’s interesting that I still like it at my age. I love sleeping in a tent. Camping is great. We camp out as a family once or twice a summer. I have two sons and two daughters. My girls were in scouts all the way through. They would help me out with special events.
“My second daughter called me from Texas one time, and she said, ‘Mom, we are watching these people camp from Texas and I don’t think they know what they are doing.’ I didn’t raise them to be wuss girls. They can be outdoor girls or dress up and be beautiful.
“It continues to work. Girls like being nurtured and made to feel they are important and that they can be anything they want to be. Now, on the back side, people are starting to tell me things like, ‘Gosh, Kathy, I was a little girl and you had a skating event at the ice rink and now I’m a professional ice skating teacher.’ She teaches at the South Charleston rink. She made a career out of a two-hour event I had.
“I have the privilege now of longevity. I’m a lifetime member. People don’t always stay in it long enough to see the back side. That’s the coolest part. I had somebody tell me she went to one of our forensic science days in Beckley and she is now a major in forensic computer science, so she is making a career out of that.
“When I found my sash, there was a note pinned to it from my leader addressed to ‘My Future Leader.’ She had written, ‘She will be a leader someday.’ That blew my mind. How do you know that when someone is only 11 or 12 years old? I did not know I would make a whole career out of those four badges.”