One of every two women in the U.S. was a Girl Scout, according to estimates by Girl Scouts USA. The Girl Scouts – North Carolina Coastal Pines is counting on a lot of those women to help girls become Scouts and leaders.

“You can’t be something you haven’t seen,” says Rusine Mitchell Sinclair, who has served as the Raleigh-based council’s CEO since Aug. 1, 2007. “It’s so important for girls from all of our areas, whether major cities or rural areas, to have role models.”

Mitchell Sinclair credits her own experience as a Girl Scout in a small town in southern Illinois with helping to equip her for a corporate career that included 25 years at IBM, most recently as a vice president, corporate officer and senior state executive for North Carolina.

After retiring from IBM at age 55, she joined the Girls Scouts as CEO, two months before two councils based in Raleigh and Goldsboro merged to form the current council, which serves nearly 33,500 girls ages five to 17, as well as 10,000 volunteers.

In her five years as CEO, the council’s membership has grown 6 percent, while contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, which account for 10 percent to 12 percent of its $8.5 million annual budget, have grown 86 percent.

Now, as Mitchell Sinclair prepares to retire from the Scouts on Jan. 31, 2013, the Council is sponsoring a series of events and raising money as part of a $1 billion “To Get Her There” campaign by Girl Scouts USA for its 100th anniversary this year to boost equal representation of women in public and professional life over the next generation.

This year, for example, all 41 counties the Council serves have held local celebrations that included community partners, elected officials and donors, as well as service projects ranging from food drives and collections for local military bases to volunteer work for groups such as nursing homes and animal shelters.

The Council produced “At the Speed of a Girl,” an exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History that celebrates North Carolina women involved in the Scouts.

Operating with service centers in Raleigh, Goldsboro and Fayetteville, six camps and a full-time staff of 61 people, the Council generates 71 percent of its revenue from the sale of Girl Scout cookies, a entrepreneurial program for girls that grew 3 percent over the past year and in recent years has included a special effort that has donated over 1 million boxes of cookies to military troops.

The Council, which has adopted standardized leadership programs from Girls Scouts USA that provide girls with age-appropriate “journeys” focusing on advocacy, the environment and self-esteem, has launched initiatives that aim to boost high-school programs in science, technology, engineering and math.

It also has launched a Lego League robotics effort, with one team winning the innovation award in this year’s national competition, as well as a leadership camp it developed in partnership with the Women’s Leadership Council of United Way of the Greater Triangle and with local corporations and nonprofits.

And local Girls Scouts have been outspoken advocates, one attending a conference in Washington, D.C., , and visiting the White House, for example, on behalf of the Triangle-based National Inclusion Project, co-founded and chaired by Clay Aiken, that advocates for people with disabilities.

The Girl Scouts “is about women sharing their stories with girls,” and teaches them “social responsibility, volunteering, community and the value of community service,” as well as the opportunities that Scouting can lead to, Mitchell Sinclair says.

Those are lessons and opportunities, she says, “that you cannot not be exposed to and learn from if you’re a Girl Scout.”

(C) Philanthropy North Carolina