Girl Scouts: Dissent in Consolidated Councils Focuses on Camps

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May 27, 2013;Fox News

Many organizations are scrutinizing their programs right now to work out how to best serve the mission while remaining financially sustainable. Girl Scout regional councils are facing the question squarely, albeit with much upset, related to their traditional camps. The problem is that some feel that the camp experience remains central to scouting, and others do not, so there is no way to accurately contrast the fact that the camps sometimes lose significant amounts of money against their mission value.

During one recent confrontation at an Iowa council, constituents divided into camps around the camps. “Those camps still belong to us, not just literally as members of the organization, but as people who feel like, ‘That’s part of my home life,’” said one parent. “When camps get closed, it’s devastating. I mean, heartbreaking. We adults can cry over it and do.” Those who want to retain the camps have not just cried, but have “boycotted cookie drives, held overnight camp-ins outside council offices, filed legal actions and tried to elect sympathetic volunteers to governing boards.” For their part, the opposition has also chosen familiar tactics, hiring facilitators for meetings to tightly manage the agenda and using parliamentary tactics to call protestors out of order.

In some cases, police and security guards were used to ward away unhappy constituents. Last year in Ohio, protesters were kept off council property during a celebration of the closing of Camp Crowell/Hilaka. Opponents are still pursuing a lawsuit on the matter. Lynn Richardson, a pro-camp volunteer, said, “Democracy has been completely squelched. They will hide behind rules and regulations, but they are shutting us down.” CEO Diane Nelson acknowledged having hiring facilitators and bringing in security guards as a safety precaution because of fears of rowdy protests. “It’s not that we were afraid of any of our volunteers. We didn’t know who was going to come,” she said.

The Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois backed away from its proposal to close camps one day before its board was to vote on the closings, having found a compromise. It will turn Camp Conestoga into a modern residential camp and sell unused parts of three other sites. “We just keep shaking our heads, ‘This is just not Girl Scouts’,” said one scout alumnus. “I’ve started saying there’s been a corporate takeover of Girl Scouting and that Girl Scouts are losing their way.”

As NPQ reported in an extensive 2007 article by Lissette Rodriguez, the Girl Scouts has been consolidating its 330 councils into 112 regional bodies, and some worried that the move might distance the organization from its communities of constituents. Are the camps a major place where the fallout will occur? We’d love to hear from those who know details. —Ruth McCambridge

  • Save Our Girl Scout Camps

    In Iowa, our Council now wants to divest what they consider to be un-utilized land. READ undeveloped land. This mentality will eliminate the opportunity for girls to explore the woods and experience wildlife in their natural habitat.

    Donors of the camp land in the first place, expected the Girl Scouts would be good Stewards of the Land. They expected the donated land to be available for girls of today & tomorrow, not just the girls of yesterday.

    It is disappointing that members of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa & Western Illinois Board are still trying to justify divesting the final four Girl Scout Camps in Eastern Iowa & Western Illinois because the camps are losing money for the Council – when in fact it is the Staff salaries and the overhead from new office buildings that are costing their unpaid sales force – predominately 5 to 17 year old girls – a bundle.

    The # one source of revenue for every Girl Scout Council in the USA is the well-known annual cookie sale which promoted as a program for little girls to participate in. A program, not a fundraiser???

    In the GSEIWI Council: Over $4 million dollars in cookie revenue this year alone to cover the #1 expense: Over $3 million in salaries and over 1/2 million in benefits = pension plan. We all know they are not talking about salaries & 401K’s for part time camp staff.

    They do little to promote the camps to their membership – have not mailed out a camp brochure for a few years or even provided copies to Troop Leaders to distribute to the girls at their meetings. I know, because my daughter has been in Scouts for 5 years, and not once did she or her troop-mates bring home something encouraging them to go to summer camp.

    But they sure can send out mailings for fundraisers to remodel their office buildings.

    Two months before they announced the sale of the final four camps in Eastern Iowa & Western Illinois, our Council moved into a new office building with a $600.000 mortgage and the plan to remodel their old office building with an $80 a plate fundraiser where the local media sing Broadway Show Tunes.

    They have no line item on the expense side of their FY13 budget for camps or the non-cookie programs offered for the girls.

    Yet they collect program fees from the membership & their accompanying adults to participate in/or attend the programs. Program fees from the membership are the #2 source of income (almost $600,000 for GSEIWI for FY 13) on top of which they get as gifts in-kind, corporate sponsors & donations as well, for these Council sponsored activities.

    People continue to donate and buy GS cookies because they think the money is going to support the camps & programs for the girls. (Beyond, the well-known “cookie program” which is really a fund raiser.)

