CEO: June 2013 Archives

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Lately there have been some challenging articles written by the mainstream media about our parent organization, Girl Scouts of the USA.  

The focus is GSUSA has hired a consultant to reimagine its configuration now that there are 112 high-capacity councils across the United States, rather than the 330 councils, as it was six years ago.   They have pared the staff at GSUSA from more than 600 full-time employees to what is reported around 400 full-time employees.   Last week, those employees were offered retirement packages to encourage some to retire as Anna Marie Chavez works to "right size" the national organization to fit the needs of the councils.

As you may know, GSSA has had to "right size" a number of times to address tight budgets and a concern that we are too reliant on the cookie program for income.   We recently had to lay-off a number of staff because of the DEFUNDING by the Southwest Alabama United Way (Mobile and Clarke counties).   These budget shortfalls have consequences for those who work for Girl Scouts and for those we serve.

Just to provide some clarity about GSSA's situation in the context of the larger assertions in the media.   Yes, our retirement liability increases annually.   The staff members and I have spoken to Congressional aides about supporting the legislation providing relief from the requirement of having the retirement plan fully funded.

GSSA's membership bounces around and is very reflective of the national scene.   We had three years of modest growth, this year we are down in membership.   A large number of our members are girls in Head Start and other federally funded programs that were cut on sequestration, so the outlook there is a challenge.   There seems to be no logic in what years our membership is strong.  

This past year we encouraged service units who grew membership and cookie sales with a bonus to the service unit.   Of the 43 service units in GSSA, three received the membership bonus and eight received the cookie program bonus.   When we asked one of the service unit managers what she did differently to dramatically increase her girl numbers, she said she didn't know.

Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama were working to sell several of their camp properties.   Some of their long-time adult members were so irate about the plan that they have sued the council and been elected to the board of directors. 

We are very fortunate in regard to property. I had GSUSA property consultants in over two years ago, and we spent a week traveling each property with him making recommendations.   Our properties are adequately spaced apart from one another and in reasonable shape.   We would like a higher utilization of the properties.   I am looking at renting the properties to others on the weekends when they are not being used by Girl Scouts, since replacing lost income with new revenue streams is critical.   We have a long-range facilities master plan that we are working on.   You see some movement at each camp and office that comes directly from that master plan.  

Camp Scoutshire Woods is getting new kitchen equipment as we can find it (we try to buy government surplus items to save money) and a storage building near the recreation hall.   Kamp Kiwanis has a new sailboat loft being built.   Camp Humming Hills saw the addition of canoe racks and some canoes moved to that property.   At Camp Sid Edmonds, we worked replacing boards around the waterfront.

Clearly, as Girl Scouts we are at a crossroads.   We need to find more ways to raise funds from sources other than the cookie program.   The funding by United Way agencies in our community is struggling with more requests than funds.   There are more opportunities for troops to raise funds for their own activities, and we at GSSA are always interested in opportunities you see that we are not capitalizing on to strengthen our fiscal strength.   This is a girl organization focused on what is best for the girls who participate.   

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We need your assistance. It's summer, and we are doing plenty of planning for the fall.   The cookie program rewards are up at resident camp and on the website for the girls to vote on.  Planning for council programs that require long lead times are in process, and every week we have another day-long meeting to work on plans.

We are moving toward a different model of member recruitment in the fall.   For years, we have used the council staff to go around the council and conduct recruitments in many areas.   However, we have learned that you know your community better, and often, we are simply in the way or don't fully understand what schools and communities have what needs.   We are interested in partnering with the key players in each service unit to maximize our recruitment efforts in the coming fall.   We have not made our membership goal this year, and that always affects other issues.   It is like dominoes -- once the first domino goes there is a cascade.

We want your input before we get too far down the road in planning.   Please send your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions to membership@girlscoutssa.org, and we will integrate your feedback into our plans and work to include you in assisting us reaching more girls.

Thanks for all you do. I hope you are having a great summer. 

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It is starting to get hot outside, summer is at our doorstep.  This is always the best time of year, as we have camps going on all over the council.   Resident camp started at Scoutshire Woods this week.   We have girls learning to ride horses, to survive in the woods, to swim, and how to be independent strong, confident girls.

This summer, we are fortunate to have a grant at the beach, so we have Beach Scouts going, a month long day camp for girls.   This is their second week, and they are having a blast.   Summer is a great time to continue learning, but learning by hands-on experiences.   Many children learn better with hands-on experiences, so we are pleased to have the opportunity to enrich girls' lives through summer experiences that build skills, push them out of their comfort zone, and get them into the great outdoors.   I hope your plans for the summer include great family time with your Girl Scout.

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My mantra for this week is "hold fast to your dreams!"  This is the week we have three summer camps started across the council.   I'm excited, as this is always my favorite time of year.   We have Camp Sunshine, a long-running camp for girls in public housing communities in Montgomery, which has been run and funded by an extraordinary pair of friends, Laurie Weil and Kathy Sawyer, for the past 25 years.  

These two perfectly illustrate the power of Girl Scouts. Kathy Sawyer and Laurie Weil both grew up in Montgomery in the 1960s, during a time of civil unrest and racial turmoil.   It is unlikely they knew each other when they were children, one growing up on one side of town, the other on the other side of town.   Those were the days of segregation, when blacks sat in the back of the bus and white girls didn't have many black girls who were their friends.

Both went on to become accomplished women, one a veterinarian and the other a public servant working with the mentally ill.   Their backgrounds could not have been more different, but the values of their parents were the same.   You treated everyone with respect and dignity.    You become a responsible contributing citizen of your community and you give back what you can to the community.   Their parents shared those values and inculcated them into their daughters.

Kathy Sawyer and Laurie Weil became friends while participating in Leadership Montgomery, a program to break down racial barriers and stereotypes.   It provides a safe place for people to talk about their community's shared issues.   Not only did these accomplished women become friends, they decided to change their community.   Together they founded Camp Sunshine, a program for girls in Montgomery's public housing communities.

This camp attracts volunteers of all ages from the Montgomery area and beyond to spend a week with the girls of Camp Sunshine.   Girls from the public housing communities in Montgomery covet a place in the camp, which is a safe place for girls to learn about character, how to be courageous, and be confident.   It is a safe place where no one yells at them. Everything at the camp is about support and becoming the girl you can be.

For the past 25 years, Kathy Sawyer and Laurie Weil have shared their gifts with the girls of Montgomery.   They have improved the lives of thousands of girls and volunteers.   Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama is delighted to announce the naming of the pavilion at Kamp Kiwanis, a place where girls go to talk, understand one another, and make friends, after Kathy Sawyer and Laurie Weil.   The Sawyer-Weil pavilion will be a reminder to those who go on from now that a strong bond and friendship these women share.   This will serve as a safe place for girls to "hold on to their dreams and make them become a reality."   Thank you to Kathy Sawyer and Laurie Weil for your gift to the girls of the Montgomery community.

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