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liz_brent.jpgWe have had another successful annual meeting.    The timing of this meeting is always a challenge because of varying spring breaks around the council footprint.   We managed to hit several school districts' spring breaks in this year's venue, but happily we still had a nice audience.   We held the annual meeting at the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Wiregrass in Dothan.   Thanks to them for hosting us.

One of the things that makes the annual meeting a challenge (besides the spring break schedules) is that the meeting reviews the previous year while we are at the half way point of the current year.   This happens because our annual audit is not complete until then, so we make time to review the financial results.   We will be posting the annual report and the council financial results from our audit on the website this week.

Last year was not a good one financially, a direct result of the lack of funding from the United Way of Southwest Alabama.   Because of this our organization experienced an $83,000 funding reduction with virtually no warning.   It wasn't a fair and measured funding cut and affected Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.   Both organizations are still reeling, working to continue to provide the quality of service we had with such a dramatic budget reduction.  

United Way givers tend to give on a monthly basis through payroll deduction.   We have been unable to locate those individuals in the Mobile, Clarke, and Washington counties to give to us directly to continue to provide quality service to those locations.   We do want to acknowledge we continue to receive support from Wiregrass United Way, River Region United Way, Baldwin County United Way, Lake Martin United Way, Troy United Way, Selma-Dallas County United Way and a host of United Funds.   We appreciate their vision and investment in the future of their communities through shaping young leaders.

Fewer staff has a direct result in recruitment of fewer adult leaders and therefore serving fewer girls.   The girl numbers last year were frightful, and it is heart breaking that girls who would like to be Girl Scouts cannot do so because of funding.   Fewer girls resulted in a much smaller cookie program, which is the primary source of our revenue, at 75 percent.    Thus, as we worked to reduce expenses through staff lay-offs, our revenue spiraled in a negative direction.

We continued to offer more than 50 council-hosted programs during the year, working hard to serve the girls who were committed to Girl Scouts.   Those programs included some great STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs.   We also partnered with the local universities to have events on their campuses, often using current students to assist in providing some great fun activities for girls.    Summer resident camp was a great one.   We had many girls who were willing to experience the great outdoors and move out of their comfort zones by trying things they haven't before.   That ran the gamut from mounting a horse, to putting their face underwater in a murky lake to riding the zip line.

We had five girls earn their Gold Awards last year with some outstanding projects.   This is a significant accomplishment for these girls.   It includes not only their project, which has to be significant and sustainable, but they have to complete hours of other Journeys and requirements as a part of that significant milestone.   The girls who earned their gold award last year are Morgan Alford, Amerie Gramelspacher, Katie Kirk, Bailey Sawyer and Rebecca Pober Citrin.    More information about each girl and her project can be found in the annual report.   We are very proud of these girls as well as the 27 that earned their Silver Award, and the 112 that earned their Bronze Award.    These girls are changing their world now.

Another of last year's challenges was the number of significant water leaks at Camp Scoutshire Woods and Kamp Kiwanis.   With a harsh winter the water lines, buried not far below ground level broke with a spill at Oka Misha at Camp Scoutshire Woods dumping 1,000,000 gallons of water into the lake.   The rangers worked most of the winter months addressing the water leaks at both camp properties.   As we replaced water lines we also put in additional valves so we can isolate one unit from another to turn the water off.

Since we were precariously close to ending the year spending more money than we brought in, we had our forester evaluate the pine plantation at Camp Sid Edmonds.   That pine forest was mature and needed attention, so we clear cut 69 acres of the pine plantation there to address the revenue shortfall.   It was a good time to cut timber and the funds produced from the pine plantation closed the revenue gap from fewer girls and a tough cookie program.   The pine forest will be replanted in January 2016.

The best part of the annual meeting is always awarding the Volunteer of the Year to one of our wonderful volunteers. This year's recipient was Barbara Mitchell.   Barbara has delivered Girl Scout programs and served as a role model to girls in the Dothan Public Housing community for more than twenty years.   Please read this blog entry about her many accomplishments..

