Recently in Camp Category

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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.

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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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From Scoutshire Woods...My office today overlooks Echo Lake, where one unit is kayaking, another is serenading me with camp songs from the rec hall, and yet another is out on the dock in the middle of the lake diving in.   What could be better?   The birds are singing; there's a bullfrog croaking in the frog pond; the occasional cricket frog tunes up; and there's a stunning monarch butterfly flitting near me.

This is the first time since I've been here that I felt that I could afford the time to be up here to enjoy summer camp. What a mistake.   I come up during breakfast, check on the girls and the staff, then come to my office on the edge of Echo Lake and turn on my laptop.   This is absolutely the best part of what I do -- listen to girls giggle as they fall from stand up paddle boards, probably intentionally, swim from the dock in the middle of the lake to the swim dock for the first time, or work on camp songs that they will remember for a lifetime.

This week of camp has been a great one.   Of the more the 80 girls here, I have seen only one who has a serious attitude problem.   She doesn't want to do anything.   She announced to the staff the first day she planned on not having a good time.   I'm sure if you plan not to have a good time, you won't.   The rest of the girls watched for the first half day, and then proceeded to go about trying everything camp has to offer.  

Some days it is hysterical to watch.   They are becoming more adept at actually sweeping the dining hall after they eat (rather than simply pushing the dust around!).   Many have tried the stand-up paddleboards, and their performance is pretty impressive.   Some who started afraid of the water can now put their face underwater, and some can swim. What a wonderful thing. The sound of giggling comes from all parts of camp.

I'm very pleased with the day camp option.   This week we have only had one girl, but she arrives early and tries to be away from her drivers at the end of the day so she won't have to leave.   That is a victory. We had hoped to attract some of those girls for resident camp to have the full experience.

Hopefully you and your daughter are having a great summer!

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This past week I experienced the power of the Girl Scout program.   I had the privilege of working with the Camp Sunshine staff and watching the girls of Camp Sunshine learn, grow, and prosper because of their efforts. 

Laurie Weil and Kathy Sawyer founded Camp Sunshine more than 25 years ago in Montgomery.   Its mission is to provide an OPPORTUNITY for girls to experience the power of a wonderful summer camp.   These girls have the same dreams, hopes, and desires that all girls possess.   But many don't have the opportunity to visit the Alabama Shakespeare Festival or the Montgomery Museum of Art.   They certainly don't spend their summer time shooting off bottle rockets or learning to play tennis.   What fun they had trying new things!  They even learned about bullying through modern interpretive dance.

Girls from Camp Sunshine spend the night at Kamp Kiwanis each year.   Some have never been to the woods; others have never been swimming in a lake.   They ride the zip lines, spend the night in a tent, and ride on the pontoon boat.   This part of their experience really moves them from their comfort zone.   Many of these girls, sadly, live in areas where playing outdoors are dangerous.   So the opportunity to experience the woods and all the outdoors has to offer is a wonderful gift for summer.

Camp Sunshine has provided these opportunities, and more, for thousands of girls in the Montgomery area for over 25 years.   It continues to be a resource for the girls of the Montgomery community.   More importantly, the volunteers who generously give of their time have given girls the courage, confidence, and character to make their world a better place.

Thanks to Laurie Weil and Kathy Sawyer for their unflagging generosity for so long; they have changed the world.