    How many times can the leaders of our Girl Scout Councils turn to the community and ask for donations for the girls of today and tomorrow? In the beginning it was cookie money that went exclusively to support the camps.

    Girl Scouts are supposed to be a not-for-profit providing for little girls. Not a for-profit, using little girls so adults have a job in a beautiful office building and a great pension plan.

    GSUSA are now lobbying Congress for a do-over with their pension plan – but there will be no do-over with these camps.

    I am lobbying to save ALL of the Girl Scout land across the USA. Once the land is gone – it’s gone.
    Who will keep donating to buy more?

  • Jim Franklin

    Our Council, the Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama, voted last May, at a secret meeting held just two weeks after new Board members took office, to close 4 of our 6 camps, a direct reversal of the recommendations made by a professional property consultant and completely ignoring the facts surrounding the budgetary issues of the camps in question.

    Since that time, supporters of our 88 year old camp, Camp Gertrude Coleman, have formed an organization, Friends of Camp Coleman, demanded documents and information from our Council, then filed a Discovery Motion when our requests were refused.

    Our attorneys have prevailed at three separate hearings, and we have, finally, received over 10,000 documents, all jumbled and disorganized, after several delays by our Council’s attorneys, who are paid for by money that should be used for program services.

    Since the formation of our organization, we worked hard to elect new Board members and were successful at our Annual Meeting in April, placing 11 members on our 29 member board.

    Among the things we have discovered are many commonalities for the arguments used by councils nationally, common phrasing used to criticize opponents and similar tactics, leading us to believe that, despite the protests of “non-involvement” by GSUSA, there are too many “coincidences” for that to be the case.

    Plus, the attempt to remake Girl Scouts into some new “cool” organization that abandons it’s roots and mission for some nebulous goal forgets that it serves the GIRLS and no one else, period.

    This consolidation push is the main driver for the pension and budgetary issues that now face GSUSA. Granted, they had some poor performance by their pension fund in the recession, but the early retirements, etc, have driven this issue. Now some of us intend to demand answers and invite others in Councils who have already succumbed to the threats and pressure from GSUSA to sell their camps to join us.

    One Council in Tennessee has already filed suit and i believe it might be wise for others to join them.

    We are here and will be here tomorrow, next week, next month and next year, if need be, until we cleanse this organization of those who wish to destroy 100 years of tradition and success in building girls of Courage, Character and Confidence.

  • Paige Mize

    Although not a delegate to the Girl Scouts of North Alabama, I was horrified that my daughter’s first experience as delegate was to a meeting where the leadership actually hired security or “police” to protect the meeting. How can an organization based in the democratic process be so afraid of people’s thoughts?

  • Cathy Haven Howard

    I am a non profit consultant, a life long Girl Scout, a past Professional Girl Scout Field Director, a GS Camp Counselor for seven summers, a recipient of the adult Girl Scout Thanks badge, past Country Commissioner for Spain, Portugal and Morocco for the North Atlantic GS overseas, past Board of Directors for Savannah River GS Council, GS trainer, troop leader and lover of my soul/home GS camp, Camp Whites Landing on Catalina Island, California. In relaying this long line of my connections with Girl Scouting I can only say that the main reason I am as committed to Girl Scouting is because of the camps.

    We lost our beloved camp in the mid 90’s before the consolidation began when the Angeles Girl Scout Council voted to end the lease on the camp. We have been able to return to the camp for reunions and reconnections with our forty year plus friendships and to the place. We cannot deny the sacredness of the place, the camp, the container of the memories and place where all the friendships and songs and learnings are imprinted into the land and the trees.

    There are so many things that I have learned from the summers that I spent at Girl Scout Camp, specifically Whites Landing. It is where I go in my mind when I am asked to go to my favorite place, a place that represents peace, serenity and wisdom to me. In my mind’s eye I to to Moonstone, a huge lava rock that anchors the sandy cove of Whites Landing. Making the trek up to Moonstone provides you with a bird’s eye view of the camp. You can see everything from a higher vantage point. You rise above and begin to know what is important, and what is not. From here you can see down into the kelp beds in the turquoise/green ocean below you. You can smell the dry grass from the desert interior and you can hear the bells ring from dinning hall as the hoppers are called to kapers.

    I could go on and on about the meaning of the place of a Girl Scout camp. I have also sat in many board meetings and know first hand the difficult decisions that boards have to make. Unfortunately I am in the group that feels that Girl Scouts of America have made a mistake that strikes at the heart of the organization. Throughout my years as a girl member, if you had asked me why I was in Girl Scouting, there would have been only one answer, CAMPING. When I began my love affair with Whites Landing in 1964, I would have answered more specifically, “So I can go back to Catalina, to Whites Landing.” No other reason would be reasonable for me. It was and is always about the camp.

