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A Message From Girl Scouts CEO Natasha Hemmings Re: Working Together to Keep Girl Scouts Healthy

Dear Girl Scouts,


We are witnessing history as the world and our nation respond to the COVID-19 (coronavirus). Like many of you, we have become increasingly concerned with how the evolving situation could affect our community. Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey (GSHNJ) is closely monitoring the COVID-19 updates from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the New Jersey Department of Health, for each of our seven counties and cities within our council boundaries. Please know that the health and well-being of our girls, volunteers, families, supporters and community partners continues to be our organization’s top priority. For some, this is a true short-term crisis. For those who are working on solutions, it is an opportunity for leadership.


At GSHNJ, we are unfortunately entering a season of program activities, our annual meeting, and volunteer recognition event just as the outbreak is forecasted to be spreading nationally. We will be active in managing our risks and ensuring our girls, volunteers, and staff stay safe while also keeping Girl Scouting vibrant and active.


Out of an abundance of caution and for the safety of council staff and our girl and adult members, beginning Monday, March 16, 2020, the council service centers and shops will be closed to external visitors and meetings through March 29th. We are expanding our virtual work capabilities for staff, and moving to a remote work from home reality. Although we don't anticipate a reduction in service levels, we ask that you be patient with us as we employ new tactics to ensure business continuity.


Now, as we have learned more about how best to protect our community, we have made the decision to cancel Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey council-sponsored programs, property reservations, trainings, activities, and events scheduled through March 31, 2020. The closure includes the cancellation of external partner events, council in-person trainings. GSHNJ will offer refunds to all cancelled programs through March 31 within 60 days. We will continue to evaluate the situation and make changes as we deem necessary for the safety of our members and council staff. We are currently evaluating council sponsored programs and events beyond March 31. Going forward, decisions to postpone, reschedule, and/or cancel any events will be made two weeks prior to each event and will be posted on our website at www.gshnj.org.


We recognize that this is a challenging time for our community, and that many of you will have questions about how this decision might affect the annual Girl Scout Cookie Program. We are actively working with GSUSA, along with Little Brownie Bakers, to provide support and alternative options for girls, troops, and Service Units. At GSHNJ, we have made the decision to suspend all cookie booths effective March 16th for the next two weeks and extend the Cookie Program through Sunday, May 17th. We will do our best to reschedule cookie booth dates or secure new cookie booth locations and dates to allow troops/girls to sell beyond current cookie season dates. We will share more product program news as more information becomes available.


  • March 17th ACH pull of 50% of the girl initial order will go as scheduled

  • April 7th ACH pull will be altered to accommodate the delay in booth sites — specific details to follow and a 3rd ACH pull date will be announced.

  • Booth sites will be extended until May 17th.

  • We strongly recommend to CANCEL booth sites for the next 2 weeks.

  • ALL cupboard orders pending pick up can be picked up until 7pm tonight (3/13) in North Branch and Montclair AND noon in Westfield

  • Cupboards will reopen at a later time to accommodate all orders not picked up and to allow our troops to fully take advantage of the extension.

  • Troops that rented tablecloths and costumes for this weekend are asked to keep the tablecloths and costumes until council reopens. Further instruction will be given at a later time. We ask that tablecloths and costumes come back cleaned to prevent contamination.

  • All tablecloth rentals and costumes for the next two weeks have been cancelled.


At GSHNJ, we are requiring troops to suspend all in-person meetings and partner events at the very least through March 31. While this suspension of activities includes your regular troop meetings, the opportunity to participate in “normal” activities and engage with one another will continue to be very important for girls, especially during this time of uncertainty for them. To keep girls actively engaged, consider creating take-home packets. Choose a badge, Journey, or patch program to work on individually and then host group discussion/sharing video conferences, or find a Facebook Live event to attend together.


You can also consider hosting online or virtual meetings. There are various tools to check into for virtual meetings and/or perhaps further engaging with council activities and other troops. We encourage troop co-leaders to look at these and alternative options and discuss with parents and girls to determine what the best solution is for your troop’s needs.


While we know that disruptions and cancellations are not ideal, this decision was reached based on our commitment to our community’s health and well-being. We ask for your patience, appreciate your commitment to each other, and everyone’s efforts to make the best of this tough situation.


Frankly, it is at times like these that they, and the world, need more Girl Scouting. Preventing the spread of illnesses is a team effort, and you can help as well. The best way you can prevent the spread of viruses is to keep your child or yourself at home when sick. Each person should stay home until they are vomit-free, diarrhea-free, and fever-free without any medicine for at least 24 hours. Other ways you can help prevent the spread of viruses include:


  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

  • Stay home when you are sick.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and throw the tissue away after use. If a tissue isn't available, cough or sneeze into your elbow or sleeve, not your hands.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

  • Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

  • Clean and disinfect doorknobs, switches, handles, computers, telephones, bedside tables, bathroom sinks, toilets, counters, toys, and other surfaces that are commonly touched around the home or workplace.

  • To the extent possible, avoid touching commonly used surfaces in public places like elevator buttons, door handles, and handrails, and avoid handshaking with people. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something.


Information is being updated regularly at the CDC and NJDH. Please refer to those organizations should you have additional questions about this or any other virus. Stay informed: check out these key websites for reliable information:


https://www.nj.gov/health/cd/topics/ncov.shtml


https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html


https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019


We will continue to monitor the situation and keep you up to date. We appreciate your support and assistance of our community as we work together for the well-being of all. Girls need community now more than ever. Here are a few ideas to make the best use of this unique societal experience:


  • Continue to meet, but do it virtually. Try meeting with Google Hangouts (it's free), FaceTime, or Facebook Live.

  • Review the GSUSA tip sheet on ”How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus.”


In the next few weeks, as more COVID-19 cases are reported, it is important to stay calm, reassure people that we are prepared, and continue to be actively vigilant in keeping our girls, volunteers, and staff safe as we lead through this moment.


Please note that this is a quickly evolving situation and we will update any changes to our recommendations and decisions daily.


Yours in Girl Scouting,

Natasha Hemmings | Chief Executive Officer



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