Always for the girls: After 16 years, Girl Scout CEO Hallberg to step down
|Published: 10-16-2023 10:29 AM
HOLYOKE — Every decision Pattie Hallberg made as the top Girl Scout in western and central Massachusetts over the past 16 years has been with one thing in mind — empowering and honoring the thousands of girls who participate in its program each year.
So during the height of the pandemic, Hallberg, CEO of Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts, really wanted to give the Gold Award Girl Scouts their moment in the spotlight.
Normally, a Girl Scout Gold Award ceremony celebrates each girl who completes a community improvement project, from starting a compost program in town to educating others about ethical labor. It’s the highest honor a Girl Scout can receive, and Girl Scouts ensures the Gold Award ceremony is memorable: Each girl speaks on their experiences and receives their award in front of family and friends.
In the early days of the coronavirus, however, an in-person celebration like this was impossible without some creativity. That’s where Hallberg came in, organizing a socially distanced, tailgate-style Gold Award ceremony at the Northfield Drive-In Theatre where each Gold Award Girl Scouts’ face lit up the big screen. Early summer bugs swarmed the bright theater lights. The teenage girls and the Girl Scout staff brought out the disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer with each microphone pass. Social distancing obstructed every photo, but none of that mattered to Hallberg, because those girls had their moment in the spotlight.
Hallberg believes “you can’t ever do enough for girls and women,” and she’s led Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts for 16 cookie seasons with the resolve to help young girls find their confidence and independence. Now, she says it’s time for a change. At the end of the year, Hallberg will step down as CEO of the nonprofit that serves 5,000 girls in kindergarten through 12th grade in 186 communities behind the strength of 3,000 adult volunteers.
Among her accomplishments since joining the organization in 2008 are merging three different Girl Scout branches, opening two leadership centers, leading the organization through the pandemic and expanding STEM opportunities for young girls.
When Hallberg first joined the Girl Scouts organization, her advocacy needed to wait. She was brought on to merge three different Girl Scout councils: Girl Scouts of Montachusett Council, Girl Scouts of Pioneer Valley and Girl Scouts of Western Massachusetts. The merger was rocky at first as members and staff at each council operated differently and many did not want to band together.
“And so I thought, well, there’s three councils, we’re going to merge together, I have done mergers before, but they all have the same mission. And that’s about all they had that was similar,” Hallberg said. “So it was so surprising to me to see how different these three organizations were and to try and figure out, without having worked with or for any of them, what the best path was for bringing things together.”
Part of this process required a new home for staff and Girl Scout programs. During Hallberg’s time as CEO, Girl Scouts built two leadership centers to host Girl Scout programs and give staff a collaborative place to work. The Holyoke center, which opened in 2012, offered classrooms and meeting space for both troops and Girl Scouts staff. The Worcester building opened in six years later. According to the buildings’ developers Boholer, the newest center increased access to STEM equipment with 3-D printers, smartboards, robotics equipment, cameras and computer software for STEM education.
STEM education inspired Hallberg’s career change to advocating for young women. At her previous job as CEO Invent Now Kids, a branch of National Inventors Hall of Fame, the attendance of girls in STEM educational programs dwindled as the girls got older. Hallberg did some research and found that girls in fourth and fifth grade started losing confidence, but girls in an all-female environment were willing to pursue new hobbies and passions without fear.
“I believe that part of that is around gender specific programming, that girls when they are in an all-girl environment are more likely to raise their hand are more likely to try things whether it be science or whether it be getting on a horse or whether it be kayaking in a lake,” Hallberg said.
Girl Scouts sees the difference. Hallberg pointed to the annual “Geek is Glam” program, a STEM conference of workshops and demonstrations at the Worcester Polytechnical Institute, as an example of young women’s engagement with STEM. This year’s event, which took place on Saturday, has more than 360 girls signed up.
Hallberg said she’s very proud of the way both the staff and troops continued to bring in money and offer programs during the global pandemic. Girls got innovative with cookie sales, hosting drive-thrus and cookie stands on their lawn. Girl Scouts troop leaders taught scouts about online sales and no-contact delivery. Within two weeks of lockdown, the Girl Scouts staff and troops offered virtual programs.
“We got up online very fast with [Microsoft] teams and Zoom within two weeks,” said Dana Carnegie, communication manager at Girl Scouts of Central and Western Mass. “This was a time where we couldn’t get together in person, but really probably a time where the girls most needed that connection.”
Carnegie says she admires Hallberg’s willingness to participate in all aspects of Girl Scouts. Hallberg visits each of the six regions during the six weeks of cookie sales, where she visits cookie booths to talk to the girls. At a cookie stand in Palmer, she gave the scouts vintage vests. Hallberg hands out boxes of cookies on Friday nights at the Cookie Cupboard because the other staff members spend those hours with their families. As a personal touch, she writes notes on the cases she hands out. She is the last one to leave events like the culinary cookie creations event Fork it Over, cleaning napkins off tables.
“I feel like what’s very unique about Pattie is her willingness to participate in every aspect of everything that happens. So when it’s all hands on deck, it’s Pattie too,” Carnegie said.
Hallberg doesn’t know what’s next for her, but she leaves Girl Scouts hoping the corporation continues its gender-specific programs and continues to advocate for young girls and women.
“There’s the perception that women are not going to be able to hold up whatever it is that’s needed, and so women fall behind in the corporate world,” Hallberg said. “So that whole perception of what we can do is needs to be blown apart. In my opinion, that’s what I try and do.”
The regional board of directors has engaged a search firm to assist with the transition to a new leader.