Just like a Samoas or a Thin Mint, Girl Scouts of Nassau County CEO Rande Bynum ‘94 has come full circle.
Bynum, who earned her Master of Social Work degree at Stony Brook, assumed her current role in November 2017, bringing her back to the organization where she started her career as a director of Program and Adult Development in 1996. Since leaving GSNC in 2001 for a job with Girl Scouts of the USA, Bynum has also worked for Sesame Workshop, Scholastic Books and her own consultancy, where she worked with a roster of clients that included the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Jim Henson Company and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. She also serves on the Junior Board of Directors of the National “I Have a Dream” Foundation.
What’s it been like coming back to Girl Scouts of Nassau County after 17 years? Is there a familiarity that makes it easy, or have things changed so much that it’s like going to a completely new office?
Both. I was here almost 20 years ago; 17 years ago, I left, and went on to our national office, GS-USA. One of the great things is that there’s still some folks, both volunteers and staff, that are still here, and so it made it warm and refreshing and like home. At the same time, there’s a lot of new folks here doing a lot of new things, and the movement has changed a lot. It’s definitely more connected nationally, which is great to see, and then we’re in an updated building and have updated technology, which makes our work more efficient and easier to do.
One of the best things about being back is that the young women I worked with 17 years ago are now in their 30s. I have bumped into about a dozen of them as the new CEO, and I’m very happy to see the women that they’ve become and the impact that I had on their lives, and more important, that Girl Scouts had on their lives all those years ago. Some of them are teachers, one is an athletic trainer, another owns her own business. Some of them are volunteers and troop leaders, so that’s been the most exciting thing: to see these women, who were girls when I worked here before, as women in the community.
Does having worked with your predecessor at GSNC, Donna Ceravolo, inform how you lead at all?
It does help a bit, just knowing her and her legacy, and that she left me this great team to work with has been really helpful. I did meet with her recently, and she passed on some words of wisdom, which was great. The few months I did work with her — and then I went to the national organization, so Nassau was one of the councils that I got to communicate with from the national office — I respect her, and I’m excited to see what she’s done to help this council grow so much.
I know that GSNC puts a lot of emphasis on getting out into underserved communities. Is that someplace where your social work degree from Stony Brook really comes into play?
Yes, and it’s something that’s really near and dear to me, just making sure that all girls have opportunities to experience Girl Scouts. I recently went to Prospect School in Hempstead for a lunchtime Girl Scout program, where staff comes in and implements Girl Scouts. There were Daisy Girl Scouts, and it was their first day, so how excited were they? I said to the team that having them raise their right hand was a huge undertaking — to get everyone to raise their right hand at the same time — but bigger than that was helping them understand that they’re part of this larger network of girls across the country, and the history of Girl Scouts. One of the things that we’re trying to make an effort on moving forward is to make sure that we are reaching communities that are not participating and letting them know the value of the Girl Scout experience, and helping remove any barriers that they might have to participating. That is one thing that is “top of list” for me.
What would you say a typical day looks like for you? Is there such a thing?
The best thing about this job is that there’s not a typical day. The day can be anything. Today, I met with a young woman who’s working on her master’s degree and wants to do something on the history of Girl Scouts. I also met with our finance committee this morning. This afternoon, I’m going to meet with some girls who are some of our top cookie sellers, and then I’m also going to meet with a small team about summer camp. The day just changes, and the best thing is that every day, at the core of all the work we do is the girls. Whether we’re talking about camp or talking about our audit, we’re talking about how we’re best going to serve the girls in this community.
We’re about to celebrate our 100th anniversary in Nassau County, so now everything that we talk about is not only about the girls, but it’s about how this will tie to making the county and New York aware that we’ve been here for 100 years, and that we’re one of the largest youth-serving organizations in Nassau County. We’re talking about how contemporary we are now, and the variety of programs that we offer for girls today, as opposed to our first troop in 1918 in Lynbrook, and how far we’ve come to reach over 17,000 girls in the county.
How would you define the influence that Stony Brook has had on your career?
I probably can be quoted once a week saying that MSWs are the most underrated, most used degrees out there. I use my degree from Stony Brook every day, from organizational management to understanding research and administration, to the people skills that I have, the problem-solving…I think my experience at Stony Brook was more applicable to my day-to-day life and to being a leader than my undergrad degree. I commuted; I drove back and forth to Stony Brook a couple of times a week, and the friends and colleagues that I made from that experience, and the classes that I took impact me every day in all the work that I did.
My first round here at Girl Scouts of Nassau County was when I was only a few years out of grad school, so literally everything that I did — instilling an evaluation process for young women to be able to give feedback to their programs to working with graphic designers to make sure that our program content looked fresh and clean and new and valuable — all of that came from Stony Brook, and it’s nice to see that a lot of things that I implemented are still in effect now. Stony Brook has played a huge part of my life.
Between Girl Scouts, Sesame Workshop and Scholastic, you’ve spent the majority of your career in organizations that primarily serve young people. Was that something you always knew you wanted to do?
Yes, from undergrad and graduate school. In fact, when I was at Stony Brook, I was a troop leader in Hempstead. A classmate, her niece was a Brownie, and like a lot of times, they needed leadership. I also worked my second year, placement, in the MSW program, was at the middle school in Hempstead, working with eighth graders. This is what I’ve done; I don’t know anything else. Even when I’m not doing this, I’m still doing this.
And, I have to ask…favorite cookie flavor?
I just met with a little girl yesterday and we had a debate about this. My favorite is Samoas, the coconut and caramel cookie, but I’m good for some Thin Mints out of the freezer. You really can’t beat a Thin Mint from the freezer. Working here, I always have a stash in my freezer.
— Elliot Olshansky