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