Religion plays an important role in Girl Scouting - as important a role as it plays in Boy Scouting - and it is no wonder, says Connee Gates, president of the Utah Girl Scout Council.

"Robert Baden-Powell, a British Army officer, started the Boy Scouts in 1907 to give boys training in citizenship. Many girls wanted to belong to a similar group, so he helped work out the principles for a separate organization."The Girl Guides program began in England in 1909 with Baden-Powell's sister, Agnes Baden-Powell, as president," Gates said.

The Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910. Girl Guides started in the United States in 1912, and the name was soon changed to Girl Scouts. Today, the Boy Scouts has more than 5 million young men and adult leaders in the United States and the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. has more than 3.5 million young women members and adult leaders.

"While Girl Scouts is an organization that encourages its members to develop their interests and abilities and be good citizens, it also stresses service to and a belief in God," said Gates.

In the United States, the Girl Scout Promise, which every member must make, says:

"On my honor, I will try:

To serve God,

My country and to help people at all times,

and to live by the Girl Scout Law."

That law states:

"I will do my best:

To be honest

To be fair

To help where I am needed

To be cheerful

To be friendly and considerate

To be a sister to every Girl Scout

To respect authority

To use resources wisely

To protect and improve the world around me

To show respect for myself and others through my words and actions."

"Girl Scouts believe that the motivating force behind the organization is a spiritual one. Our members are united by a belief in God, and each member must establish for herself the nature of that belief," Gates said.

In the basement of the Girl Scout Headquarters in Salt Lake City, at 2386 E. 2760 South, are large display cases filled with religious awards Girl Scouts can earn, each award representing a different denomination.

Gates is proud to wear a religious Girl Scout award, called the Religion and Youth award, given her by the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society to which she belongs.

"Religion is the guiding and motivating force in my life and has helped me focus my energy toward helping girls and boys develop their full potential and to ultimately become better persons."

She said girls from 5 through 17 may become Girl Scouts. "There are four levels: Brownies, who are in the first through third grade; Junior Girl Scouts, from the fourth through sixth grade; Cadette Girl Scouts, from the seventh through ninth grade; and Senior Girl Scouts, from the 10th through 12th grade."

Girl Scouts learn a world of skills, from arts and crafts, carpentry and science to sculpture and sewing; practice hospitality and service at home and in their communities; explore careers; do volunteer work; and enjoy activities such as camping and cooking out, hiking, boating, swimming, climbing rock cliffs and horseback riding.

"Girl Scouting is a continuous adventure that offers girls a broad range of activities which address both their current interests and their future roles as women."

A Brownie and a Girl Scout herself, Gates grew up in the Midwest and graduated from Marshalltown High School in Iowa. She attended Marshalltown Community College and earned a B.A. in English and journalism from Grinnell College in Iowa and studied communications at the University of Utah Graduate School.

A Girl Scout leader since 1975, she was named Utah Girl Scout membership chairman and a member of the council's board of directors in 1979, began her first three-year term as council president in 1984 and in January of 1987 began her second three-year term as council president.

Last year, she helped establish the first in-school Boy Scout and Girl Scout cooperative program in the Salt Lake School District, at Whittier Elementary School.

Gates, a busy wife and homemaker, works three days a week as a media aide at Butler Elementary School in Salt Lake City and spends 20 to 50 hours a week in her volunteer capacity as Girl Scout president.