At age 6, Rusine Mitchell Sinclair became a Brownie in her hometown of Benton, Ill.

"In those days, there just weren’t many opportunities for girls," she says. "Girl Scouting was an opportunity for girls, not only to associate with other girls, but to learn leadership skills, be outdoors, and learn skills they otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn."

Today, as the new CEO of the Girl Scouts — North Carolina Coastal Pines, based in Raleigh, Mitchell Sinclair aims to offer that same opportunity to girls and adults in 41 counties in central and eastern North Carolina.

Formed through the merger of the Goldsboro-based Girls Scout Council of Coastal Carolina and the Raleigh-based Pines of Carolina Girl Scout Council, the new council serves over 32,000 girls ages 5 to 17.

Delivering a broad range of programs and services is a staff of 70 people and a volunteer corps of over 9,800 adults.

A core program of the Girl Scouts, generating two-thirds of the council’s $6.9 million annual budget, is its annual sale of cookies, designed to help girls learn business skills, goal-setting and how to approach people, sell and keep track of sales, Mitchell Sinclair says.

The council operates four residential camps and two other camps, and provides programs focusing on health and wellness, life skills, sports and athletics, culture and leadership, world affairs and career opportunities.

Mitchell Sinclair says the merger should make scouting even more accessible than the traditional settings and non-traditional locations in which it already is offered, including the N.C. Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh, Boys & Girls Clubs, federal housing neighborhoods, migrant camps and American tribal council houses.

The council, for example, aims to enlist civic groups, sororities and teachers to adopt troops, and to recruit men as volunteers as well as women.

"A myth is that our volunteers are all women," Mitchell Sinclair says.

The council also has put all its volunteer training programs online, and aims to equip volunteer leaders and girls throughout the region with podcasts containing the council’s programs.

Electronic delivery of training and programs will be more efficient, reach more girls and make scouting more attractive, Mitchell Sinclair says.

She also aims to dispel the "myth" that girls must join the Scouts when they are young, and that volunteering is for women only.

"We have opportunities for anybody at any age," Mitchell Sinclair says.

The council also aims to diversify its funding base so cookie sales do not represent such a large share of revenue.

To do that, the council plans to raise more money from alumni, and is working with the Girl Scouts USA to develop an alumni database.

The council also is planning a comprehensive fundraising effort likely to involve a range of strategies, including its annual family partnership fundraising, which generates $50,000 a year, and to address capital and endowment needs, Mitchell Sinclair says.

She says skills she learned as a scout, including leadership, self-confidence and service to people and customers, have helped her in a business career that included 25 years at IBM, most recently as a corporate officer and senior state executive for North Carolina.

And she has reinvested in the Girl Scouts as a parent volunteer and board member business skills she developed in her professional career, she says.

After retiring from IBM at age 55, she says, she was looking for work in the nonprofit world.

Nonprofits provide an important "safety net for people," she says.

And the Girls Scouts, a well-run and autonomous business with solid core of alumni and popular product in its cookies, seemed like a perfect fit when, as a board member, she was approached about becoming CEO, she says.

Now, she says, she wants to make sure girls get the same opportunities she found in the Girl Scouts.

After junior high, she says, she left the scouts because the local council could not find enough adult volunteers in her small, rural town.

"I just didn’t have a chance to continue in scouting because there was no one there to provide adult leadership," she says. "I want to make sure everyone has that in the 41 counties we serve."