Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tough Cookies--A Letter to the CEO of GSUSA

Dear Kathy Cloninger, CEO, Girl Scouts of the United States of America:

In your book, Tough Cookies: Leadership Lessons from 100 Years of the Girl Scouts, you wrote, "If we in the United States want our girls to be confident in themselves and make the most of their inborn potential, we need to wake up to roadblocks we're putting in their way as they try to grow up into their real selves." What if some of those roadblocks are being put in place by GSUSA? What if the voices of girls raised in the Girl Scout Way are being ignored by the very organization that's supposed to be their proponent? What if, in requests to the council CEO and board, the response to our requests is, "Tough Cookies?"

For more than a year, my sister-in-law, Packer, a leader in Girl Scouting, a lifetime Girl Scout, and lifetime member of GSUSA, has been pleading with the Diamond Council in Arkansas to hear her concerns for the girl scouts, the leaders and the properties that formerly made up the Conifer Council. The needs of these young women and their leaders are not being met by the newly formed Diamond Council with regard to programming at the council level. Nor has the usual training for their leaders been as thorough as it was with the Conifer Council (only three training sessions offered in Texarkana from September to December 2011). Now, as if to add injury to insult, it has been decided by a "Board," without inquiry to their constituents, that the Camp High Point Property in Mena, Arkansas, will not be offering summer resident programming for the first time since it opened in 1946. To me, this is unacceptable at any juncture but especially on the 100th anniversary of the GSUSA. 

Denise Stewart, CEO of Girl Scouts--Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas stated in an e-mail to Packer, "There was not a lot of discussion about this issue [not offering resident programming at Camp High Point]." Packer and I both admit that we have not been privy to the "facts and figures" that lead the board to make their decisions (in fact, the Annual Report that is supposed to be on the council's web site, is missing). Nevertheless, when such monumental decisions are made, shouldn't the voice of our girls and their leaders be taken seriously? Shouldn't we honor their opinions and give them an opportunity to find solutions? Shouldn't discussion be more than "not a lot?"

Packer has weathered the last three years during the merger and reorganization of GSUSA and continued to lead our troop of girls the way Juliette Lowe would have dreamed. I foresee her always being a girl scout because it is part of who she is. However, I am speaking up for her and our girls because no one should devote as much time to something they love as Packer loves Girl Scouting and feel like it breaks her heart and tears at her soul in return for her devotion. I have no suggestions for how to help Packer and the Girl Scouts of the New Boston, Hooks, and Texarkana area. I just wanted you to know that there are girls and women invested in Girl Scouting who are not having their needs met or their voices heard.

Girl Scout and Mother and Sister to Girl Scouts


  1. I know you think its bad that programming in that area is bad and I will agree that programming in the council is worse than it has been. As for the council not offering resident camp at camp high point, im sure there are logical reasons as to why they chose to do this. Alot of camps have taken dives in the past few years. One example would be camp Noark in Huntsville, AR. I know a couple of the reasons why they have been shutting down and opening up the past five years. I was a staff member this past summer at Cahinnio and high point (been a resident staff member for the past 6 years as well) and I must say there was a drastic difference in numbers of girls attending. We went from having 80-90 or so girls at Cahinnio to having maybe 30 girls at High Point. I guarantee that if they could generate enough interest and fill more beds at high point they would probably bring it back. I am assuming the council also cannot afford to run resident camp there and focusing on filling beds at other camps to their full capacity. From there, they could branch outward and offer resident camps in the other areas. Let me also throw in there that the numbers of registered girls in the girl scout movement for our area is lower than what it has been. I think the council is just trying to take precautions. I will agree with you though that Denise is creating lots of road blocks and it isn't helping generate more numbers like we need