For the entire annual report and financial report, please click here.

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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!

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This is the time of year frenetic with activities, events, and programs where girls are having some fun!    Last Thursday, we had Advocacy Day at the State House with the State Legislature.   We had a large group of girls who got to see the legislative process in action.  It was a good lesson in how complex the legislative process is.  

We were fortunate to have Young Boozer, the State Treasurer, take time from his busy schedule to talk with the girls.  Last weekend, we had the always-popular sleepover on the USS Alabama, a huge crowd for that.   I heard some girls didn't get much sleep, but all had a lot of fun.   Then the AU WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) group sponsored Pi Day, a daylong STEM program.   That program received great reviews, with all types of hands-on activities for girls to explore science and learn while having fun.   They would like to host that again next year, which we look forward to.

This weekend we have the NAS Pensacola event, which looks like fun touring the museum there, taking the trolley tour, watching an IMAX movie, tour the lighthouse, and having one of the generals speak.   Having recently visited there for the first time, it was a great place to spend a day.   The upcoming Dozing with Dolphins event was so over-subscribed that we had to add another date, so the program team is providing some great programs for the spring for girls to test their skills, learn some things through fun activities, and become leaders.

For those who are interested in a travel adventure, we have a mini-destination this summer to Huntsville.   What a great place to explore how the State of Alabama contributes to research and science through space.   Further details for that can be found on our website, and they are definitely worth checking out.

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....to everyone who moved cookies, sold cookies, marketed cookies, or had anything to do with the cookie program.    We are still working through some of details, but it looked like we did okay on the cookie program this year.   I recognize it is a tremendous amount of work and effort on the part of thousands of you to make that a success.   I always hear great stories about girls who found their voice, learned more about arithmetic, was able to make eye contact with strangers and a variety of other life skills from that one program.   So thank you for all you did to make everything about that program successful. 

We have gotten back into the swing of things with some great Girl Scout programs to celebrate Girl Scout week, which for us is every week.   Thanks to our hosts at Auburn University for a great equestrian program.   I saw the pictures and it looked like a great time.   We have Pi day this weekend, again thanks to Auburn University who is hosting this STEM day for the girls.   The USS Alabama Battleship sleepover is maxed out with girls, a great weekend is on tap for that one.   The Joy to Life walk in Montgomery is scheduled for April, if you have girls that need community service hours they need items made for the Survivor Tent.   Also, one of my favorites each year, the Biscuits baseball game and Camporee sleepover is in April.

We have a mini-destination scheduled for Huntsville, there is lots to see and do while there.   It would be a great way to explore science and be awestruck with how STEM can turn into a job that changes the world by going to space.   A great opportunity to explore the Great State of Alabama!

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It's time for our 2015 Annual Meeting, and we are excited about the business to be conducted and the time for volunteers to share their experience and successes with us. The materials are on the website and available for the meeting, which will held at the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Wiregrass on Alice Street (there are two in Dothan) on Saturday, March 28.   We have a nature-themed girl program, which will run concurrent to the business meeting and discussion sessions.

Each year the goal of having an annual meeting is to provide transparency and accountability to the membership about what transpired the year before.   We also review the financial results from the year prior and try to have some discussions that will interest volunteers.   We also present the annual volunteer of the year award. This year, the aware is going to Barbara Mitchell, a long-time volunteer from the Dothan area, who has worked with girls in public housing communities.

We move the annual meeting around the council jurisdiction, so all have an opportunity to attend.   We have held the annual meeting in Elba, but have not been to Dothan.   We receive strong support from the Wiregrass United Way in this area, so we are delighted to hold the meeting in that part of the council.   If you would like to attend the meeting and are a registered Girl Scout older than 14 years old, you can be a delegate.   Simply register as a delegate.   The registration materials for the meeting are available here, and can also be found on our website on our Forms page, under Publications.

