Recently in CEO Category

Thumbnail image for Liz-Brent_2016.jpg

I'm writing this on a Monday morning, following events at most of our camp properties all weekend.   We had girls doing all sorts of things this weekend, but mostly they were learning while having fun.

It is simply amazing to see so many people outdoors, working with girls to learn about their environment and their world.   They honed their skills that will serve them for a lifetime and and got to experience new things.    There was zip lining, canoeing, archery, horseback riding, sailing, tie-die, starting fires, making a meal over an open campfire, s'mores, and a campfire to round out the evening.   The weather wasn't quite perfect. Although the sun was warm, the wind was brisk and the evenings chilly.   But the girls and their mentors integrated that into their weekend experience.

As we have talked to girls who shared this experience, whether it was Camp Scoutshire Woods, Camp Sid, or Kamp Kiwanis, everyone reported they had a great time.   In fact, some that we talked to were wildly enthusiastic about the weekend they had.   This is what fond memories are made of, and I have to think it was not only the girls who had a memorable weekend.

Thank you to all who went to a lot of work and effort to make that weekend so fantastic for so many.   We appreciate all you do to make the world a better place.

Thumbnail image for Liz-Brent_2016.jpg

I suspect we all have those who have gone before us that we look up to or consider our heroes.   One of mine is Eleanor Roosevelt.   Wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she had a troubled childhood with a father who was an alcoholic.   She felt like she was an unloved child, despite being from a very wealthy family.   She was not especially attractive, and her grandmother reminded her of that deficiency frequently.   Mrs. Roosevelt had many children and then had to confront her husband's debilitating illness, polio.   Mrs. Roosevelt would have not preferred to be in the limelight for a large portion of her life. However, her husband sought public office after public office, serving as a three term President of the United States.

Mrs. Roosevelt was simply amazing on many fronts.   This is not to say she was without flaws.   However, like a fine wine, the older she was, the more she saw life from the lens of many with whom she visited and worked.  She was a humanitarian, a stateswoman, and she changed her world for the better.

Sometimes we know others though the nuggets they leave behind.   In the case of Mrs. Roosevelt, gems of wisdom that quickly express thoughts that I agree with or experience.   As I muse through some of Mrs. Roosevelt's thoughts, I think of many of you, who might not have the visibility of Mrs. Roosevelt, but who exemplify many of her nuggets of wisdom by what you do with girls to change the world.

Here's some of Mrs. Roosevelt's wisdom that remind me of the many volunteers I encounter. I hope you will enjoy some of them as much as I do.

A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.

You must do things you think you cannot do.

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

Since you get more joy out of giving to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.

Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.   You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror.   I can take the next thing that comes along.'

The giving of love is an education in itself.

You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.


I am privileged to see many of you face difficult issues.   I see you share your love.   You make others happy.   I've seen the notion of woman as a tea bag in action, facing many complicated issues with girls and doing some amazing things.   But most important, you are building the future by the beauty of your dreams.

Thank you for what you do to build girls into women of courage, confidence, and character.

 

Thumbnail image for Liz-Brent_2016.jpg

Building birdhouses, marking trails, horseback rides, sailing, making paper, what fun girls can have on their weekends.   Learning never looked so much fun.   I saw girls doing all sorts of things this weekend, learning and giving back to others while enjoying each other, the woods, and nature.   When asked if they were having a good time, they all gave an enthusiastic "yes!"

We have some great council programs planned for the remainder of spring, and I know of many troops who have some fun stuff planned as they draw this school year to a close.   I often wonder if the girls who do not participate in Girl Scouts have any idea what they are missing?   Do they recognize that there is so many opportunities they could have that will shape what they know and who they will become.

A part of what I saw this weekend and is pervasive at the programs we have is the commitment and devotion of many adults who take the time from their weekend to make this happen for their girls.   I know sleeping over this past weekend at camp was not a warm night.   Spending hours getting girls to an event, dealing with the chaos of sleeping in a tent or at camp, and returning them home takes a lot of time and patience.   I have the opportunity to meet many of you, who are always generous, kind, and caring.   I am always struck with how unselfish and wonderful our volunteers and parents are.