  2. Krissy Kimbro "Sassabee" ThomasonJanuary 5, 2012 at 9:13 PM

    Maybe the council (aka - corporation, as opposed to the family it used to be when it was Conifer) should look at the REASONS for the drop in numbers of girls both registering as Girl Scouts and attending resident camp. If I as a customer feel that a store offers limited goods for my needs, or treats me with poor customer service, or has employees who seem more interested in customers in other areas than in me, then I will take my business elsewhere. I submit that the reason for the lack of registration numbers is due to the downward spiral Diamonds started. Alienate long-time members and leaders, then many of them who may not have the devotion of Packer will leave Scouting for other activities and service endeavors. When they leave, they mention to friends and acquaintances the poor conditions in which the new council management is leaving the formerly strong local council, and those friends/acquaintances have no desire to want to join. Thus, lower registrations and attendance. In Hope, I have been mostly silent about what I am hearing from Packer and from local leaders, but I am ready to speak up. I am also a lifetime member of GSUSA, and in my previous 27 years of Girl Scouting, I have not heard as many disgruntled complaints of poor service and lack of programming as I have heard in the last 3 years. This is deplorable. I was a member of the Properties Committee of Conifer Council, and Camp High Point was in excellent condition before Diamonds took over. Camp High Point had excellent and ample programming before Diamonds took over. Camp High Point had girl attendance and volunteer attendance before Diamonds took over. Camp High Point had a fabulous caretaker who was empowered to keep the camp in tip-top shape. No fault is directed at the current caretaker, but he can only do as much as Diamonds empowers and allows him to do to care for a camp they seem to view as a burden rather than as the gem that I and others who were raised there know it to be. The council corporate staff needs to look inward at what they may have done to contribute to the decline rather than to continue to limit services to local members and strip away the goods and services which were what kept our membership strong.

  3. I appreciate all the comments regarding everyone's love of Camp High Point--and I hope Girl Scouting in general. An open letter to GS leaders and volunteers will be going out in advance of the resident camp schedules in a few weeks. The status of the property study and the summer programming being offered at all the council's camps this summer will be outlined.

    It is hoped that everyone will be able to see the processes and understand that no permanent decisions are being made at this time. A logical solution for the 2012 camp season was recommended and accepted that will allow the council to continue to serve girls in all areas in the Resident Camp program--while also providing fun and often family centered activities for summer Girl Scout fun!

    The dedicated Girl Scout volunteers on the Board of Directors and the Properties Committee are working hard to find a "global"--meaning council wide-- approach to utilizing all the wonderful camp properties that are now part of the Diamonds family.

    Denise Stewart, CEO and Priscilla Merriman, VP with Properties accountabilities will be visiting service units in areas affected by the decison to limit resident camp programs to two sites this year--those sites being Camp Cahinnio and Camp Crossed Arrows. The first visit is next Thursday in Texarkana at the BlueBonnett Service Unit.

    One piece of information to add to the conversation is this--girl membership in the Diamonds council was up almost 10% last year. Resident Camp attendance only increased about 1%. The resident camp dynamic is an issue that all Girl Scout councils grapple with--and many other organizations that organize summer camps. The program department, with Linda Archer as the leader of the camping focus, is dedicated to having resident camp sessions that will impact lives of girls--into the future.

    At the same time, we know that girls love all types of camping--day camping, weekend camping, and family camping. These types of camping events will be found at all camps--and will continue to showcase the world of the out of doors to Girl Scouts--young and old!

    Last but not least, we hear your frustrations about program and are working to involve volunteers to work with the four program specialists for the council in order to provide more programs, more training, more opportunites for girls. If you want to be a part of a regional program committee, or become a council trainer, or whatever area you would like to assist--please give us a call--or send us a message on the council facebook page--we need everyone in order to make a difference for girls.
    Denise Stewart

  4. one reason there is a decline in campers is the economy. no one has money to send their children like they used to.

  5. Still continuing to watch your postings with concern--and a deep understanding of the passion you all have for Camp High Point. Want to assure you the board of directors is not "rethinking" this issue. The status of the property study is absolutely as described--with a final report due by end of this calendar year.

    Camping sessions are established for all five major camp properties--with two resident camp programs as a part of that plan. The complete program listings for summer will be available shortly after February 1. Lots of great programs--and even more being planned by some dedicated volunteers--in all five camp areas.

    I agree with the comments about the economy and the heat--all issues that the property committee has also discussed--facilities that are cooled, and camp fees that are reasonable are definately needed--and in the present dynamic not a reality.

    I am hoping that boycotting the cookie sale does not become a reality--for the sake of our girls. Troop leaders need the proceeds of the cookie sale to run troops as does the council. According to council policies, if troops do not participate in the cookie sale they cannot participate in other fundraisers throughout the year, so please consider this move carefully before selecting this avenuu.