Rande Bynum, CEO, Girl Scouts of Nassau County, said part of...

Rande Bynum, CEO, Girl Scouts of Nassau County, said part of the $1.8 million donation will go toward expanding the “Traveling Trefoil” van program launched last year. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

MacKenzie Scott, who helped ex-husband Jeff Bezos build Amazon, has donated $1.8 million to the Girl Scouts of Nassau County, the largest gift in the council’s 104-year history, said council CEO Rande Bynum.

The gift, announced Tuesday by Girl Scouts of the USA, is part of an $84.5 million donation from Scott to the Girl Scout movement, including the national office and 29 of the 111 councils nationwide, Bynum said. It follows gifts Scott has bestowed on other youth organizations, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the National 4-H Council.

Sofia Chang, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, called the gift a vote of confidence that will help the organization as a whole recover from the impact of the pandemic, when Scouts could not meet in person. Membership dropped nearly 30%, from about 1.4 million in 2019-2020 to just over 1 million in 2021-2022. 

Nassau County's Bynum said "not only did I scream, I cried" when she learned that Nassau County would be a recipient. “To hear someone say, on the other end of the phone, ‘We want you to have the opportunity to continue your meaningful work’ and for it to be unrestricted and at my discretion to do something good with this money, it’s what every nonprofit leader dreams of,” Bynum said. 

The Nassau council plans to use the money to improve access for all girls and to increase its innovation and diversity efforts over the next three years, Bynum said. Specific plans include bolstering mental health, sports activities and civic engagement of girls; focusing on 10 communities that have seen either drastic membership decline or potential for growth, such as Port Washington, Glen Cove, Roosevelt and Freeport; launching a “Bubbles & Bridges” program for middle-school girls, encouraging them to get out of their bubbles to connect with people who may not look the same as them; and expanding the “Traveling Trefoil” van program that launched last year by opening storefront brick-and-mortar locations that will allow for foot-traffic participation in Girl Scouting, Bynum said.

The council is focusing efforts on diversity because the percentage of Scouts from different demographics doesn’t reflect the percentage of that overall demographic in the county, Bynum said. For instance, 14% of Nassau County girls are Black, but 5% of the Girl Scout membership is; 23% of county girls are Hispanic, but 10% of the Girl Scout membership is, she said. “We are diverse, but we can do better,” Bynum said.

Bynum said she does not know why Nassau County was selected to receive funding. Girl Scouts of the USA also does not know what criteria were used, said Rebecca Moeller, vice president of communications for Girl Scouts of the USA.

"The selection criteria has not been made public or been shared with us, but we're very grateful for the support," Moeller said. Girl Scouts of Suffolk County is not a recipient, Moeller noted.

Bynum said she was alerted to the gift in May, but had to keep it secret. When she first got an email asking her to call the organization that helps Scott with donations, Bynum thought it was suspicious spam and didn’t respond.

“It’s a funny story,” Bynum said. It wasn’t until the Girl Scouts’ nationwide CEO emailed Bynum and told her it was real that Bynum made the call.

“As soon as the M comes out of her mouth for the donor’s name, I realize what’s happening. I thought, ‘Even if we got $100,000 it would make a big difference.’ Then she says 1.8 million dollars,” Bynum said.

The Nassau council’s annual budget is $7.5 million. The extra money enables Bynum to fulfill some of the council’s dream goals, Bynum said.

With AP

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