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School has commenced, and it's a good time to be reminded of things that might have faded during the summer.

 

It is important to register your girls as Girl Scouts.   If you have girls who participate but are not registered, they are not covered by GSSA insurance.   You might think, "Well, we aren't doing anything dangerous."  However, you would be surprised how many claims we have annually from simple accidents.   I was stunned to find some girls not even registered prior to the start of the cookie program.   The problem is that, if something happens, this impacts you personally and won't be covered by our insurance, so registering girls who participate is important.

 

When we have space and the opportunity, we try to include tagalongs and siblings, but GSSA pays additional insurance for those individuals.   We cannot allow these children if we don't have tagalong insurance because they are not covered if an accident occurs.   Please respect our request when a program or training description indicates no tagalongs.   We don't do this to be offensive, but it increases the cost of the event to have them present, and we do it only when it is appropriate.   We have already turned someone -away who brought tagalongs to a recent event. 

 

We subscribe to all Safety Activity Checkpoints provided by GSUSA.   We have requested that some of those regulations be changed, such as the one which states that those who cannot swim are not allowed to canoe.   However, we expect you to comply with those regulations.   Each ranger has been provided with a new notebook outlining the various policies and regulations on GSSA properties.   It is not their role to enforce those regulations, but they do have a notebook with the documentation that applies to their camp.   If you have questions, they have this at their residence.   Please check because we have been told about some flagrant violations from last year that we cannot have continue this year.   Most of you are excellent about complying with these rules, so this applies to those few who aren't obeying the rules.

 

We work hard to assure the safety of the girls with whom you work.   We vet the adults and work to assure we don't do anything that would put the girls in harm's way.   Last year, I attended a couple of events where the parents/troop leaders were present, but not tuned in.   The beauty of our program is that girls experience time with adults who can shape them to become contributing citizens.   Try to be present with the girls you are chaperoning; it is a gift they will not forget.


Most of the time when I'm around girls and volunteers, I'm always impressed with what

some of you do with the girls in your charge.  There is a great deal of interest, caring, nurturing, and learning that happens.   It is always beautiful to watch.   Thank you for all you do.

 

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Once upon a time, I was lucky enough to work for a brilliant Jesuit priest.   He was a genius.   I was a young dean and not sure I was impressed with his constant stream of ideas.   I was the resident skeptic.   My mentor had been a trusty, reliable, predictable boss.   This new president was handsome, charming, energetic, and enthusiastic about everything.   I don't know if you have ever had a friend like this, but he was constantly invading my personal space.   One entire basketball game he practically sat on my leg, until I finally asked him to move over, whereupon he laughed.   He knew he was sitting on my leg. He just wanted to see how long I would tolerate it.

Over the years, I learned that working for someone who was a genius took a lot of time and energy.   Some days it took me awhile to even figure out what he was babbling about, but I learned to love him.   I believe he was the perfect boss for me at a time when I needed to be moved out of my comfort zone and confront some change.

One of the maxims he believed, which I now embrace, is that you will not change unless you are standing at the edge of the cliff, looking down into the abyss, with someone nudging you to go over.   When you look down and see what could be ahead, you will make the dramatic changes necessary to stay on the top of the cliff.   His point was always that change is good.   It is hard, but it also makes you better.   His advice to us was that we would work smarter, and during his tenure there, we did.

This is a year filled with change for the Girl Scouts, also.   As with the Southwest Alabama United Way defunding, declines in other funding sources, a lackluster cookie sale come together, we have to make some changes.   Staffing is our largest expense, followed by fixed costs of properties.   The check for the electric bill I signed this afternoon for one month was more than $6,700.   That is what it runs each month across our properties and that was just one power company.   We have many.

This year we will be looking for ways to maximize the girl experience.   We want to continue the quality programs we offered the girls, but do it smarter and less expensively.   We want to increase the number of girls; we do this because we believe the Girl Scout Leadership Experience changes lives.   I see this daily.   We want to provide the type of support to our wonderful volunteers that they desire.   We have attainable goals for this year.

