Today’s FACE of Memphis is helping to provide leadership skills to young women across the MidSouth. Melanie Schild is a visionary leader who has used her innovative spirit to create and launch high-impact programs for women and girls on a national and local level. The CEO of Girl Scouts Heart of the South since 2014, she has elevated the organization’s relevance by transforming its culture to one of innovation. And she wants you to know that the Girl Scouts are about a lot more than cookies! It’s our pleasure to introduce today’s FACE of Memphis, Melanie Schild.
Where were you born and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in Franklin, TN. I was brought up to be resilient and self-reliant. I had a happy childhood full of pets. I was always bringing home strays and wild animals that were injured. My mom worked full-time, so I had to learn to cook and keep house at an early age. It made me feel as if I could do anything.
What brought you to Memphis, and why have you stayed?
I moved here when Kappa Delta Sorority and Foundation moved from Denver in 1992. I stayed because of the job and my wonderful family — and the awesome Memphis barbecue.
How did you get involved in the Girl Scouts?
In 1997, as the Kappa Delta Executive Director, I created a national partnership between the sorority and GSUSA. I became involved with the Greater Memphis Area Community Action Board during that time as well. I served as a volunteer for the organization for 17 years, including many years when I was the troop leader for both of my daughters.
What’s involved in being the CEO of the Girl Scouts Heart of the South?
As CEO, I act in partnership with the Board of Directors to achieve outcomes in all council functions and activities. I implement the corporate strategic plan’s short- to long-range objectives and actions needed to achieve the council’s goals. In addition, I ensure that diversity remains a core value within the council’s activities and functions, promoting opportunities for participation in every aspect of Girl Scouting. The CEO of any Girl Scout Council is the Chief G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ who sets the direction and pace of the council and ensures the overall health and sustainability of the organization.
Why should girls become Girl Scouts?
Girl Scouts has been around for more than 100 years, and it has become a national tradition. People think it’s all uniforms and camping, or maybe people don’t even think about Girl Scouts until they see cookie booths pop up in February. Well, camping and cookies are absolutely a reason to join, but there’s so much more to it than that.
It’s hard to even go into everything Girl Scouts can give you, because the opportunities are endless, and each leader, parent, girl and volunteer gets to design their own path. The most important thing to remember is that you’re part of something that builds girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.
Tell us about the National Stand Beside Her movement.
Created by Girl Scouts Heart of the South, the National Stand Beside Her Movement is a call-to-action initiative to mentor, support and develop women and girls, to end comparison and competition and create more collaboration and support for one another.
Since coming to Girl Scouts, you have started numerous leadership programs. Tell us about one or two of which you are most proud.
Stand Beside Her would be the first. I’m proud this came from the girls in our council and that we have been able to take it national and have the high level of commitment we receive from other councils and our national partners.
Stand Beside Her Memphis would be next. This is the local initiative that goes along with the national movement. This coalition was announced last September. It is the formation of multiple girl-serving organizations around the Greater Memphis Area including Hutchison School, St. Agnes School, National Association of Women Business Owners, Junior League, KIPP Memphis, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis. The idea for this movement came from the experiences that girls have in Girl Scouts. The fact is that most of a girl’s life is co-ed. But the emotional, girl-inclusive safe space offered by Girl Scouts, and most all-girl organizations, fosters collaboration instead of competition and promotes support among girls, enabling them to stretch beyond their limits and transfer valuable knowledge and skills to any environment, both now and in the future.
Why are leadership programs important for young girls in our community?
Women have always been the backbone of any community. It’s important for girls to see themselves as leaders, so they can see themselves addressing needs in our communities. They need to be resilient, able to deal with anything good or bad that life throws their way — such as a new job that’s stressful and requires a lot of energy or the loss of a spouse or family member. Girls need to have more opportunities to become hearty and understanding leaders not only in their family but also in their community, state, nation and around the globe.
Prior to joining the Girls Scouts, you were Executive Director of Kappa Delta Sorority and Kappa Delta Foundation, Inc. Tell us about that.
At 25 years old, I was one of the youngest executive directors of a $17 million company. During my tenure, I created national partnerships — including the ones with Girl Scouts of USA, International Women’s Friendship Month, International Girls’ Day and the Confidence Coalition. I was there for 23 years and during that time got to see many young women go on and accomplish great things in their lives.
What are your top three words of advice on leadership?
Believe in yourself. Believe in others. Never be afraid to take a risk.
What is the first place you take out-of-towners when they visit you?
The Germantown Commissary and a trip to Beale Street
Finish this sentence: If I had a superpower, it would be …
… to help people not worry about their future.
What is something people might be surprised to know about you?
I won a biscuit-making contest in fourth grade.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
My daughters are my greatest and proudest accomplishment. They are growing up to be great young women, and I’m so thrilled to have been part of their lives and have them as a part of mine.
What is your best piece of advice?
Learn to laugh at yourself, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Diet Coke, a good book and laughter
Thank you, Melanie, for being such a positive role model and influence for young women. And thank you to Mary Kate Steele for these beautiful photos! To learn more about Girl Scouts Heart of the South, visit girlscoutshs.org.
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