This is an email from one of the organizers of Friends of Crowell-Hilaka. It is a great and inspiration story about the impact Girl Scouts and their camps have had in one woman’s life. Rachel, thanks for sharing this with us. Readers, please consider signing the petition as Rachael says “time to make sure that what’s in the best interest of the girls is put at the top of the agenda.” The petition is available at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/GSNEO-Save-OUR-Camps/.
I joined Girl Scouts as a Daisy in the old GSLEC and I stayed in the program through my senior year in high school. As a graduation present, my parents bought me a lifetime membership. I loved my time in girl scouts and my favorite activity, bar none, was camping. Our troop never had a ton of money but we usually earned enough to camp twice a year, once in the winter, and once in the spring. Our troop dwindled in numbers over the years as girls moved away or just dropped out, but the six of us who stayed together through senior year remain friends and still laugh about our favorite camp memories—and there are more than enough to keep us busy even ten years later. One of my troop mates now works in the field of environmental sustainability because her love of nature was nurtured at camp. Another is a canoeing instructor in her spare time, a skill she first learned, and came to love, on our campouts. My sister, another troop member and I returned to work at Crowell-Hilaka through college- a job that we both consider the most rewarding job we’ve had yet.
Before I worked at camp I earned my Gold Award through a service unit event that I planned and then ran at Crowell-Hilaka which, in addition to providing a weekend campout for my service unit, created about a hundred bags of toiletries for a local women’s shelter. I wanted my project to be done at camp because I knew how much it already meant to me at that point, and I wanted to pay that forward both to girls in my area and women whose lives had not afforded them the luxuries mine had. The execution of my project was probably the biggest confidence booster I had during my high school career. I was always a little upset with school service projects because I constantly felt that I was fulfilling someone else’s vision despite being perfectly capable of creating my own. I was tired of school administrators’ overly controlling hand in our service projects in National Honor’s Society and Key Club, which I thought showed a lack of faith in our abilities as students. Being able to complete my Gold Award on my own terms helped me prove to myself that I could really do what I put my mind to. I was lucky enough to have people around me growing up who told me that all the time, but camp gave me the opportunity to actually see that. I’d never felt so confident and proud. It got even better when I spun that experience into successful college applications. “What do you consider your proudest moment?” became an easy question to answer. And my service unit event kept helping me even after I graduated from college. I got a job at the Children’s Museum of Cleveland, based largely on my Gold Award camp project and my work at Crowell-Hilaka throughout college.
I came to work at Crowell-Hilaka because I was lucky enough to attend resident camp at Crowell-Hilaka from the time I was in 5th grade to the summer before my senior year—the last summer resident camp was offered there. I couldn’t wait for camp every summer because I always participated in the horse program, which allowed me to live out my childhood fantasies of being a cowboy. Resident camp ended on a bittersweet note for me because I earned the right to be a riding instructor in training just as they stopped resident camp. To finally get to be a riding instructor I applied for a job at the Crowell-Hilaka barn during college. I’ve worked a few jobs since then, but none has ever been as fulfilling and fun as that job at the Girl Scout barn. I could never really believe that I was getting paid to work with horses, and working with the girls, the horses, and the barn cats was always surprising and rewarding in ways that were always unexpected.
We worked with a lot of suburban and inner-city girls who understandably came in nervous or downright terrified when it came right down to getting up on a horse. There was never a better feeling than when you could convince one of those scared girls to go around the ring just once and then build on that until by the end of the ride she was smiling and giggling: confidence learned by making memories outside, not by sitting in a seminar. And I always got a kick out of giving adults who hadn’t ridden in years the chance to ride again.
GSLEC decided to close the barn and shut the horse program in 2005. We suspected the decision was coming and tried our best to cut costs and continually asked whether council was going to shut the program down. They assured us they had great new plans for council programming, and that we were part of those plans, but they announced in September of 2005 that in April they’d decided to shut us down. We tried to pull some support for the horse program together at the 11th hour, but it was too late, and we were forced to sell the horses. Horses are social animals, used to living in a herd, and it was heartbreaking, as the horses left, one by one, to listen to the remaining horses call for their lost herd-mates. I’d known some of those horses since they were bought in the summer of 1996 and I was still a camper. It was so hurtful to have to sell them and know that I would never see them again. I took some time away from the girl scouts after that, but I came back after the merger in hopes that things had changed. The whole camp situation, from the selling of Jessie Mae and Lycopoedia to the mothballing of Great Trail and Crowell-Hilaka make me feel that I’m living through the selling of the horses again. GSNEO is giving us the same answers about camps now that GSLEC did in 2005: smiling messages that said that exciting new opportunities were coming and that they were doing what was best for the girls. The lack of transparency and the negative attitudes toward the camps scares me. It existed then, and it’s survived in the new, merged council. This desire to keep camps open isn’t about nostalgia. It’s about making sure an institution that has so much positive impact is kept open and kept open in a form that can serve as many girls as is possible.
For me, it’s time to fight, now before it’s too late. It’s time to make sure that what’s in the best interest of the girls is put at the top of the agenda. It’s time to remind GSNEO that transparency and real volunteer input is what makes non-profit organizations so valuable. For me, it’s time to get back to the part of Girl Scouting that made the most difference in my life and the lives of my friends.
Friends of Crowell-Hilaka
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