In the face of skepticism, AmeriCorps Ally Ebony Butts organized a Girl Scout troop in an often-shunned neighborhood of Cincinnati. Then something amazing happened…
You can see Cincinnati’s glimmering downtown skyline from Lower Price Hill. But the tucked away neighborhood of about 2,000 people can feel like a world away from downtown’s fancy office towers.
Lower Price Hill has a reputation as a place with high unemployment, rampant drug abuse, and growing poverty. The average family income here is only $15,000 a year. So when Ebony Butts, an AmeriCorps Ally who grew up a couple miles away, began telling people she was going to found a new Girl Scout troop in Lower Price Hill, many simply couldn’t see the point of it.
“They’d tell me, ‘I don’t know if the girls there will be interested,’” Ebony says. “I couldn’t believe what they were saying! I’ve never met any girl who wouldn’t be interested in something like this.”
In spite of the skepticism, Ebony moved forward and organized Troop 49632. But they soon faced a daunting dilemma. Most parents didn’t have money to pay for the girls to go to camp, so if they wanted to go, they needed to raise the money themselves. Ebony did the math: They needed to sell 1,500 boxes of cookies.
Again, Ebony was met with skepticism that they could succeed in selling so many cookies. And again, driven by her deep optimism, she vowed to make it happen no matter the odds. She wasn’t, after all, going to let the girls down.
“There is a lot of false hope in Lower Price Hill and East Price Hill,” Ebony says. “People say we’re going to do this and that. And then you’re waiting for it to happen and it never happens.”
Ebony began telling everyone about the girls in Lower Price Hill’s Girl Scout troop. And she started selling those cookies.
News of the project soon reached Sherry Coolidge, a reporter with the Cincinnati Enquirer who happened to be in the neighborhood. Sherry reached out to Ebony to talk. “She was such an awesome person,” says Ebony. “I was elated to have someone who really cared about what we were trying to achieve for these girls and this neighborhood.”
A few days later, the Cincinnati Enquirer featured their story on the cover of their Sunday issue, followed by more coverage in their online sections. When Ebony came to work at Community Matters, where she was placed as an AmeriCorps Ally, on the Monday morning after the story broke, she encountered “the best melee I’ve ever seen in my life… it was just bananas, the most beautiful thing ever.”
What she experienced were a flood of incoming emails and phone calls from all over Cincinnati — and from as far away as Louisiana, Nevada, New York, and North Carolina — all wanting to buy Girl Scout cookies.
Ebony’s boundless and inspiring energy, her determination, and the commitment of the girls and parents of Lower Price Hill to make the troop a success, led them to sell more than 5,000 boxes of cookies.
For the girls and parents of the Lower Price Hill Girl Scout Troop 49632, Ebony’s efforts sparked rare expressions of community pride among residents.
“Before this, any time Lower Price Hill was brought up in the news, it would be for something negative,” says Ebony. “And we gave them something to be proud of. The neighbors, parents, and folk who live there, I’ve started to hear them say, ‘It’s good to see the girls have something to do, it’s nice to see girls in the newspaper.’”
“Slowly,” Ebony continues, “with the aid of the Girl Scout Troop, people will stop seeing Lower Price Hill as just a violent place you don’t want to live in.”
For her amazing leadership, and for reflecting the mission and values of Public Allies, Ebony was presented in August with Public Allies’ inaugural Ally Servant Leadership Award. She is currently completing her second year as an Ally, and is working on a degree at the College of Mt. Saint Joseph.
Public Allies CEO Adren O. Wilson, Ph.D., with Cincinnati AmeriCorps Ally Ebony Butts
She says she feels fulfilled to be working with community children and families near where she grew up.
“I tell my girls, ‘You don’t have to settle,'” Ebony says. “You can have a career, you can live that dream. It may not happen when you’re 25, it might happen when you’re 32, like it happened to me. When I wake up now, I do something that I’m passionate about. I’m right where I want to be.”