Girl Scouts of Citrus prepares to open Florida’s 1st dedicated women’s history, cultural center

Project will host soft-opening events in May

The Girl Scouts of Citrus plans to open a Women's History and Cultural Center at their downtown Orlando office this year. This space is still being renovated. (Girl Scouts of Citrus Council)

ORLANDO, Fla. – March is dedicated to Women’s History Month, and the Girl Scouts of Citrus will honor women in a special way this year.

Maryann Barry, the chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Citrus Council, said the team looks forward to opening the Women’s History and Cultural Center at the Girl Scouts office in Orlando. She said this is a historic time to reach this project milestone, as 2022 marks 110 years of the Girl Scouts organization.

“It’s very important for people to understand that the Women’s History and Cultural Center, which is owned by Girl Scouts of Citrus and embedded in our downtown footprint, is intended to be a public-facing facility,” Barry explained. “It’s where we want our community to gather to celebrate women in history, to celebrate women’s contributions to history and culture, not only here in Central Florida, but across the state and across the globe.”

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This center will put a significant and unique mark on the city of Orlando, Barry said.

“We’re particularly proud that this Women’s History and Cultural Center is the first dedicated women’s history and cultural center in the state of Florida and one of only a handful in the nation,” Barry said. “We’re really excited about that for our home community of Orlando and what we think that means to cultural tourism circuit here.”

Chief Executive Officer of Girl Scouts of Citrus Council Maryann Barry accepts a hardhat from a Girl Scout at the groundbreaking of the Women's History and Cultural Center on March 12, 2020. (Girl Scouts of Citrus Council)

Once the center opens, exhibits will rotate and be linked to monthly celebrations, such as featuring women from the Hispanic community during Hispanic Heritage Month or women in STEM fields during Engineering Month.

“There’s museums and spaces dedicated to individual women across the country. There are times where museums will have a specialized exhibit about a particular woman’s contributions or group of women’s contributions. The beauty here is that this will celebrate all women,” she said.

While this project has been a long time coming, the organization will keep making strides to encourage a more equal and inclusive community.

“When this vision began 10 years ago, our vision started out with thinking about a Girl Scout Museum and very quickly escalated to what, what could we do with the space that we have,” Barry said. “To create something much larger, to create that space to celebrate women from across generations and the contributions that they’ve made and the ones that are going to be made.”

Barry said while many of the women featured will be former Girl Scouts, highlighting the achievements of selected women goes beyond the fact that many of them were Girl Scouts.

“We are actually creating women’s history by creating this space,” Barry said. “This space that will actually highlight women who have made amazing and very public achievements and women whose achievements may not have been public, but have really moved the needle of progress for their communities.”

This space was designed not only as an inspiration for the women leaders of the next generation but for every person who wants to make a difference.

“We are proud to offer this,” Barry said. “We feel it is definitely our place to offer this to our community based on our own 110-year history of developing women leaders who make a difference in our society.”

Despite numerous setbacks with the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues, Barry said they never gave up or backburned the project. The groundbreaking took place on March 12, 2020, and they had to close their doors that same day.

“We actually took advantage of the learnings that COVID was offering,” Barry explained. “We expanded the space instead of building out new, we renovated our second floor and added in 3,000 more square feet that we could use for the space.”

The groundbreaking for the Women's History and Cultural Center took place on March 12, 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic changed construction plans. (Girl Scouts of Citrus Council)

When the archive team approached Barry with the idea for a women’s center, she knew they had to see it through.

“The imperative behind this vision and behind this dream to create this center really took on a life of its own,” she said. “It became truly a mission-driven ideal to create this space for our current and future members and for our community.”

Barry embraces her role as the female CEO of Citrus Council and surrounds herself with women and men who are committed to making the world a better place.

“Being a part of Girl Scouts and being a part of bringing this vision to fruition is very much a gift for me, as a woman who believes by learning from the past, we build the future,” she said.

Barry’s passion as she leads this project relates to what she wants people to understand about the contributions made by women. One of the takeaways is that it’s also a place for men and boys to learn about the women who have been foundational in society.

“We don’t think of this space as just a women’s space, though,” Barry said. “We know that it takes both genders to drive progress.”

She added that this center will embody all the core values the Girl Scouts mission stands for.

“One of our greatest assets which I think we bring to the community is building the leaders of the next generation and building the entrepreneurs of the next generation,” Barry said. “Ensuring that the girls that we work within Girl Scouting are imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit is very important to us. And we’re actually walking the walk and not just talking the talk by having a greater entrepreneurial spirit and adventure in building this Women’s History and Cultural Center.”

People will be able to engage in hands-on experiences, artifacts, exhibitions and educational lessons of American history in this space. The center will also support school field trips, Girl Scout Troops, and host various civic groups’ events.

In May, there will be a series of soft openings for the community to enjoy. A grand opening is scheduled for October to coincide with Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low’s birthday.

Barry said she and her team are excited to see the community’s reactions to this center as they learn about women’s history.

“History is so much more than about what happened and who did it,” Barry said. “History is about impact, history is about what do we learn from the bravery and the gumption and the innovation of those who came before us. And if we can inspire girls, in particular for this Women’s History and Cultural Center, as well as the women, men and boys of our Central Florida community and beyond, then we will have done exactly what we intended to do when we began the road to make this vision a reality.”

Girl Scouts pose for a photo at the groundbreaking of the Women's History and Cultural Center on March 12, 2020. (Girl Scouts of Citrus Council)

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Brittany joined in January 2022.