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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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.

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I hope you have some fun in the sun and outdoors planned. I certainly do!  I think it will be a great summer.

We are moving forward on the work at Camp Sid Edmonds.   The funds from the timber sale will address the budget shortfall from a lower than anticipated cookie sale.   It is a combination of the sale of the larger timber on the outer part of the camp and a thinning for the interior of the camp.   This should create more trails through the woods for people and animals.

We are working to finish the sail loft at Kamp Kiwanis.   The winter was cruel with water line breaks at every camp property at some point, so the forward movement was curtailed with maintenance issues.   We had someone in the northern part of the state contact us to give us yet another large sailboat.   We are fortunate to have such generous individuals.   At this point, I'm considering bringing at least one of the larger sailboats down to the Mobile area so the mariners can hone their sailing skills on the bay.

We have had Kohls and Target staff work on our properties to clean them up for us.   With 36 buildings and 36 bathhouses, the wind and weather take their toll.   We also have alumnae who are scheduled to assist us in getting Kamp Kiwanis ready for resident camp, which is also a gift.

Hopefully, time with your girls and family are a central part of your summer plans.

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I've had the opportunity to attend some graduation activities of our graduating Girl Scouts.   What a treat!   Every graduate is an accomplished individual beyond their activities in Girl Scouts, and we wish them the best in the next part of their Journey through life.

For many of you, this is the time of year when you are trying to adjust to a somewhat different schedule.   Hopefully, lots more outdoor activities, trying new things, and some leisure time that you just don't have the opportunity for during the school year.

I know many of you suspend troop meetings during the summer so you don't have to hassle with coordinating vacation schedules, people moving in different directions, and summer fun.    I want to thank you for all you do for girls.    This has been a good year in many ways and one that has held its challenges.   I'm sure you can resonate with that.    We cannot do this work without you.   I know there are days when it is frustrating, but I hope the moments with the girls when they gain an insight makes all that worthwhile.

We have had service units give scholarships to their graduates recently.   We had another troop that is graduating give their remaining troop funds to fund a camp scholarship in honor one of their deceased troop members.   I hear about great summer events that troops are doing some exciting events with their troop proceeds.  

I reached an age milestone recently with my birthday, and it is closer to retirement than it is my youth at this point.   I still look back on my Girl Scout experiences with fondness and pleasure.   I remember the women who were part of that experience -- the leaders who taught life skills I still use today.   They were role models.   I hope you know you serve that role to the girls you work with.   Every day I hear examples of great leadership on your part.   Those might seem insignificant, but never underestimate what small thing will change a girl's life and be that one moment that makes a difference in her life.

Thank you for your hours of work, patience, planning, and contribution to make the world a better place.    You are special! I'm hoping it is a great summer.

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Each year troops and service units kindly donate funds to the council for camp equipment, other items for broader Girl Scout use, and current initiatives.   We are grateful for these donations and appreciate the thought that goes into them.

This year Troop 8442 of Fairhope has taken the spirit of giving one step further, and created a lasting memorial to a one of their own. The remaining members of the troop are graduating, so they are  disbanding.   They had funds left in their troop account, so they decided to honor one of their troop members, Emily Dunnam, who was killed in an accident a number of years ago.   They have established a camp scholarship fund in her name to fund girls who cannot afford to attend Girl Scout camp.

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Emily was always proud to be a Girl Scout.   Even when the troop was in middle school, she wasn't ashamed to be a Girl Scout.   Cori Yonge, one of her troop leaders, describes Emily as one of the girls at every troop activity.   She was a great soccer player, so she would come to Girl Scouts from soccer practice, and Emily enjoyed all camping outings.    Judy Hale, her other Girl Scout leader, said at the troop's ending luncheon that she would have stayed a Girl Scout until she graduated.

Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama has approved the establishment of the Emily Dunnam Camp Scholarship fund to provide financial assistance to girls who otherwise could not afford to attend camp.   The first camp scholarships will be awarded for the 2014 camp scholarship season.

Emily was an inspiration to her troop.

 


Troop 8442 has has continuously illustrated the power of what girls can do through Girl Scouts.   Thank you to them for remembering one of their own by establishing a camp scholarship fund.   Thank you to all the other troops of the council who have also made the world a better place in sharing their resources with their fellow Girl Scouts.

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Each year, Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama is given the gift of millions of hours of generosity on the part of the volunteers.   These volunteers make a difference in the lives of thousands of girls in the southern half of the Great State of Alabama.   Most would be worthy recipients of the Volunteer of the Year award.   They are devoted to their girls, spend lots of times assuring girls have a great experience, and much of their work and effort goes unheralded.

In 2001, Leslie Lerner started to substitute teach at St. Paul's Episcopal School, when her own children were getting older.  By 2004, she was working full time at St. Paul's.   For many of those years, Leslie has been a volunteer with Girl Scouts, working with St. Paul's students to bring Girl Scouting to students at Augusta Evans School in Mobile.   She has inspired her students to provide Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to the students there.

Leslie, as the head of the Community Service Department at St. Paul's, works with students who become class tutors at Prichard Preparatory School, and the Regional School for the Deaf and Blind.   St. Paul's students do projects at McKemie Place, the Ronald McDonald House, Animal Rescue Foundation, and Little Sisters of the Poor.   Students also do annual service days at Habitat for Humanity and Wilmer Hall.   As a part of a St. Paul's education, students are required to perform at least 15 hours of community service per year, and Leslie is a task master to assure the students do the work and do quality work in the community.

Leslie Lerner is driven.   She is driven to help others.   She is driven to be sure her students assist the largest number of people possible.   Leslie has high expectations for herself and her students.   She is a servant leader.   Leslie is remarkable because she always brings out the best in the people she touches.   Her energy and drive have made the St. Paul's Community Service Department an asset to the community.

On behalf of more than 7,000 girls of Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama, I want to congratulate Leslie Lerner on being selected our 2013-2014 Volunteer of the Year.

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