We don't always let you know how much of a difference you make in the lives of those you shepherd.   When I have the opportunity to talk to older Girl Scout alumnae, especially those who continue to meet 40 years later, it is the troop leader they talk about.   They enjoy one another, but they always talk about how the troop leader taught them to swim, took them out of the state for the first time, or taught them to cook over a campfire.   Those stories are simply wonderful.   You might not continue to meet with your troop 40 years from now, but never underestimate how much impact you have on the lives of those you touch through this endeavor.

Thank you for what you do to make the world a better place.

pat_hall.jpg

Volunteers are the lifeblood of this organization.   They have been since its inception more than 104 years ago.   Without volunteers, our girls would not be as well poised to change the world, as they do on a daily basis.   We are fortunate to have more than 2,500 wonderful parents and volunteers who work with girls and we appreciate what each person does to make this endeavor successful.

Each year, we choose from our 2,500 volunteers one individual who exemplifies a commitment to the girls and changing their world.   This year, we are delighted that Pat Hall from Butler is the Volunteer of the Year.

Pat was a girl member of Girl Scouts for ten years.   She has served the girls and the community of Butler in Choctaw County for more than 30 years in a leadership role with Girl Scouts.   

When I first came to GSSA, I noticed Pat, not because she made a point to remind me of who she was, but because at every event I saw her at, I noticed she wore a Girl Scout uniform.   Pat is quiet and self-effacing.   Not one to draw attention to herself in any way, she is always at annual meetings and council events, present involved and engaged in the business of the council.   It took me awhile to figure out who she was and where she was from.   It took me longer than it should have to visit her in Butler and see the Little Green House where their Girl Scouts meet - a house that has been in Pat's family for many years.

As a Girl Scout, one of the events Pat remembers most is attending the Girl Scout International Roundup in Idaho, which welcomed over 9,000 girls from all over the world.   The roundup lasted for two weeks.   Can you imagine a two-week roundup of that size today, what an event that would be?!

Pat has done exemplary work for girls with Girl Scouts in Choctaw County.   She is known as a contributing citizen of her community, but serves as the face of Girl Scouting.   She has been a troop leader, service unit manager, cookie cupboard person, and after-school Girl Scout coordinator.   She has done it all.   She still juggles meetings, volunteers, parents, and opportunities for girls in her community, even as her own daughter is grown up and has a family of her own.    

Pat Hall lives the Girl Scout Promise and Law on a daily basis.   She does many things for others and has consistently made her world a better place for more than 40 years.   Congratulations Pat, we are proud to serve alongside you!

Thumbnail image for Liz-Brent_2016.jpg

It is spring and the azaleas are in bloom, as well as the spirea, dogwoods, redbuds and a wide variety of other trees, bushes and flowers.   For those of you bothered by pollen, yes, your car and outdoor furniture is coated in that lovely yellow dust on a daily basis.   But spring announces the fun of the season and the always popular end of the school year.

This spring has given us way too much rain for some of our council events, causing us to postpone them. I know of a number of camporees and sleepovers at camp that needed to be changed because of the monsoon and storms we have had this spring.

The rangers are reporting they are spending a lot of time working on washed out areas of roads and trails, which is always a challenge this time of year.   It is time when I'm listening to requests from them asking for loads of rock and gravel to stabilize roads for later use in the summer.

Sometimes, in this context, we don't recognize what we do have and how wonderful it is.   We have had folks from other councils come and use the Scott House at Camp Sid Edmonds as a base during the Christmas holidays and spring break.   They come and explore what Alabama has to offer both the fantastic biodiversity, the Gulf Coast, and what we have at our own camp properties.   They are always very complimentary of the living conditions and the convenient location, which allows them to explore this part of the country.

I know many of you have discovered the convenience of using one of the camps as a base for exploring enjoy both what camp has to offer, as well as other areas close to camp.   I'm always interested in some of the trips troops do that take the girls to explore and understand their own.   It is one of many ways we see you contribute to the future by showing girls what their world has to offer.

