A Scout leader's promise

Her aim: to make sure the Girl Scouts are around for another century.

Published March 24, 2007

Denise Jordan was about 13 when she took the family television apart.

"I opened it up, diagnosed the problem, bought new parts and made it work just fine," Jordan said.

Being a Girl Scout, she said, gave her the confidence to convince her mom that she knew what she was doing.

"Come to think of it, I should have gotten a badge for that," she said, laughing, three decades later.

That spirit steadies Jordan in her current challenge: ensuring that Girl Scouts are around for another century.

The president of the Girl Scouts of Suncoast Council, Jordan heads up a realignment committee overseeing its merger with the Lakeland-based Heart of Florida Council.

By late September, nearly 27,000 Scouts and 10,000 adult volunteers in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties will be combined with 6,000 Scouts and 2,500 adults in Citrus, Marion, Polk and Sumter counties. The new council will be called Girl Scouts of West Central Florida.

"Realignment is not about saving money, it's sustainability," Jordan said. "Proactive planning to keep the 95-year-old national organization around and relevant."

Nationwide, the consolidation effort means that 312 councils will shrink to about 110 councils.

The change will streamline resources, she said.

Jordan renewed her passion for Scouting in October 2001. Jody Johnston, Suncoast Council CEO, saw a newspaper article about Jordan receiving a managerial leadership award from the National Women of Color.

Johnston asked her to lunch, where she learned Jordan spent 11 years in Scouting and earned First-Class Cadette rank, similar to Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts. She became a board member six months later.

"She's a dynamic leader who deals with people with reason and diplomacy," Johnston said.

This month, Jordan, 42, started the first of a dozen focus groups with Scouts and adults in eight counties. She'll ease their fears of losing traditions and identities in the new, blended infrastructure.

"We'll listen and learn," she said, "to the positive and negative."

As head cheerleader and chief negotiator for the merger, Jordan will call upon her skills as director of rates and planning for Tampa Electric Co. State and federal regulators adjust rates up or down based on her projections.

"The engineer in me processes very fast," Jordan said. "I see three moves ahead, but I realize people accept change at different speeds."

While some say the current Girl Scout system isn't broken, Jordan thinks the new, expanded council will respond more resourcefully and broaden funding, especially in rural areas.

"Any merger is potentially unwieldy," she said. "That's where you need core values and policies in place." Headquarters for the combined council will be in the Lemon Street office in the West Shore business district of Tampa.

Before joining Tampa Electric, Jordan was manager of rates and design for Florida Power from 1987 to 2000. During those years, she mentored teen girls in math and science at a St. Petersburg middle school.

"I wanted them to picture themselves in professional careers," said Jordan, who made up her mind to be a mechanical engineer during a seventh-grade summer program at Georgia Tech.

Free time is scarce between work-related travel to Tallahassee and Scouting sessions. To relax, Jordan turns on a classic movie channel and takes out her art supplies.

Ceramic angels, Santas and female figurines get artfully dabbed with brown paint to make them African-American. They line the shelves of her home in Carrollwood.

Single, but in a longtime relationship, the Georgia native also enjoys Southern-style cooking. She could earn a badge for her pecan pie.

Amy Scherzer can be reached at scherzer@sptimes.com or 813 226-3332.

Fast Facts:

Denise Jordan

Age: 42, single.

Born: Athens, Ga.

Education: B.S. in mechanical engineering, Georgia Tech, 1986.

Collections: Ceramic Santas, angels and ladies she's painted; more than 225 pieces of Waterford crystal; Faberge, fantasy and crystal eggs.

True friend: Travels with a group of college girlfriends, all Georgia Tech engineer grads.

Keep the change: Instead of pocketing silver coins to spend later, she tosses her change in a glass bowl and once a year donates it all to charity.

Girl Scout cookies: She bought three cases this year.