Approximately 1,100 Girl Scouts ages 5 to 17 and hailing from 23 parishes in southeast Louisiana, accompanied by unit leaders and parents, gathered on the campus of Southeastern Louisiana University on Saturday to celebrate the beginning of another year of Scouting at what planners dubbed The B.I.G. Event, with the capital letters standing for “Believe in Girls.”

The Girl Scouts were treated to more than 40 displays and demonstrations covering a variety of disciplines designed to inform the young visitors about the multiple opportunities that exist for girls to explore. Many of the offerings were geared to suggest possible career tracks for the Girl Scouts, especially the older ones.

Marianne Addy, vice president of communications and marketing for Girl Scouts Louisiana East, sponsor of the event, said the special day was designed “as a way of showing girls that they can be anything that they want to be.”

She said the emphasis of The B.I.G. Event was to expose girls to science, technology, engineering, math, healthy and safe living, a love of the outdoors and leadership development.

The emphasis on learning leadership roles was presented to the Girl Scouts by keynote speaker Yolanda Moore, head women’s basketball coach at SLU. Moore told the assembled group to “always believe in yourself and have dreams.

“Don’t be afraid to have big dreams,” Moore said. “As you move through your lives, you will be faced with many challenges, and I encourage you to accept those challenges because they will make you a stronger woman.”

Moore told the Girl Scouts that leadership comes from knowing how to work with others and how to work as a team. “Don’t be afraid to shoot for high standards. The more you put of yourself into what it is you want to be, the more successful you will be. Go for it, girls,” she said.

Members of Moore’s basketball team led the Girl Scouts in spirited chants to close out the opening session.

Addy said the many demonstrations and lectures were chosen to be relevant to Girl Scouts and to show the girls “the limitless possibilities of things to explore, learn about and possibly suggest a lifelong career.”

She said Girl Scouts Louisiana East had tremendous support from the many businesses, nonprofit groups and government-related agencies that agreed to set up demonstrations or offer instructional sessions.

September was chosen as the time for The B.I.G. Event, Addy said, because many Girl Scout groups align their main activities around the school year.

“Girl Scouting is a year-round experience, with camps being the main activity in the summers, but the traditional school year is when most Scouting groups are most active,” she said.

Addy said this year’s B.I.G. Event attracted more participants than in previous years. She said the success of the day shows that young women are still interested in Girl Scouts and membership is growing in the area.

“The challenge is to constantly make Scouting relevant, and that’s part of why we are holding this special day,” she said.

Addy said the need for adult volunteers to serve as leaders is a constant, adding, “if we have the leaders, we can continue to grow our organization.”

Dawn Allen, a staff member in the New Orleans office of Girl Scouts Louisiana East, said The B.I.G. Event was a “real treat” for the Scouts and said she particularly was interested in the Badge Tracker facet of the day’s activities. Girl Scouts earn various merit badges as they progress through the ranks of Scouting, and each new badge is a sign of achievement for the girls.

Girls seeking merit badges in 10 different categories were directed toward demonstrations or lectures that could assist them in gaining the knowledge needed to earn a specific badge. For example, those seeking to fulfill requirements for the Safety Award were directed to visit the Red Cross and Louisiana State Police stations.

Besides the many displays covering a wide variety of topics, the girls had the opportunity to hear presentations from successful women on the collegiate level. Among the speakers were Emily Randon, Miss Southeastern; Tyron’e Hawkins, World’s Glamorous Miss Louisiana; and Si-Arah McCray, Miss Black and Gold. The trio discussed making healthy choices, pursuing an active lifestyle and gaining self-confidence.

Other offerings on a stage in the University Center, the main venue for the day’s activities, were music lessons and performance opportunities presented by Guitar Center, a martial arts demonstration from ATA Martial Arts of Denham Springs, a demonstration by the national award-winning robots program at Hammond High Magnet School and entertainment by the Mariner Alumnae Singers.

A number of presenters said they enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the Girl Scouts and share some knowledge with them. Jason Denday, a senior master in martial arts, patiently explained to his revolving audience the values of focus, discipline and dedication that can be learned through martial arts.

Jordan McCormick, of St. Amant, had a popular chore during The B.I.G. Event: She was tasked with tending to a gentle horse name Sally. A steady stream of young Girl Scouts took turns petting Sally and other horses brought from Girl Scout Camp Marydale for The B.I.G. Event.

A popular place for the young girls to visit was the demonstration area manned by hair stylists and beauty experts from Aveda of Covington. A group of volunteer hairdressers treated a seemingly never-ending stream of girls to a quick hairstyle.

Pam Posster, a volunteer with the Baton Rouge Zoo, drew considerable attention showing her live, nonpoisonous snake to the not-so-timid. Many girls didn’t hesitate to stroke and pet the snake. The zoo’s demonstration table was covered with many interesting items related to animals.

At a demonstration manned by volunteers, young Scouts were given white lab coats to wear while they experimented with an array of medical testing equipment. Among those presenting the demonstration was Shannon Washington, who said she enjoyed teaching the girls about medical testing and safety measures related to the medical field.

Addy said the day was planned so “there was something for everyone” at The B.I.G. Event.