Recently in Camp Category

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It is always nice to be up close and personal with volunteers over a sustained period of time.   I have many opportunities to interact with volunteers, but not over days or weeks.   A shout out to the volunteers who were wonderful and worked at resident camp this summer, doing all sorts of great things and made camp that much better this year.   Rusty and Gwen Black, Caroline Breshears, Elizabeth Conner, Vivian Martin, Tina Savell, and Dana Jones were so very helpful during the camp season.   Thank you for sharing your gifts with the girls.

It is always interesting during the summer to listen to the girls talk about their troop experiences and Girl Scout experiences.   I am always amazed at the wide variety of experiences and adventures these girls have with your planning and assistance.   I found the girls at resident camp this summer to have a high sense of exploration, confidence to get out of their comfort zone, and knowledge about the natural world.   I listened to some girls talk about different types of bugs.   We had another girl who wore her cowboy boots because she was fearful of snakes.   Then when PANDA had a small chicken snake, she decided she would face her fears.   Later she told me she wanted to "kiss it" which we didn't let her do.   But the difference between hot boots to thinking the snake was really cool convinced me of the capacity for girls to grow and learn through these experiences.   Most of their Girl Scout experiences are within your trusty care.

As the summer winds down and we start to turn our attention to fall it is good to be reminded why working with girls pays such tremendous dividends.   The girls I saw all summer were curious, happy, brave, and inquisitive.   Thank you for all you do to make this possible for all the girls we have the privilege of serving.

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We are on the other side of the hump on summer.  As in my youth, time seems to be relative, with summer waning faster than the rest of the year.   Where does the time go?   Where does the summer go?

I have returned to the four walls of my office to work, instead of my preferred office with no ceiling, walls, or windows -- simply a chair, my laptop, and the sounds of summer fun at camp; girls singing, laughing, playing, canoeing, swimming, zip lining, hiking and having fun.

As an educator, there is nothing more gratifying than watching girls have fun while learning.   The hands-on, experiential learning that camp provides is a great gift.   It is wonderful to watch older girls, who have been Girl Scouts throughout their lives work with younger girls to show them what they have learned.   They share their wisdom, knowledge, and gifts with others and it is a beautiful.   Some of the skills they have been part of Girl Scouts for more than 100 years.   New colors, new materials, and new ways of work have made other longtime skills pertinent for today's girls.   My neon-colored paracord neck lanyard for my glasses is evidence I'm cool.   The fun small kayaks the girls use quickly provide them with paddling experience in a buoyant boat that makes canoeing in a larger aluminum canoe so much easier.   The stand up paddleboards become an entre to windsurfing and other aquatic skills.

Some of what girls experience at camp will be remembered for a lifetime.   There are new friends, new songs, new skills and thrills that make summertime so special.

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Some days at Camp were HOT.   The temperatures may have been soaring, but you couldn't tell by what was going on around me. From my "office" on a porch near Lake Martin, I saw so many girls growing and having fun.

I saw girls in the pavilion learning new songs.   Another group near the tetherball were playing something akin to Marco Polo on land.   Behind me the whir of the zip line continued as girls tested their mettle by giving it a try.   In the cove, there was a group taking out the sailboats for the first time.   The temperatures were high, but you could not tell by the girls I was surrounded by -- all making the best of their summer vacation having a ball.

Camp has been great this summer.   The camp staff has been excellent!   The food has been incredibly good.   One of the staff noted that the food is so good we have not seen hardly any homesickness, because there is a direct relationship between comfort food and feelings of home and safety.   Amanda, our new staff member who is running camp, has brought some fun new ideas and traditions to the experience.

We have worked hard to assure girls are learning skill building in all their activities.   They can play some, but canoe time is getting into the water, learning to swamp the canoe and developing others skills. Just in case you missed it on our social media, the girls had a contest at Camp Scoutshire Woods between two groups under the swamped canoes singing Crazy Moose. It is hilarious!   We were discussing how quickly girls pick up skills if provided the opportunity to give things a try.   We had the Sunfish out this afternoon, and the instructor was stunned how a couple of the girls were rapidly proficient by just watching and listening to the instructions.   Girls are simply amazing!

On one day, I was over at the swim dock taking some video of the girls in swim lessons.   The lifeguards said in a couple of cases they weren't sure one or two of the girls would progress.   But with sheer determination and hard work, one in particular is really becoming a proficient swimmer.   The staff was amazed and delighted.

We work very hard to return your camper as a girl who has become more independent, proficient, and confident.   They have had fun, but they have also established some skills that will stay with them the remainder of their lives.

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I'm sitting in my favorite office, the downslope between the Rec Hall and Echo Lake at Camp Scoutshire Woods.   There's a group of girls behind me singing songs while they felt wool over a rock.   It isn't everyone who has an office with this type of wonderful music as they work.   They are all happy, giggling and talking.  In front of me, the view  is of girls who have practiced being rescued from the dock; now they are on all types of kayaks, pedal boats, stand up paddleboards, and canoes.