    Today’s non profit world is all about partnership. The Girl Scouts could work in partnership with their volunteers to create new models for managing the camps. All over the country groups of volunteers have found ways to “SAVE” their camps when the councils have let them go. I now live in the mountains of NE Alabama within ten miles of Camp Juliette Gordon Lowe, the founder of Girl Scouting. Her camp in NW Georgia is no longer a Girl Scout camp, but is run by a board of volunteers who were committed to keeping the camp open and serving girls.

    Councils do not have to wait until there are secret votes taken and cloak and dagger tactics are done. This is the old model power structure which the Girl Scouts must let go of or the organization will die. Open communication skills, invitation to partner and inclusion at the table are all hallmarks of the new model for non profits in today’s world. This is not what I see and hear is happening in many councils. Going Green is a trademark for today’s world. Going Green means that you work with the natural way. You honor the earth and you understand the deep meaning that it has for many generations that have come to grow into strong, wise woman on its earth, at their specific soul place, their camp. The Girls Scouts have owned green in the past, and I have even been known to say that I bleed green, but this color and its meaning are being forgotten and disregarded by the national and regional leaders of the organization. It is my hope and prayer that the Girl Scouts will return to the core of their very important program, the camps, and will continue to Go Green!

  • Teri Brewer

    The stories about council spending a great deal of money on expensive offices and excessive salary for council executives and using a professional staff who are increasingly lacking in real experience of or actual commitment to the program while elimnating core program are dreadfully familiar to anyone who keeps an ear open and cares to listen.

    And I have met few members or former members who think this is a good thing. Camps were rarely if ever run to general a financial surplus. They remained a key aspect of the truly non profit older program that saw building confidence and competence with comfort in the outdoors as a key part of the program long before Richard Louv and others made this a fashionable view.

    Like many other long term members, camp staff and former professionals, I certainly resisted seeing the truth of this for too long. I do recognize it now with greater clarity.

    Others have correctly pointed it out here. GSUSA is now mostly a business. It might technically be a non profit, but not in the meaning which most people understand for that term. A values led organization to which so many gave so much service for so long has been hijacked, and now largely serves the interests of senior employees who have little if any interest in camping or other program, or for the girls and women who are members.
    It is not as simple as saying they are just about the money, but there is much going on to regret.

    The problem about the loss of camps and of the properties and gifts which were given to support a program which has increasingly disappeared is huge and important, and time critical because of proposed sales, but it is truly more a symptom of the whole change in direction and the bigger issue needs to be addressed too.

    Can the Girl Scout Councils be re-seized? or would it be better for present and former members, girls and adults alike to simply meet to start an alternative organization and try to buy back or lease back some regional camps. These might have to be run under another name but maybe that would be for the best.

  • Jim Franklin


    Please join us here in our fight to keep our camps! Go to our site or on Facebook at Save Camp Coleman.

    We can use your professional help and your Scouting background!

  • Bev Twillmann

    We here in North Idaho are in a legal battle to stop the sale of one of the most respected, beloved and historic Boy Scout Camps, Camp Easton, located on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene. We are headed to the Idaho Supreme Court. We too seem to be opposing a non-caring Council that has bills to pay, and little respect for original donor intent or memories from thousands of past scouts. One cannot put a price tag on what children learn at these camps, and to just sell them off to pay salaries and pensions, or bills for an inflated executive branch, goes against all scouting law. Perhaps the scouts that benefit from these camps should take a louder voice.

  • Corey Ann

    Just reading all these comments from all over our nation should say a lot about this issue. I feel as some media has used it as a fluff piece to make a comment on cookie sales and boycotts, but it’s so much bigger than that.

    Donor intent disregarded, girl and women members not only ignored, but discredited and dismissed. Democracy squelched in the “Premier Leadership Organization for young women”. Girl scouting has truly moved away from it’s values.

    There is huge demand for camps. There is more than enough funds to support these camps. Many were donated, have endowments, have willing volunteers and donors willing to step up. Our Board stopped all maintenance shortly after the merger in 2007. Members and ‘Friends of…’ groups raised funds and collect volunteers for repairs but was denied access.

