I received some very sad news in my email box yesterday that's left me and my daughter reeling. Our local Girl Scout council has recommended the sale of all four of their camp properties: Camp Little Cloud in Dubuque County, Iowa; Camp L-Kee-Ta in Des Moines County, Iowa; Camp Tahigwa in Allamakee County, Iowa; and Camp Conestoga in Scott County, Iowa.
For those of you who don't know me well, I was a Girl Scout troop leader for many years. My daughter -- a scout for close to twelve years now -- is currently a volunteer ranch hand for Camp Conestoga's equestrian program. As much as I'd love to talk about all the great experiences I've had as a leader, I'm telling my daughter's because it's more important.
Let me begin by saying my daughter is unique. I won't go into what that means. There are as many definitions for the word as there are kids who can be described that way. It doesn't matter what kind of unique a kid is. All that matters is that they don't always fit into the standard mold or standard crowd. With many, making friends can be a challenge because it's hard finding other kids like them.
I still remember a particularly rough patch in her life between sixth and seventh grade. Girls had already started breaking up into cliques and my daughter fit into none of them. She spent a lot of time alone -- partly by choice, partly not. It was a quiet time in her life. She felt in order to be accepted she had to be someone she didn't want to be. She chose to be alone, instead.
My daughter went to Girl Scout resident camp that summer -- something she'd done every year since the second grade. This time she went by herself, which concerned me. There was a good chance she wouldn't know anyone. When I told her this she just smiled and said, "Don't worry, Mom. It's Girl Scouts."
While she was away at camp I kept wondering how the other girls were treating her. Were they being nice or was she finding herself alone, once again? I breathed a sigh of relief when I picked her up five days later. She wore the biggest grin.
"I made a friend, Mom," she said, tugging my arm. "Come on. I want you to meet her."
So I did. I'll be honest, I can't remember the girl's name. I do remember her being very nice. In fact, she reminded me a lot of my daughter, a fact that made me smile inside. Their friendship didn't last long. The girl lived a little too far away from us. But my daughter knew she was out there -- a friend was out there. She was no longer alone.
I can't say she ran out and found a bunch of friends after that and all was well. But I can say she held her head a little higher after that. She became more confident. She realized that what made her unique made her someone special instead of someone who didn't belong.
Right now my daughter is a junior in high school and, yes, she has friends. They accept her for the great girl that she is. She doesn't feel pressure to be anyone but herself. Girl Scouts played a large role in making that happen. Even when times were tough, she knew that summer she would go to a camp where everyone belonged. The combination of its staff, activities and mission makes Girl Scout summer camp...hmm, what's the word? I think I'll use "unique." Somehow that seems appropriate.
Even now, as a sixteen year-old who is no longer what I'd call a traditional scout, my daughter still treasures her Girl Scout experience and loves to pay it forward. As a ranch hand, she not only takes pride in her horse riding skills (which she gained from Girl Scouts camp) but also the fact she uses them to assist younger girls. Camp Conestoga has given her the opportunity to take what she's learned and pass it along to others.
It saddens me that girls in the future might not have these opportunities. I understand that fewer girls are going to camp these days. What I don't understand is why. The memo said, girls are more interested in "adventure and travel opportunities than the rustic camp experiences that our camps were designed for." Well, can we redesign them? Why throw the baby out with the bath water? Once the camps are gone they are gone. They say less that 10% of girl scouts go to camp but that still represents 2000 girls. There's data saying 75-80% of girls want to attend camp or outdoor activities. In fact, in an interest survey given by our council, girls were asked to rate their interest in/importance of 43 different activities. Only one got the highest ranking from all six age groups, calling it the "soul" of Girl Scouts. That activitiy? Camping. Only six other activities got the "soul" ranking, and of them not more than four age groups ranked them as such. So clearly, the girls love to camp and want it continued as part of the Girl Scout program. The big question is why aren't more girls going? And how does closing all four camps address this problem? These are the questions. I wish I had the answers.
I'm not going to bash the people who made the recommendation to sell all four camps. I'm sure they've spent a long time deliberating their decision and that it was a tough one to make. I also know that the camps are in the red, with more money going out than coming in. My hope is now that more people know the situation we can work together for a better solution.