Thanks for the time you spend investing in the future by sharing your gifts with girls.

Liz-Brent_2016.jpg

Spring is in the air, and spring break is here or about to commence.   I enjoy seeing what many of you do during spring break.   Most everyone that I see photos of is enjoying the beauty of spring and the outdoors.   Funny, I wonder if there is a correlation between that and being a Girl Scout?   I suspect there is.   I'm also struck by how so many of you are people of action, not sitting on the couch much.   Most of you are out with your kids spending time investing in their fun.   It is good to watch and share in those memories.

We have some great spring programs for the end of the school year.   All look fun and like things I would want to do.   I want to remind you that the annual meeting is at Kamp Kiwanis on Saturday, April 9.   There will be an update of what went on last fiscal year with the audit results and the annual report.   We have a good day planned for girls and adults.

We continue to work to sell the excess cookie inventory.   As an appreciation gesture, we will sell cases of cookies for $25.   This includes mixed cases. If you have an interest or know of some businesses that would like to purchase them as thank you gifts, please send Teri Eversole or Amy Murray an e-mail.   They are teversole@girlscoutssa.org and amurray@girlscoutssa.org.

Camp information is on the website, and we are working on camp sign up.   As a reminder, for those who aren't quite ready for a night in a tent, we do offer day camp for those girls who want to come home.   I know each year we have some involved in softball and other sports activities, so for them day camp is a good option.   It should be a great year at resident camp.   We are going to work on teaching lots of basic camping skills in addition to the program the girls sign up for.   As always, there is financial assistance available, and that application can be found in the camp materials at www.girlscoutssa.org/camp.

As we think through the importance of this wonderful time of year, I want to let you know how much we appreciate the hard work and care you put into being a Girl Scout.   Thank you. Enjoy this beautiful spring!


liz-2015.jpg

Recently, I attended the GSUSA CEO meeting where we spent three days discussing how to project the Girl Scout organization forward.    GSUSA has conducted quite a bit of research on parents and how they decide whether their daughter should be a Girl Scout.   They acknowledged that the girls had some input, but generally the parents also had decision-making power.

One of the elements of the research was the large number of people who don't understand what Girl Scouts does and don't even consider it because of their lack of knowledge about our organization.   It is hard to believe a 104-year-old organization, which has an iconic brand, isn't known or understood by part of the population.   The good news is that there wasn't a lot of data that indicated Girl Scouts isn't relevant.   The focus of the program on the outdoors, STEM, entrepreneurship, and life skills seems to have addressed some of the conclusions about that, so in some respects, we are moving at GIRL SPEED.

Over the next few years, GSUSA is investing in some complex computer infrastructure issues.   Some would say this should have been done years ago, however, it wasn't.   This comes at no small cost, and coupled with the escalating costs of everything else, results in an increase in the base prices of Girl Scout dues to GSUSA for the 2017 membership year from $15 to $25 per member.   In an effort to address those who cannot afford it, they will be giving a small percentage of that back to councils that first year as financial assistance to try not to have a membership decline.

There was a lot of work done around branding the Girl Scout brand.   Those at the conference saw some great new brand work.   The emphasis will be on GIRL, which will be highlighted at GO GETTER, INNOVATOR, RISK TAKER, LEADER.   The emphasis was also on girls who learn how to take risks -- who can accept failure, get up and try again to move toward success.   Frankly, in my own work as I see girls at camp, girls on zip lines, and girls at STEM programs, they do confront their fears, understand what they are capable of, and learn how to be successful.   I was delighted to see the emphasis on risk taking in a safe environment and continuing to highlight the programs we excel at to shape tomorrow's leaders. We have an exciting future ahead!

liz-2015.jpg

The sun is shining through my office windows as I write this.   There's a squirrel sitting on the bird feeder eating something as the butterflies buzz around, summoning the beginnings of spring.   The breeze is nice, and you can start to see the tree buds as I drive around the council territory.   Clearly, spring is in the air and our thoughts are turning away from cookies and toward being in the outdoors.