We are nearing the end of another week, and everyone is having a good time.   I'm not saying they aren't hot sometimes, but they swim, boat, make crafts, zip line and cook out.    This is a great time of year because the staff is able to see girls in action, growing, changing, and leading.

I was on a GSUSA CEO call recently when another CEO said they had done a survey in her council and found that camp was a niche area.   She noted that there  are longtime Girl Scouts who believe in the values that camp imbues, but others' interest in Girl Scouts is related to STEM.   We try to provide a great camping program for those girls who have the sense of adventure and enjoy the great outdoors.   We also work to offer a large number of STEM programs at the council level throughout the year, as well as other opportunities that lead to earning badges and patches.

We hope to offer more opportunities for girls to experience STEM and the great outdoors throughout next year, because the opportunities to learn while outside are limitless.

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It is always a meaningful to take some time to reflect on the girls who have gone before us who have made a difference in the lives of others.   Katie Leutzinger was one of those girls.   She loved Kamp Kiwanis on Lake Martin, and she was s devoted Girl Scout. She was taken suddenly from her family and friends on July 14, 2004, while she was still so young.

After her tragic passing, Katie's family and friends started s memorial fund to create something in her honor at Kamp Kiwanis.   She spent many summers at this camp, where she developed courage, confidence, and character.  

 

We are pleased to announce that we will dedicate the Katie Leutzinger Memorial Observatory at Kamp Kiwanis in her honor on June 28, 2015.   This observatory, though not large, provides an opportunity for girls to search the stars and heavens while at Lake Martin.   The telescope can be mounted in the observatory, but it can also run a computer that can be viewed by girls and others close to the observatory so many will be able to enjoy the thrills astronomy has to offer.


We are delighted the Leutzinger family agreed to this tribute to their daughter and sister so that all girls who spend time at Kamp Kiwanis can continue the wonderful experiences their Girl Scout, Katie, had there.

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My office has sunlight peeking through the pine, there are some bugs around, mostly ants.   As I write this, I can hear the girls behind me working on getting through a spider web exercise requiring communication, cooperation, and teamwork.   This is when being the CEO of Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama has maximum benefit.

So far the homesickness has been minimal, the giggles and singing constant, and the food pretty good.    The girls have been on horseback, racing around the island in their kayaks and canoes, and working on improving their swimming skills.

The girls who did the sampler camp have gone home, but many did not want to leave because they were having such a good time.    This is what we love to hear -- that the fun and some autonomy from their parents is welcome.   It is always good to have your daughter be confident and independent.

We have talked about whether Girl Scout families would like an opportunity to come up to camp and enjoy what the girls experience.   We discussed having a week or two each summer where we would have the waterfront and canoe area available and folks could come up with their families and have some fun.   That means you would have to manage your own cooking needs, but something we were discussing.   If you think you would like to do this, please send us an e-mail at communications@girlscoutssa.org.
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As we say goodbye to one of our program staff, Amy Farrar (camp name "Sunny"), who has done a great job at summer resident camp and programs, we welcome Amanda Abercrombie. Amanda comes to us with program and camp experience from Girl Scout councils in Mississippi and Tennessee.  Our fantastic program staff has been developing camp programming throughout the cookie program, and Amanda has jumped right in!   We anticipate another fun summer this year!    Please check our website (www.girlscoutssa.org/camp) to learn more about our summer camp sessions.  

Amanda was happy to answer some questions so we can get to know more about her.

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What do you hope to bring to your role as STEM and Outdoor Program Manager?

I hope I can translate my love, knowledge, and appreciation for outdoors, camp, and STEM into fun and exciting programs that will capture the girls' interest and inspire them to want to continue to learn more. 

What's your favorite part of camp life?

My favorite part of camp is the camaraderie that is fostered in a camp environment.  Camp is a very unique environment that encourages fast friendships that can last a lifetime.  Additionally, I enjoy the comfortable atmosphere that comes with working at camp.  At camp you are encouraged to be a version of yourself that you don't always get to show in the seriousness of everyday life.  Camp is the only place I know where it is perfectly acceptable to  run around in a pirate hat, sing camp songs as loudly and off-key as possible, walk around all day smelling like campfire smoke, and still have the respect/admiration of your campers and fellow staff members.    

What do you want girls to take away from their camp or outdoor experience?

My main goal is to help girls grow on the inside by being outside.  Camp, as well as other programs, is a wonderful opportunity for girls, staff and volunteers to grow and expand, not just their knowledge of the outdoors, but their confidence, self-esteem, and comfort zones.   I feel that everyone who comes to camp or participates in a program takes something away from the experience and with each year they build on the foundation of the year before. 

Thanks, Amanda, and welcome to the GSSA team!

liz_brent.jpgWhy send my daughter to summer camp?   That's a great question, and one we're often asked.

There seem to be a couple of schools of thought in our Girl Scout family.   One is that all children should be sent to camp.   It provides skill development, enhances independence from parents, and builds confidence.   This is the traditional thought about camp -- that being outdoors, away from parents and siblings teaches kids to develop skills.   And it does.

