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Girl Scouts invade Clearwater

CLEARWATER

Roughly 2,200 Girl Scouts, ages 7 to 17, stampeded across the Memorial Causeway Bridge on Saturday morning, hamming for iPhone cameras and honking cars.

The journey was symbolic, an anniversary celebration: "Bridging into the next century," read the bubble-lettered slogan on each girl's shirt.

The event dubbed "GS Fest," organized by the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida, commemorated 100 years of Scouting with a day of concerts, friendship bracelets and introductory rocket science — among other girl-powered activities — in Clearwater's Coachman Park.

Anastasia Myers, 14, of Seminole weaved through the crowd in 4-inch wedge heels and a badge-covered vest. She began collecting the sew-on honors, about 150 by now, in kindergarten for tying square knots, learning to sail, serving chicken noodle soup at homeless shelters.

At 5-foot-8 barefoot, Anastasia likes to be tall. She'd camp in stilettos.

"I can be myself here," said Anastasia, who takes biology and law courses at St. Petersburg College's Seminole campus. "There's always something to do or work toward."

Regional Girl Scouts CEO Kim Jowell, who high-fived girls walking off the bridge, said Scouting is education disguised as fun: Youngsters learn about financial literacy through selling cookies, history through stories told by the campfire.

"We started out as 'cookies, crafts and camps,' " Jowell said. "We've come so far from that. We're so much more than that."

The program evolves to keep up with modern, fast-paced girls, she said. But troop leaders' goals remain the same.

"It's a unique opportunity for them to be in a gender-specific environment, constantly experiencing new things," Jowell said. "They learn a lot about their community and give back to their community, and I don't think you can replace that experience."

At Coachman Park, 9-year-old Sophia Tuozzo hula-hooped in the grass.

By noon, the budding cross country runner — a Brownie whose Tampa troop meets twice monthly — had climbed a tree, crafted a miniature airplane and hugged a woman dressed as a gigantic daisy.

"I love it," Sophia said, adding her favorite Girl Scout memory "of all time" was sleeping near the tigers at Busch Gardens. "We have fun and try new things and get to be leaders."

Jackie Tuozzo, who trailed slightly behind her daughter, enrolled Sophia last year to build her daughter's people skills.

"She's more self-confident now, friendlier," Jackie said. "She tries new things and becomes more independent."

Above the crowds, singer Carolyn Cole performed the song Call Me, Maybe with a cluster of Scouts.

Hannah Gibbs, 16, of Valrico, kicked off her Puma shoes before rushing onstage.

She swayed to the beat, shook her half-shaven head and pumped a fist into the air during the chorus: "Hey, I just met you — and this is crazy!"

The pop anthem matched her day. At every station, as interests aligned, she made giddy new friends.

"Here's my number — So call me, maybe!"

Danielle Paquette can be reached at dpaquette@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4224.

Girl Scouts invade Clearwater 10/30/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 5:31pm]
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