This time of year I spend time with the rangers working through their needs, their priorities, and things to get their camps ready for girls to reappear.   They are always eager for the girls to return to camp.   Camp Sid Edmonds was replanted in loblollies in one day.  It's amazing how quick it was.   We had someone working on the stumps there, so it is looking different than the last time you saw it.   I have not been up there yet, but it is certainly on my short list of things to do.   We have had a number of volunteers and parents volunteer to do a workday at Kamp Kiwanis to get it ready for girls.

We welcome a new camp ranger to Kamp Kiwanis.   Mike Breshears might be familiar to you if you are around the Montgomery area.   He has two daughters who are Girl Scouts, and his wife, Caroline, is an active troop leader and ran our Montgomery cookie pantry.   We hope you will welcome him as he works to address the many issues at Kamp Kiwanis.  We have lost some very large pine trees recently in some inconvenient places there.   Kudos to our Camp Sid Edmonds ranger, Jesse Malone, for managing his camp and Kamp Kiwanis as we worked to hire a ranger. We had many wonderful applicants for the ranger position and appreciate those who applied.

The rangers always prefer having girls on their properties.   I have heard about some fun ideas for camporees planned this spring.   We also have a great camp program planned; Tinker Bell is going to be working to build camping skills while you attend resident camp.   These are skills you can use for a lifetime.   It is worth it to check out the materials online.   I have the opportunity to visit all our camp properties frequently.   If you like to camp, consider taking your troop to one of the other council properties, each property is beautiful in its own way and has something wonderful to teach girls.

Hopefully, after doing a lot of things with girls around financial literacy, you can turn your attention to the outdoors and have some fun exploring what all there is to offer.

liz-2015.jpg

We have been fortunate to have some really great cookie programs since I have been here.   It is interesting to me that this year the feedback we are receiving says people just aren't buying cookies.   They walk past and not only do they say no to purchasing, but they aren't exactly even nice about it.   I find that troubling and wonder what that says about our slipping civility.

We did receive a great deal of feedback about the cookie program, some things we can improve and lots of great suggestions and ideas.   In an effort to respond to those, I wanted to be sure to address some of the consistent concerns we received.

First, we closed out last year $53,000 in the red, or in "the hole."   Again, this happened for the first time since I have been here.   Last year, the girls sold lots of cookies and did a great job.   We wound up with $40,000 in excess cookie inventory because we had one parent take $40,000 in cookies and not pay. We also had a significant cut in the River Region United Way funding, $38,000, so we had $118,000 in unanticipated lost revenue.  

It is important that we work hard to assure our income matches what we spend annually.   We eliminated two full-time positions from the budget, which we have been doing over the past few years.   We have many less staff than we had even three years ago.   Salaries are the largest expenditure in our budget, with utilities the next highest.   And it is pretty tough to cut our utility consumption.   Watching what we spend is on everyone's mind this year.

We made many changes to the cookie program.   We did increase the price of a box of cookies from $3.50 to $4 per box, and we were late in doing that, as many other councils went to $4 several years ago.   The councils in the western United States are at $5 now.   Clearly, there is some price sensitivity, and we want to be aware of that.   It is interesting to me because the Mobile office is one block from a Starbucks.   As I come and go, I see cars lined up to purchase single cups of coffee for over $5, but $4 for a box of cookies that do last awhile is a high-cost item.   There's some incongruity on the part of the public on this issue.

As we dissected what we were doing, we realized had so many contests, rewards and the like we were actually losing money from the top cookie sellers.   The cost of patches and additional bars was unbelievable.   As we worked through each issue, we discussed what is valuable to a girl selling and what isn't.   Many said the additional patches were often not used and put in a drawer or never put on to a sash or vest.   Rather than waste valuable financial resources, we decided it was best to allow a girl to make her own decision about the additional patches.   When those run $.45 each, and you multiply those across 5000+ girls selling cookies, and they come at each level, you can imagine what the cost of that is.