I was looking over the edge at the abyss as I worked on the budget.   As we have staff leave, we won't be able to replace all of those positions.   As I look at a long list of equipment volunteers would like at camp properties, we might not be able to afford many of those this year.   However, with that said, as we work to increase girl numbers and the quality of our offerings we are optimistic about what this year holds for our girls.   I will keep that list for after the cookie program.  You will experience some changes this year.   You will see the staff working smarter and aimed to achieve better customer service and the best year possible for your girls.   Change is good! It moves us forward.

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Where did the summer go?   For me, this summer has reflected the adage "time flies when you are having fun."   I don't know about you, but we had a good summer.   Almost all of the staff was able to spend at least one day at resident camp, seeing what the girls are doing and working with them directly.   Sometimes, when you are dealing with the business aspects of Girl Scouts, you need to find and take the time to get out and savor what we really do, work for and with girls.   I saw some great learning and fun this summer. It was a joy.

School begins for much of GSSA this week and into next.   It feels like summers are just getting shorter and shorter.   I hope you had a chance to enjoy your children during their time away from school and that they are looking forward to the school year.

I spent most of my career working at a university.   The beginning of each academic year was marked with frenetic activity, some initial chaos, and the hope of great things to come.   There was not one year I was there that the hope of great things to come went unfulfilled.   I'm not saying every year was perfect or without its challenges.   However, I learned a lot from the students I worked with every year.

GSSA has some challenges this year, working to regain the lost girl members that resulted from the loss of United Way funding in the Mobile area.   We have new staff that we need to integrate.   We are always confronted with more girls than adults we can stretch around them.   Girls benefit from Girl Scouts programs; there is abundant evidence to prove the power of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience.

If you know of anyone who would be a good leader or volunteer, please suggest Girl Scouts to him or her as a place to spend quality time with some of the best girls in the State of Alabama.   Each year by the end of September we have lists of hundreds of girls and no troop leaders, it is gut wrenching.   If you have additional room in your troop for additional girls, please let your local area field executive know.   I spent the summer watching how Girl Scouts can and do make the world a better place.

I hope you have high expectations for this year, and it holds the promise of great things to come.

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If you pay a visit to the Montgomery Service Center, you will see considerable chaos.   However, you will also see that the larger building, 145 Coliseum Boulevard is receiving a significant facelift.   This is thanks to the Kiwanis Club of Montgomery and the Kiwanis Club of Montgomery Foundation.    Through their generosity we are able to redo the floors, paint, and replace the front blinds.   We are hoping the new custom blinds will serve as some excellent advertising for us.   To help stretch the funding from this grant, employees from the Sherwin-Williams Company are donating their time to paint our office.  If you know a member of the Kiwanis Club of Montgomery, please go out of your way to thank them for their gift and express your appreciation at your local Sherwin-Williams store.

We are always appreciative of the generosity of others.   Baptist South Hospital Foundation will be providing the supplies for our First Aid kits this year.   Thanks to them for the supplies that expire annually and can be costly to keep updated.

We have received a couple of additional sailboats.   They have not arrived yet, but one is a fairly large boat and another is a sunfish.   Thanks to Dr. Mark Kassels and an anonymous benefactor for these generous gifts.

One of our volunteers who drove a car load of day camp girls this summer put us in touch with a local businessman who donated a pontoon boat to us on Lake Martin.   I have heard that the boat is much nicer than the one we owned.   Any interested troop is welcome to make advance arrangements with the ranger for a tour of Lake Martin in the boat, complete with his commentary on who lives where.   (Please make arrangements well in advance; your only cost will be the gas used by the boat while you are there.)   Our thanks to volunteer Caroline Breshears, who not only spent a lot of time assisting girls at camp, but also brought us this new boat.

