SALEM — When girls around the country celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Girls Scouts on March 12, a group of women in Salem will have a special claim to fame.
As far as they're aware, they're the only senior citizen "troop" of Girl Scouts in existence.
Although they don't earn badges and sell cookies, the dozen women, most in their 70s, have been meeting for the past seven years and doing community service as part of the Girl Scouts organization.
They volunteer at nursing homes and Salem Hospital, and they go camping every year — cooking outdoors and bunking in sleeping bags on mattresses on the floor.
Their oldest member is 84.
For them, it's a social outlet and a way to give back and help others.
"When you retire, the best thing in the world is to volunteer," Ruth Brennan said. "We bring goodwill. ... It's very fulfilling."
The group traveled to the Girl Scouts' 95th anniversary singalong in Washington, D.C., and they plan to return in June for the "Rock the Mall" singalong for the 100th anniversary.
That means three buses filled with Girl Scouts, ranging in age from 4 to 84, will go to D.C. from Salem for the celebration, said Nancy Nadeau, who serves as the leader of the senior Scouts.
They'll also be volunteering with younger Scouts at 100th anniversary festivities in Salem over the weekend of March 10.
Some of the women are longtime friends, and others joined after hearing about it from friends. Some, but not all, were Scouts as children.
Nadeau and Ruth Prentiss have been friends for more than 50 years and were in the same Scout troop — Salem's first Brownie troop, they say — as children.
Whenever a new person joins the group, they are treated to a lighthearted "induction" ceremony at Putnam Pantry in Danvers. For the most recent ceremony, the group ordered the store's specialty ice cream sundae with 17 scoops of ice cream.
Allison Rubin, media and public relations manager for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, said the Salem seniors are registered as adult volunteers with the Girl Scouts, but aren't an official "troop."
Technically, members are Girl Scouts while ages 5 to 17, Rubin said, and adults older than that are considered volunteers or alumni.
But that doesn't stop the Salem seniors from doing good work in the name of Girl Scouting. Earlier this year, they helped sort and organize a gym full of cases of cookies that Salem Girl Scouts had sold. Every fall, the group camps and does training with other adult Girl Scout leaders at a Girl Scout camp in Pelham, N.H.
Nadeau is also a troop leader for her granddaughter's Salem troop of Daisies, the youngest tier in the Girl Scout organization.
Barbara Costas said the concept of senior Girl Scouts is an "untapped reservoir."
"We have time," Costas said. "We're a group of people that want to do something, (and) there are a lot of things that need to be done. I can see it catching on. It's fun to volunteer with other people."
At a recent meeting, the women sorted cookies and made preparations for the upcoming 100th anniversary festivities in Salem. Plenty of laughter — and good-natured teasing — filled Nadeau's Orne Street home as the women worked and sampled the occasional cookie for "quality control."
Evelyn Lesch chuckled as she said her son tells her she has a more active social life, through Scouting, than he does.
"(Scouting) keeps us off the streets and out of the bars," said Eileen Runser, as the rest of the women collapsed into laughter.
Staff writer Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.
Salem's senior Girl Scouts
Barbara Costas, Ruth Prentiss, Loretta Delpero, Ruth Brennan, Jan Kerwin, Elsie Moynihan, Nancy Nadeau, Eileen Runser, Evelyn Lesch, Jackie Picanso, Joan Berry and Lillian Salvo
Girl Scouts 100th anniversary: Monday, March 12
In Salem, Girl Scouts and Scouting alumni will gather at the flag circle in front of the post office.
At 7:12 p.m. — in military time, 19:12, the year the Girl Scouts were founded — the group will sing songs and say the Girl Scout Promise, joining in with Scouts around the world.