For more than 100 years, Girl Scouts has built girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place.
This is my personal Girl Scouts story.
My name is Jennifer Knight, and I’m a leader. I chair the Board of Directors for the Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians, and am employed as a Senior Counsel at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, TN.
I was born in Chicago, the fourth of six children. We moved to New York City before I was in fourth grade, and although we looked like a “normal” middle-class family – we were not. My mother was an alcoholic. When you live with an alcoholic parent, you deal with tremendous inconsistency. Some days are fairly normal, and other days are extremely hectic and chaotic. You come home from school, and don’t know which mom you will encounter: the sober, nice mom or the drunken, angry mom.
Just when you’d start to think that the sober, nice mom was here to stay, the drunken, angry mom would rear her ugly head. When I was 12, my parents divorced, my mom went back to Chicago, and all six kids lived with our dad. In 1973, few children had parents who were divorced, and certainly none were in their father’s custody.
Before seventh grade, we moved to Atlanta, and a new friend invited me to join her Girl Scouts troop. I had been a Girl Scout in the past, so this sounded like a good idea to me. The troop became my safe haven. It was the space where words and actions were consistent and respectful, and where goals included plans and perseverance towards them. It’s where I – and all the girls in my troop – mattered.
A young but longtime Girl Scout whose camp name was Ginger was our leader, and she was awesome! Although she didn’t ask for specific details about my family situation, she was close enough to know that my family life wasn’t “normal.” I eventually told her the story of my family, and she listened with tears in her eyes, and then hugged me and told me she loved me. She told me I was strong and smart, and would overcome this and other obstacles in life.
Our troop was active in the great outdoors: we hiked, camped, backpacked, sailed, and water skied. We set goals, sold Girl Scout cookies, and did other fundraisers so we could take a trip to Walt Disney World! It wasn’t just the experiences that impacted me, but the way in which we did them. There were no empty promises, we were responsible for what we said and did, and there was consistency with our words and actions.
For example, after successfully completing several hikes, we began researching and planning our first backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, up Springer Mountain in north Georgia. It rained tremendously on the first night and I got soaked to the bone. I expected to be reprimanded or made fun of, but instead my troop worked to find me some dry clothes. I hiked down the mountain in long underwear with a blanket wrapped around me, while others took turns carrying my backpack. I learned that perseverance and good friends are important, and that failure is not the end of the world.
Another pivotal experience with my troop happened at Georgia Tech, while we helped host an event on campus. I was a high schooler who loved chemistry and math, and I fell in love with the atmosphere. I knew this was where I wanted to go to college.
We moved to Knoxville before my senior year of high school, and then I went to the University of Tennessee (not Georgia Tech) and earned a degree in chemical engineering. I earned a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Massachusetts. I also got married in the middle of my undergraduate career, and had our first child, Johanna, in the middle of graduate school. I went to work at Eastman as an engineer, when our second son, James, was born.
Girl Scouts was such an important and positive part of my life growing up that I became a Girl Scout troop leader for Johanna’s troop. I was a troop leader for 13 years, following girls from kindergarten through their senior year. Seven girls from my troop even earned the Gold Award, the highest individual award in Girl Scouts.
Then, at 42, I found myself wondering what my true skills were, what I enjoyed doing, and what my long-term goals were. It was with confidence learned through Girl Scouts that I made the decision to leave Eastman and go to law school at the University of Tennessee. I was somewhat taken aback when friends and colleagues commented that my plans were courageous. Eastman granted me an educational leave of absence, and rehired me as a patent attorney upon graduation from law school.
I have thoroughly enjoyed growing in my legal career at Eastman. As Senior Counsel, I’ve had the opportunity to lead and consult on several projects, to speak at professional organizations, and to mentor new attorneys. Eastman also encourages its leaders to be active in their communities, and they’ve thoroughly supported my volunteer work with Girl Scouts. I’ve served on the board development committee, as a director at large, and as secretary of the board prior to serving as chair. My goal is to always be a woman of courage, confidence, and character who makes the world a better place.
I’m honored to serve in this role and am committed to making Girl Scouts accessible to every girl – no matter who she is or where she lives. If you agree, and if you believe that Girls Matter! I invite you to join our cause. Girls need Girl Scouts now more than ever before!