In the Mobile area we are in the midst of our annual brand campaign with the Mobile Area Boy Scouts of America.   We work during the summer to remind our constituents that we no longer receive any funds from the Southwest Alabama United Way or the Lee County United Way.   We still receive generous support from ten other United Ways and United Funds, including Baldwin County, River Region United Way, Wiregrass United Way, and Lake Martin Area United Way.   So if you live or work in Mobile, Clarke or Washington Counties, please remember that if you previously gave to the United Way, Scouting appreciates direct donations.   If you have any interest in doing a pitch for Scouting at your own work place and work in Mobile, Washington, or Clarke Counties please let me know.

Fundraising is an adult activity and we appreciate the assistance of Girl Scout volunteers, alumnae and parents with cultivating support in our community.  We appreciate the leads and assistance many of you lend to us by giving us suggestions on businesses and others who are willing to make the world a better place by giving to girls.   We always appreciate those leads and your generosity and that of others.

Also, please consider shopping with our business partners and be sure to tell them you appreciate their support for girls. If you know of a business or organization who would like to join our list of distinguished partners or to learn more about giving opportunities, feel free to contact me at lbrent@girlscoutssa.org or Melinda Stallworth, Director of Advancement at mstallworth@girlscoutssa.org

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I had a long visit with a good service unit manager last week that said it is sometimes confusing who is doing what around the service centers because it seems to change.   She is accurate; we have experienced a lot of change recently, so I thought I would introduce some of the new council staff and outline some contacts that have changed, hopefully this will serve as a good resource for you.

This is the year of the early arrivals, Jen Thrash's baby showed up about a month early recently, so we are scrambling to get some work done in relation to the membership plans in each area.   With that said we are welcoming some new staff in Membership.

Field Executive - Gulf Region

Allison Marlow, mother of five children (ages 2 to 11), has just relocated from South Carolina.   As a long-time Girl Scout mom and service unit leader, her service unit in Hawaii increased their membership from 125 girls to 425 girls during her time there.   She resides in Fairhope and is eager to meet and get to know you.   She can be reached at amarlow@girlscoutssa.org or 800/239-6636, ext 1402.

Field Executive - Wiregrass Region

Brandy Lydick joins our staff as field executive in the Wiregrass.  Brandy and her family live in Chancellor, and she has a daughter who is a Girl Scout in Geneva.  Brandy is working on completing her Bachelor's degree in business and has considerable experience in office management and customer service. Brandy looks forward to growing Girl Scouts in the Wiregrass.  She may be reached at blydick@girlscoutssa.org or 800/239-6636, ext 2103.

Associate Field Executive - Wiregrass Region

Launa Boynton will be working with Brandy in the Wiregrass.  Launa was a Girl Scout as a child, and has held many volunteer positions with Girl Scouts since then (beginning as an assistant leader in her 20s.)  She has lived all over the United States, and has resided with her husband and twin girls (rising 7th graders) for in Enterprise for seven years.

Money Raising Projects - questions and requests for those requests need to be sent to Melinda Stallworth.   She can be reached at extension 2802 or mstallworth@girlscoutssa.org.

Programming - Mary Anne Brutkiewicz will be retiring at the end of July, and her programming assignments will be taken up by Christina Smotherman and other staff members.  She will be returning to teaching Spanish at USA, and we wish her the best. 

Camps and Property

Joe Turner has been hired as the new Ranger at Camp Scoutshire Woods.  Joe has his own carpentry business and has been working as a contractor for 42 years. He and his wife, Cindy, have two adult children and two grandchildren.  He has taught Sunday School class for 40 years at the First Baptist Church of Citronelle. He love fishing and participates in tournaments.  He is excited about improving Camp Scoutshire Woods for our girls.

Just as a reminder, we did clear cut 69 acres at Camp Sid Edmonds and thinned some of the inner portion of the camp.   It looks dramatically different.   Each time I'm up there I'm surprised at how it changes from one week to the next.   I was pleased to see some quail while I was up there and the work was going on.   We have not noticed any significant changes in the wildlife.

