Girl Scouts sit around the faux fire pit in the new DreamLab’s outdoor-focused area. Photos by NolaVid.

A new, state-of-the-art Girl Scouts facility is helping to reignite the spark for local girls

Cookies are indisputably the first thing people think of when they think of Girl Scouts. But, second—and even more fundamental, one might argue—is a campfire.

Long before scouts were slinging boxes of cookies, they were gathering around a fire, sharing stories and sometimes s’mores. The wholesome image goes beyond surface level, though. The flame of the fires set by the girls themselves as part of their wilderness training signify the spark within that is fanned by the Girl Scouts program, which, since its founding in 1912, has put its focus on empowering girls to dream big.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that when the organization was imagining what would be included in a new “experience center” concept to be rolled out to councils across the country, it was a no-brainer that some version of a campfire would be included. And, at the center of Girl Scouts Louisiana East’s newly opened DreamLab, the second of its kind in the nation, is a faux fire pit, complete with LED coals and a flickering flame.

The updated take on the classic campfire is just the start of the innovative touches at the facility that speaks to the past, present and future of Girl Scouts. There’s a space for STEM experiments. There’s a stage for performances. A tent for pitching. And, even a sound-proof booth for making podcasts, music and videos.

Girl Scouts Louisiana East CEO Rebecca Pennington (center in blue) cuts the ceremonial ribbon to signify the opening of the DreamLab on August 5.

“The spaces within the DreamLab are all to support each of Girl Scouts’ four pillars: life skills, entrepreneurship, outdoors and STEM,” explains Girl Scouts Louisiana East CEO Rebecca Pennington. “The facility just screams all things Girl Scouts, and every aspect is meant to engage the girls and give them new opportunities.”

Sensors in the floors give Pennington’s team information about where girls are spending the most time, and spaces can be reserved online by troops for special activities and events. Girl Scouts Louisiana East plans to host its own programs to bring together girls from different troops on Saturdays. But the facility also plays a vital role in the growth of the organization, which has seen stagnating enrollment in recent years.

“Girls have so many activities to choose from, especially around fifth and sixth grades,” Pennington says, noting the goal is to set Girl Scouts apart. “Not only is the DreamLab just a place that girls will want to go in and explore, but we have kiosks for girls and their parents to get information and connect with someone on our team directly.”

A young scout tries out the DreamLab’s podcast studio.

In addition to the new facility, though, Pennington notes that her team, and other Girl Scouts councils across the country, are working on other ways to enhance the Girl Scout experience. Access to cutting edge equipment and programming is a start, but emphasizing the hard work and ambition of the organization’s members, especially Gold Award winners who are honored with the group’s highest rank for their dedication to making the world a better place, is essential to motivating other girls to aspire toward similar goals. In doing so, they are fanning the flame of future generations, just as Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low worked to do over 100 years ago.

“Being a Girl Scout prepares girls for a fully rounded life experience,” Pennington explains. “It prepares them to be the leaders of tomorrow; to have a voice and know how to use it. And that’s something we should celebrate.