We have lots of topics we would like to hear from you on, including the cookie program, fall product sale, program possibilities, camp programs and best practices or simply great idea you would like to share.

Once the meeting is over, we post the financial report and the annual report on our website for your review.   We know many of you like to know what is going on, so this is a great opportunity for you to share your thoughts, ideas, and challenges.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place. We hope to see you on March 28.

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The mountain of cookie boxes is starting to look more like a hill now, with cookies (happily!) continuing to fly out of the offices, cupboards, and warehouse.   We are grateful to each and every one of you who work with girls to make that the world's largest girl-led entrepreneurial program a success.   It is always simply amazing to see some of these girls in action.   Girls do learn how to set goals, make decisions, money management, people skills and business ethics from that experience.   Given what I have seen in some of these girls, they have a promising future as entrepreneurs themselves.

This time of year, as we see light at the end of the cookie program, we turn our attention to other activities and events we have planned to teach girls leadership.   It is always a busy time because we have some great spring programs planned.

One of the new events on the program calendar is Pi day at Auburn University on March 14.   The Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) are hosting this event of fun with science.   A STEM program, girls can select from the program outline the badge they are interested in earning during that daylong event. I even hear that Aubie will make an appearance!

For girls who enjoy politics, Advocacy Day at the State Capitol is always a great event.   Co-sponsored by Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama, this event has girls watching the beginning of the legislative sessions.   They have an opportunity to interact with legislators and get to see the process in action.   This event is on March 12.   Letters from local legislators are available requesting excused absences from for school.

Each year in April in Montgomery, there is a large event called the Joy to Life walk/run for breast cancer awareness.   This was started many years ago by a board member of Girl Scouts, Joy Blondheim, who is a breast cancer survivor.   She started this event to heighten awareness about breast cancer and its challenges.   There are a number of ways a troop can participate in this event, no matter where you live.   Troops can make bracelets that will be passed out to cancer survivors at the special Survivors Tent.   The bracelets can be made and taken to either the Montgomery or Mobile Service Center or given to your field executive to get to the event.   There is a new Joy to Life fun patch available for sale at the council shops.   Your troop can also volunteer to work at this event; it is an extravagant affair and includes many Girl Scouts who have survived breast cancer.

If you have never had the opportunity to visit the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, you have missed a treat and should take advantage of the following exciting program.   Mission:  NAS Pensacola is scheduled for March 21 at the air station where girls will have an opportunity to watch an IMAX film.   You can visit all various planes, jets, and winged forms of transportation, as well as take a tour of the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum.   The facilities are interesting and the highlight is a talk by a three star general and a Captain who was a Girl Scout.   This program will delight girls of all ages.

Also be sure to check out our Mini-Destination to Huntsville in July.  This two-night event will include both a special visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and Sci-Quest. Girls will get to tumble spin on the Multi-Axis Trainer and experience the Five Degrees of Freedom Chair at the Space and Rocket Center's sleepover space camp!  Then girls will have a one-of-a-kind science adventure sleepover at Sci-Quest where they will investigate the different ways things can glow by doing hands-on chemical reactions.  It all sounds so cool!
These are but a few of the programs we have planned for the spring and summer.   We hope you find some great activities for your girls to learn and experience leadership in action.

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We serve lots of girls from ages 5 to 11 and do an excellent job, providing them with lifelong skills and good friends.   But why do some continue past age 11 to complete the program?   As we look around at the programs we offer, it always seems that a role model has touched many of our older girls.   For many, this is their troop leader, an adult in their life not necessarily their parent, who they believe in.   But for some girls, it comes from some of the programs they attend.

We are fortunate to have a strong partnership with Distinguished Young Women in the Mobile area.   Each year representatives arrive from each state for a two-week experience in and around the Mobile.   Many of the troops and Girl Scout families in and around Mobile have met these girls at the airport, hosted them in their homes and enjoyed some great events with them.   These girls have consistently served as excellent role models for our girls. We also have a wonderful council patch program associated with Distinguished Young Women, called Be Your Best Self.