The camp calendars have been opened up for camporees.   We have been discussing a couple of council wide camporees opened to anyone wanting to attend.   This worked very well the last time we tried it, in fact we had a waiting list.   Hopefully that will be put on the calendar shortly.   As a reminder, camp reservations are made at either service center but it is easier to make the Scoutshire and Sid reservations at the Mobile Service Center and the Kamp Kiwanis and Humming Hills reservations at the Montgomery Service Center.

We will continue to work to keep you abreast of changes as they occur.

 

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Each year we have a program where a cadre of girls apply and serve as press representatives for the council.   These girls, representing all age levels, are asked to comment (time permitting)) about their Girl Scout experiences prior to the media approaching us.   During fall product sales and the cookie program, we ask them to represent all the girls of GSSA to speak on their behalf.   The story is always better when a girl or Volunteer tells it.

We work with these girls and do training activities, including role-playing in front of a camera and interview skills.   We also ask them to write and blog about their Girl Scout experiences.   Being a press rep covers all types of media, so girls have an opportunity to decide if this is a potential career that interests them.

I have been around this program since I arrived.   It is a great opportunity for girls to share their experiences.  I have worked with girls who were quiet and reticent, who came to life in front of a television camera.   I've also seen some of our more boisterous girls turn shy once the camera turned on, and I've seen everything in between.  It is important for girls to find their voice, and this program is an ideal opportunity!

Meet some of the girls (and a Troop Leader) who are press reps:

Mackie and Lane, Troop 8241

Angel, Troop 8605

Erin, Troop 8309

Tori, Troop 8215

Julianna and Tamatha, 9195
Tammy Ortega, Troop 9195 Leader

Cheyenne and Aliyah, Troop 9041

Mary Virginia, Troop 9134

Gabriella, Troop 8645

Claire, Troop 9327

Kyndall and Tayler, Troop 9241

Welcome!

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You and I know the value of Girl Scouting.  We've seen first-hand the way girls evolve into leadership roles, marveled as they learn new things and watched them proudly as they make valuable contributions of time to their community.

As a Brownie mom, I love watching our sweet group of girls learn how to work together and become stronger, more independent young ladies through the Girl Scout Leadership Experience.  Sure, you and I have experienced all of this first-hand, but what about the wider community?  What do they think of when you say Girl Scouts?  You got it - cookies and camping!

Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama is working to change the way the Girl Scout program is perceived within our communities with an educational media campaign directed toward changing the way members of our community traditionally think of Girl Scouting.

We know that cookies, crafts, and camping remind many people of being a Girl Scout, but these days, Girl Scouting is so much more.  For example, did you know Girl Scout Alumnae credit Girl Scouts with preparing them to face life's challenges and opportunities with resourcefulness, ingenuity, and discipline? Research shows that, compared to women who were not Girl Scouts, Girl Scout alumnae feel more capable and competent in their adult lives, have more supportive social relationships, and feel more optimistic about their futures. How incredible is that - and who wouldn't want this for their own daughter?!

Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama (GSSA) has the reach and experience to help girls in our community navigate an increasingly complex society. We offer many educational and exciting programs, such as those involving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to help girls realize their full potential in a career path of this nature. This year alone, GSSA has teamed up with Auburn University, Auburn University Montgomery, and University of South Alabama to provide fun, interactive STEM activities for Girl Scouts. Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama also has a competitive robotics team.

Girl Scouts can build robots. They can become Congressional leaders. They can do anything they set their mind to, but not without the help of the community. Because when girls succeed, so does society. This is the message we're spreading across southern Alabama. Be on the lookout for digital billboards, advertisements and articles featuring Girl Scouts and help us spread the word that Girl Scouts is indeed much more than simply cookies and camping.

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I sat in my outdoor office today, listening to the sights and sounds of summer -- sounds I have come to enjoy each day.   It has been wonderful hearing the girls sing, learning complex songs with hand gestures, listening to the squealing of the girls riding the banana boat on Lake Martin, while still others hone their canoe skills.   But summer is now at the half waypoint, with school looming in the not too distant future.

