Girl Scout camps develop leaders

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By Bonnie Myhre Williams

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The Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois are considering closing and selling all four Girl Scout camps in Eastern Iowa. I hope the Girl Scouts reconsider and not only keep Camps Tahigwa, Conestoga,

L-Kee-Ta and Little Cloud, but keep them open.

Diane Nelson, CEO of Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, issued a letter indicating today’s girls are less interested in “rustic camp experiences” and more interested in “adventure and travel opportunities.” Camp is an adventure and travel opportunity for many.

I’d be interested to know what research and methodology was used in determining girls are less interested in camp. My experience is that girls love going to camp. They yearn to be at one with nature. They delight in writing poetry in the woods. They enjoy paddling canoes, climbing walls, hiking and horseback riding. Some of the girls I’ve worked with have attended wilderness survival trainings, at considerable costs to their families.

Nelson’s letter indicates “there has been an ongoing decline in the number of girls using our camp properties.” The Girl Scout website lists the following Girl Scout attendance at the four camps combined:

2008 — 45 percent of 18,607 Scouts

2009 — 53 percent of 17,655 Scouts

2010 — 60 percent of 18,833 Scouts

2011 — 67 of 18,453 Scouts

2012 — 59 percent of 18,992 Scouts

In 2009, 2010, and 2011, there were increases in the percentage of Girl Scouts who used the camps. So I question the “ongoing decline” in camp usage.

It seems shortsighted to sell the camps because of a one-year decrease in use when there could be a commensurate increase in the future.

Camp Tahigwa no longer has horses. Bringing horses back might increase use at that camp. I wonder what is being done to develop and promote programs for the camps. If programs girls love (like the horses) are discontinued, of course camp attendance will decline. I encourage the board to develop a vision and implement a plan so future generations of girls can attend camps.

Tahigwa is located in Allamakee County, one of the most remote counties in Iowa. Its beautiful lands offer rugged, hilly terrain, as well as a sparkling stream. This camp could offer challenges to older campers whom they couldn’t find at other camps. It would be a great destination for longer adventures.

What camp gives to girls is almost impossible to quantify. It helps girls develop many of the qualities they need to become strong, competent, capable women who excel in their personal and professional lives.

Girls build new relationships with themselves and others. They learn leadership and organizational skills. They learn to depend on and trust themselves, as well as to work with others. They experience the joys of exercise and of being at one with nature.

Staff members also benefit from the camps. As a teen, my sister worked at Tahigwa. When the kitchen supervisor resigned midsummer, my sister applied and was told she was too young. The person hired never showed up, and my sister ran the kitchen for the rest of the summer. She learned incredible leadership and organizational skills. During a recent job interview, she cited her camp experience as an illustration of leadership skills.

I ask the Girl Scouts’ board of directors to re-evaluate plans to close/sell the camps. Selling the camps may be a permanent solution for a temporary problem. While it might not be irrevocable, it certainly would be difficult to get back what was sold.

Bonnie Myhre Williams of Cedar Rapids grew up in Allamakee County. A former high school and preschool teacher, Kirkwood Community College and University of Iowa professor, she co-owns a counseling and consulting practice. Comments: Bkwbdw1@aol.com

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