We have a wonderful partnership with the Kappa Delta sororities around the council, particularly in Mobile, Troy and Auburn.   These young women have sponsored badge days and volunteered at a many council events.   They serve as a great resource to encourage girls to continue their education.   They also provide a good resource of older role models for our girls as they explore what the right next path to take on their journey through life. 

Many of our girls are encouraged to remain Girl Scouts because of their involvement in earning the Bronze, Silver or Gold awards.   I have seen some excellent community work done through these award experiences.   In fact, in 2014 alone, our girls provided more than 3,000 hours of service to their communities through completing these award requirements. These experiences have led to scholarships and other accolades for these girls.   This is where you really see how the learning keys of discover, connect, and take action come together in the girls' experience.   These girls are simply amazing.

Each year we have at least one Jesuit Volunteer who works with the girls.   These college graduates have provided some excellent role models and leadership experiences for our girls.   Because they are viewed as closer in age, girls find them more approachable and easy to relate to.   Each has left a legacy of different gifts and made an impression on the girls they have served.

We have some fabulous opportunities for older girls.   For those who enjoy the water, we have a strong sailing program to hone skills and provide girls with a lifetime leisure activity.   The Mariner troop not only has a long summer camp to enjoy, but they have taken a fantastic sailing trip down the Florida Keys.   Another trip is in discussion for the near future.   GSUSA also provides excellent opportunities for leadership development through their Destinations program.   We have had one girl going to Central America, another to Michigan and two more sailing in the Caribbean; there are many ways a girl can grow and develop through these programs.

We recognize that girls have many options for their leisure time, but those girls who stay with Girl Scouts are some of the most accomplished young women I have had the privilege of meeting.   They are quietly capable, confident, and accomplished.   We have many programs this spring that provide great illustrations of great women role models, including Joy to Life, which has a great event in Montgomery, and Girl Scout Advocacy Day in March at the State Capitol. Make sure to check out these events and the many others that are planned!

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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Many of the values and lifelong skills are illustrated through the cookie program experience.   Girls find their voice, suddenly able to speak to strangers and gracefully accept "no" for an answer.   One of the more interesting facets of the learning experienced during the cookie program is how troops decide what to do with the cookie proceeds for the troop.

This is a great place for Girl Scouts to truly be "girl led."  One of the beautiful things about girls in a troop is that they often have to negotiate with one another.   Testing negotiation skills, leadership skills, and how to make group decisions enhances the girl experience.   I have heard a number of anecdotal stories about how girls determine what to do with their proceeds.   I have to admit I'm often entertained and surprised with what they do.

The most common use of cookie proceeds is the groups that fund their summer camp experience.   We have girls that sell enough to attend camp at both Camp Scoutshire Woods and Kamp Kiwanis.   I met two of those girls last week.   They are excited about using the cookie program to pay for their camp experience.   Those activities also build their skills.   These girls were excited about what camp experiences they would have this summer.

We hear about lots of girls that go to the McWane Science Center or the Georgia Aquarium.   Both hold many learning opportunities in a fun venue.    For most of our girls, these are significant trips and provide an opportunity to travel and see more than their hometown.   Some other things that I think are educationally valuable and interesting are the Selma to Montgomery Interpretive Centers; one is located in Selma and the other in Lowndes County.   Given the buzz around the anniversary of the march and the movie "Selma," it would be a good year for this visit.   I also like the Tuskegee Airmen Museum in Tuskegee, whichis en route to Auburn and/or Atlanta.   Two other places of note are the Naval Air Station Pensacola; one of our Gold Award recipients is based there in flight training.   They have an interesting museum with lots of hands-on activities, a bus tour, and for additional funds about four IMAX movies.   A new place that I have not visited yet is the Infinity Science Center located on Stennis Air Force Base on the western edge of Mississippi on I-10.   They have all sorts of interesting space exhibits.   Huntsville's Space and Rocket Center is another great place for girls to visit.