As we work to edit the fall product guide and meet with our representative from the cookie baker, it is time to turn our attention to the coming school year.   We will have some challenges and changes with our fall recruitment, with staff out on maternity leave and others new to their positions.   If you hear or see opportunities where we can find adult leadership for new troops, please let us know.  You can contact the membership department at membership@girlscoutssa.org.   We work to hit the largest schools first and systematically work our way through the different areas, mostly by size and presence of troops in the past.

The best recruiters for members are the girls themselves.   We learned this at the university where I worked previously; our best recruiters were our own students.   Our best recruiters of other adults are current happy volunteers, who know from their experience they educate leaders and that passion and enthusiasm can be contagious.   If you know of someone that has an interest in Girl Scouts, please encourage him or her to contact us.   We always have girls who desire placement in troops, but we never have enough adults willing to take on the challenge of leading one.   It is heartbreaking to look at the number of girls who cannot be placed in troops each year.

We have great programs, activities and opportunities in progress for the fall.   If you have not already sent in your membership registration, get a jump start on the school year; visit our Renew Your Membership page on our website for electronic forms.

As summer starts to heat up and move toward fall, we look forward to another fun year to come.

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My view is of girls learning skills with boats and paddleboards, learning to swim, singing new songs, hiking trails, making all sorts of crafts, and managing bugs and spiders in their living quarters.  

Last week, they had a Native American storyteller and were spellbound by the wonderful stories.   Another day, they heard a paleontologist speak.  Then there was a herpetologist from Auburn University, who brought her frogs and toads.   They knew a lot about frogs and toads already, but she let them see their spade feet, or the bumps on their back.   They learn so much while having fun.

One of the facets of Girl Scouts I appreciate most is that girls can learn by doing.   They can collect bugs and create their own living environment.   The things they see and experience can be applied when they return to school in the fall.   In the meantime, they have been outside listening to birds, seeing the fish, and experiencing a lake.   I've not heard one mention that she misses the television, a cell phone, or the Internet.   Music at camp is made from nature or the girls that inhabit it.   They do mention they miss their family, but only occasionally.

We are on a learning curve with the day campers.   My notion of victory here is that those girls will want to attend resident camp next year.   So far, we have had a number of them say they do.   At the end of the day as our drivers talk to them, they discuss the fun they had.   This was the first year for the day camp, and we had some early hiccups, but I believe we have determined it is worth offering again.   We have had a number of girls who had so much fun their first week that they returned for a second.   This is another victory.

Every day I take a photo of my new office and send it to my friends, calling it "my office today."   Every one of them expresses jealousy because they can see from the photos the fun the girls are having.   Please check out the fun at our Flickr.com account on line, share in the joy the girls are having in the outdoors.

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One of the great things about what I do is getting to know some of the girls we have the privilege of serving.   Spending the summer at camp has provided me with a good opportunity to meet some of the great staff we have.   I spent 30 years working with college students at a university, so I was delighted to spend some time with the summer camp staff during their training.   Since then, I've been watching them interact with the campers, which is a beautiful thing.

Many of these girls have gone to camp in our council and are the product of your hard work and efforts.    They are leaders.   I see them teach, counsel, correct, nurture and work with their charges.   The girls, in return, follow them around, look up to them, and find role models to emulate.   It's something I wish you could all witness, because it proves the power of what a girl can do.   And the time you invested in these girls proves it was time well spent.

These girls laugh, sing, hike, swim, paddle, and eat with our camper girls.   And I can assure you they sweat with these girls.   Last week, I was sitting down from the rec hall at Scoutshire, trying to get some work done and someone I was with noticed there was a black snake at the steps of the building.   We checked it out, and decided it was a rat snake or maybe a black racer.   There was a group of Brownies just coming out of the water from boating, so we asked them if they wanted to see the snake.   They all said they did, so we let them walk where they could see it, but not too close.   No one shrieked, ran, or did anything that indicated they were afraid of it.   The whole interaction with the counselors, the girls, and watching the snake was amazing.   Girls in the woods who go to camp tend to appreciate the beauty of the nature that surrounds them, soaking in all that the great outdoors has to offer.


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