    Surveys were issued asking what girls wanted, their favorite camps, etc. These were ignored. Design sessions for dream camps were attended solely by pro-camp advocates asking the Board reconsider the data and work with the membership. We worked with the governance process and even held a vote which showed 60% of the General Assembly wanted a re-evaluation and proof this was necessary. This included the Board (25% of the Gen. Assembly), so really 80% of the membership was against the decision. (60% out of 75% of the membership if the Board maintained their stance they all agree with the decision)

    The entire process has been engineered to ignore the membership and the community; Alienate donors and alumni. I think those who advocate for women should be concerned that the “Premiere Leadership Organization for Young Women” is working so hard to ignore the membership and democratic process.

  • Jim Franklin-Friends of Camp Coleman/GS Grassroots Action Army

    This is common scenario nationally and many are just waking up the realization that these events were not an accident or coincidental, despite GSUSA’s denials and assertions that these are “local matters”. Their fingerprints are all over this campaign.

    There are too many instances of Councils traveling the same path, using the same phrases, the same statistics, with deliberate disinformation campaigns, deception of members and misappropriation of funds raised to support the camps being used to prepare them for sale. Camp Eagle Island, owned by the GS Heart of New Jersey, is a prime example. Their story is both maddening and heartbreaking!

    Now many of us are talking, exchanging information and on the verge of establishing a national organization to fight these misinformed and ill-advised actions by Scout Councils. GS of Middle Tennessee has filed suit about the pension matter, which seems ot be driving this entire financial picture.

    For an organization that claims to be the “Premier Leadership Organization”, the leaders seem either clueless or unconcerned about their perception among those they, supposedly, lead and among those that they are supposed to serve.

    Now it is time for a grassroots awakening and a national push before they destroy Girl Scouting!
    Join us!

    Save Camp Coleman
    Save Our Girl Scout Camps
    GS Grassroots Action Army

  • Jim Franklin, Friends of Camp Coleman, FB-GS Grassroots Action Army

    That has been our biggest task, to involve more than a few very concerned people and enlist all of those affected by these poorly based decisions.

    Any ideas from others on how to accomplish this daunting task would be appreciated.

  • Suellen Nelles

    For a little perspective, this entire selling of council camps and service centers came about when councils were forced to realign between 2006 and 2009. By making 312 councils into 112, each was now supposed to be a highly effective, high-capacity council and be able to offer MORE camp experiences to MORE girls. Just the opposite has happen due to several factors. Councils have never recovered from the financial toll it took to merge councils, regions of large councils lost local control which produced in-fighting, and most importantly the realignment tanked the national council pension plan and sales of properties are assets that can be liquidated to solve that problem. I’m tired of hearing that girls are just not interested in the camping experience anymore. Girl Scouts was founded on enjoying the out-of-doors and it is still an important and vital part of the experience. And, yes, girls love camp today as much as yesterday. I challenge anyone to call me and debate this issue. I have all the facts because I have lived the ten years of changes to the Girl Scout movement that will be our demise if clear leadership at the national level doesn’t step forward soon. Respectfully,
    Suellen Nelles
    Executive Director
    Farthest North Girl Scout Council, Fairbanks, Alaska

  • Elizabeth Sheppard

    You and all others who want to see more official Outdoor Program back in Girl Scouting are welcome to join our movement. We’d love to have you in the Outdoor Journey movement, which is a group of caring Girl Scout Member-Volunteers, Staff, and Friends who care about Girl Scouting and getting girls back into the outdoors.

    Here is our website: We also have an active Facebook page here: and also a new Yahoo group too:

    Seven Councils across the country have sent official Discussion Proposals to National to support this, and we hope to make a splash at the 2014 National Council Session.

    We believe that having more official Outdoor Program in Girl Scouting will also help our camps, which are precious national treasures. We also think that Juliette Low would approve. 🙂 Thanks for your very thoughtful posting too.

  • Kirt Manecke

    Shame on the Girl Scouts. If for profit companies can run camps profitably, nonprofits can do the same. It takes getting the right people on board and getting the wrong people off. Kids nowadays need camps more than ever. The Girl Scouts, instead of paying excessive compensation to their staff who have no entrepreneurial experience, should instead be hiring and paying entrepreneurs who have a “make it happen” attitude and who would never, ever think of selling the camps. The Girl Scouts also need high quality salespeople who know how to raise money and get sponsors, and PR people who know how to get media placements to attract more kids to the camps. Read this “Top five reasons your nonprofit needs salespeople” at and watch this video “How to save your scout camp or summer camp: Improve your board” at

    The old saying is right on, “Without salespeople, nothing much happens”. Selling the camps is a cop out and the easy way out.

    At the very least, if the Girl Scouts are going to sell camps they should they should place conservation easements on the land to protect the land many donors have invested their dollars in.