I know many girls take this opportunity to visit larger zip lines than the ones we offer at camp, overnights in new and different places.   I would put in a plug for Wehle Center in Bullock County.   They have fantastic facilities at a reasonable cost.   We also have lots of troops who use camps they don't regularly visit within GSSA.   Then there are the always-fun visits to water parks, zoos, and other events and activities close to where you live.   I hope your girls learn the power of being "girl led" through the cookie program.

Thank you for all you do to make that possible for them.


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What is that all about?   Many of you know the original story; that the cookie program started as girls learning to bake cookies and selling them as a fund raiser.   Isn't it amazing how the world's largest girl entrepreneur program was started by girls and was girl led?   And it started as early as 1917!

As you can imagine, we have seen a lot of changes to the cookie program this year with the move to allowing girls to sell cookies online.   This is a positive move, as girls have asked for this to happen and permission has been lagging.   Because of concerns over girl safety, this change did not move at "girl speed."   But with this said, selling items online and in a virtual marketplace will be the world these girls inhabit.  

This changes the mix on the cookie program because sales will become more reliant on the girl who has a good sales pitch and marketing for the e-mail recipient to purchase their cookies.  The online sale does not replace or substitute from the regular sale of cookies to friends, family, and at booth sales, so this is in addition to the other traditional sales approaches.

Our cookie baker, ABC, which has developed the online sales software, has assured us they have done considerable testing around the safety issues of girls doing online sales.   One of the safety features is that you cannot forward the e-mail from the Girl Scout from whom you received it to your friends, colleagues, etc.   The link is broken when forwarded, so girls have to initiate the e-mail to make the online sale.   If any of you experience something different, please let us know at communications@girlscoutssa.org.

There has been some blogging about the cost of shipping of Girl Scout cookies sold online.   For anyone whose dining room or home has been consumed in cases of Girl Scout cookies, this might not bother them.   Because this is the first time for this type of sale, there are no reductions in the actual shipping costs.  Or put another way, we do not have the volume that a company like Amazon has to negotiate dramatically reduced shipping rates.   Our baker has determined that purchasing a half case, whole case, or 8-pack of each variety sampler makes the shipping cost effective, so the orders have to be of that size to make the shipping costs bearable.

Although the cookie program always has everyone operating in high gear, each year we all hear wonderful stories about what it does for the self-confidence of the girls who participate.   Every year we hear about the quiet, shy girl who doesn't speak up at troop meetings.   She's an introvert and doesn't interact a lot.   And then, one day at a booth sale, this girl suddenly finds her voice.   She sheds the fright of speaking to people she doesn't know.   She gracefully accepts "no" as a response and isn't bothered by it.   She has discovered that she is an entrepreneur and a successful one.   This happens every year to many girls.

The cookie program has five objectives for girls, which build their self-confidence. They are goal setting, decision-making, money management, people skills, and business ethics.   We hear stories that demonstrate each of those objectives during the program each year.   If you have some good stories to share, please send them to communications@girlscoutssa.org.   We love to share those stories, and they reinforce the power of the program.

I want to remind people that this year the money management is more complex than in previous years. The gluten-free cookie, the Trio, costs $5 a box, rather than $3.50.   This means you will have to be more vigilant while you are selling cookies to be sure you collect the right amount for the type of cookie sold.   The bakers assure us those who regularly purchase gluten-free products are not bothered by the higher cost, but our concern is that your troop and your parents remember the price difference.   I had someone complain to me about it, and I understand change is hard.   As an educator, my response is that this creates a great opportunity for girls to practice their math skills.

We hope the addition of online sales is yet another way for you to learn with your daughter or troop member.   We believe this is a great opportunity for girls to experience the world they will inhabit.   As always, we can learn from girls about how to market and make sales.    I hope your experience with the cookie program is a positive one.