We did move from a system that rewarded large troops with the bonus to one that is more equitable across all troops, no matter their size.   Now, don't get me wrong, we do understand every troop has girls that are stars and sell lots of cookies while others do the minimum to get by.   I suspect every troop has that situation.   However, the previous system rewarded large troops at the expense of smaller troops.   Our troop sizes run the gamut from very large to very small.   We are interested in a system that is equitable.   Most of the country uses per girl average and not troop totals, so our previous system was somewhat out of sync.

Just to give you an idea, I spent a week taking last year's troop results and applying the new formula to see what the net effect was.   I had about 10 pages of numbers by troop to determine what the net effect would be on  our girls.   The short answer is that, when I ran the numbers, many troops benefitted from the new system.   There was a group in the middle where there was no impact, and a small group would have seen a troop decrease, but the number of troops that would experience a decrease predicated on the new formula was small based on last year's data.   That is why we made that change coupled with the price increase.   Returning to my earlier point, we did increase the troop proceeds, but also need to balance the budget.

There was a lot of complaining about some of the incentives; in fact, the one that is taking a beating is the hand sanitizer.   As a reminder, the council staff asks the girls to select the incentives.   What we have found is that girls have a better feel for what they like than we do.   The hand sanitizer is at a level where the girls have a choice, so they do not need to select the hand sanitizer.   We have consistently found that the some of the things the council staff likes is not what is selected by the girls, so we are pretty careful to use the data provided by the online surveys and the surveys of girls done at council events.

Another common theme was around the cost of camp and how hard it is to reach 800 boxes of cookies for program credits.   We have had to locate and use another vendor to provide our horse camp horses.   Please understand, we are renting someone else's horses for 3 weeks.   This involves moving him or her, feeding the horses, and having a vet certify each horse.   The cost of the horses increased significantly.   We have been trying to be very modest in our increases in the cost of camps, but when you compare the cost of a week of Girl Scout camp to any other camp, ours are significantly less expensive.   Most girls who earn the program credits do not use them for camp.

We appreciate that you take your valuable time to make this endeavor work.   We recognize this is countless weekends, sometimes in the cold.  You often work with parents who aren't responsible, responsive, or cooperative.   We do understand that this is hard work and sometimes it feels thankless, but as I travel around and have the privilege of meeting some of the girls you work with.   Your investment of time is recognizable, because these girls can do anything.   Thank you for all you do. It is a labor of love.

liz-2015.jpg

The cookie program has been slow this year, and we can't figure out quite why.   This is normally a time when we are simply frantic working to keep up.   The volunteers we have been talking to say the cookies have just not been moving.   When they are usually returning to the cupboard for more cookies, they have not had to return this year.   Last year, we ended the sale with $40,000 in excess cookie inventory, so we are doing everything we can to help the girls move cookies, since that is hard on the entire program and costs everyone money.   We are soliciting ideas for how to finish up this year strong and sell the cookies that remain in our cupboards and in troop hands.  Please email us your ideas at communications@girlscoutssa.org.

We haven't heard much about the cookie drive-thrus. Did they work, or were they a bust?   We also had a hard time scheduling some of the Wal-Marts we would normally have set up prior to the start of the sale, so we are working to do some booth sales in the new neighborhood grocery stores, as they seem to be filled with cars when we go by many of them.   We would be interested in feedback on why you think the sale is slower than usual.

I have seen girls out and about selling cookies.   We also had more girls registered this year, so in some ways this is counter-intuitive as to why the cookie program is lagging.   We still don't see much action-selling on COCO direct, which is a good way to sell because you do not have to touch the cookies. You just send the postcards and your friends and family order.

We hope the program has been a learning experience for the girls you work with.   Each year, I hear about girls who learn they have a voice.   They can approach strangers, take no for an answer, and learn how to count change.   In all, it is a great learning experience.   Thanks for all you do to make this possible. Please help our girls by helping us end the sale on a solid note!

Monthly Archives