The other school of thought is the prevailing one of more cautious parents.   They either didn't have a good camp experience or no camp experience, so they aren't comfortable allowing their daughter to attend camp without them.   They also worry she won't have a good time.   And because we don't allow cell phones, there isn't any contact, which may heighten their anxiety and worry.   I ask lots of girls whether they are going to camp.   I hear plenty of them respond because their parents don't want them to.

We have created a day program for those whose parents aren't comfortable with them being away from home with the day camps.   We take girls up to camp in the morning and return them each evening.   This proved to be a good experience for the girls who tried it last summer.   We learned some things through this experience, so we plan on that being a great opportunity for them.   We also have the shortened session for those younger girls who want to give camp a try, but a week is just too long.   Look for the Brownie Sampler as the one for your daughter who wants to give it a try.

Each summer I'm fortunate to watch girls learn how to ride a horse, learn to swim, hike on trails and identify parts of their world, and giggle and have a great time.   There's the occasional moment of homesickness, but we work to keep the girls busy so they don't have time for that.

Girls have fun at camp.   They learn they can do things they didn't believe they could, whether that is sleep in a tent or cabin, confront a spider, put their face in a murky lake, or navigate to the bath house after dark.   Girls build confidence at camp.   I watch it every year, whether that happens at the swim dock, on a zip line or in a tent it is simply amazing to watch.

Girls spend lots of time at camp talking to one another, making new friends, learning songs, and some days just being silly.   Because they don't have access to electronics they learn to savor the silence, listen to the sounds of the outdoors, and understand who they are without their parents readily available.   I'm always gratified and amazed to watch even the meekest girl exhibit the character she possesses in this context.   Last year one of the smallest of the girls I watched one day was the most intrepid.

It takes courage to send your daughter to camp and for her to go.   Last year we had a number of girls who had so much fun their first week that they returned for more, or went from Camp Scoutshire Woods to Kamp Kiwanis for another week in a different location.   Most earned badges and patches.   Many made some great crafts.   Almost all learned more about swimming and canoeing or tried a stand up paddle board.   Some mastered horsemanship, while others learned to survive in the woods.   I was at camp every day last summer, and it was only occasionally that I witnessed a girl not having a good time or homesick.

As you consider what you want your daughter to learn, offer her an opportunity to learn what happens in the great outdoors. It is simply amazing!

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I spend a lot of time, as does COO Karlyn Edmonds, working with the rangers to make sure the camp properties are the best we can provide with our finite financial resources.

I was talking to one of them awhile back who said someone told him being a ranger must be the best job in the world, to have the views and the opportunities.   His response was that yes, he likes his job, but he doesn't get to enjoy it in the same way those of you who go up to camp do.   He looks around and sees nothing but work.   There's always more to do.   There's grass to be cut and trimmed.   There are building issues where the list is simply endless, even though he is working on it all the time.

One night when I was up at camp, I couldn't sleep and was thinking through how many buildings GSSA uses.   GSSA has 36 buildings and 36 bathhouses, for a total of 72 buildings.  This many buildings require a lot of maintenance.  Just think of the number of roofs when it comes to that.   We also have more than 700 acres to maintain.   This 700 acres has six lakes, five of which we care for.   

I want to introduce you to the new Camp Scoutshire ranger and his wife, Chuck and Leigh Norris.   They come to us from the Isaac Creek Campground where they have worked for more than five years.   They are in the process of moving into the house at Camp Scoutshire Woods. Leigh enjoys mowing, so I have seen her on the mower every time I have been up to camp.

I wanted to give kudos to Jesse Malone, the Camp Sid Edmonds ranger.   Jesse spent the entire summer at Camp Scoutshire Woods.   We have been struggling with a water leak from the winter months that would just not stop.   After hours of work and blown gaskets galore, we finally found out the water pressure at Camp Scoutshire Woods was double what it should have been.   No wonder we could not get the water to stop flowing.  

Jesse has spent the summer and now into the fall working diligently at Scoutshire almost daily with the ranger.   He has replaced toilet innards, showerheads, cleaned up the kitchen, and used a bulldozer to grade where we have chronic erosion issues.   They have really worked on the craft hut, grading the front entry, replacing all the screens and getting the sink to work.  Frankly, I have never seen Scoutshire look so good.   If you are up there in the near term and see Jesse, thank him because you can't pay people to care the way he has for the properties so girls can have a great time on them.

We also were up at Camp Humming Hills recently.   The pine forest is coming along nicely.   I was pleased that most of the trees planted are now over the top of my head.   They look very healthy and sturdy, which is always good given how much wind whips through that area on a regular basis.   I'm always awestruck at why someone would build a swim dock in the manner they did at Humming Hills.   I had always figured it was dilapidated instead of being built in a way that looks like something out of a Halloween distortion experience.

Finally, at Kamp Kiwanis we are about to build a small observatory up there.   We have a benefactor with some restricted funds who wanted the funds used to honor a deceased Girl Scout.   We will be working on that project through the winter.

If you are up at camp, do take the time to meet the ranger and thank him for all he does.   I recognize not everything works all the time, however, it isn't because these staff members aren't doing their job.   And yes, they have great jobs, but never underestimate how much work maintaining those properties can be.

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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.