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Girl Scout camps up for sale

Girl Scouts of the USA logo.

Jeremy Hobson: The Girls Scouts are selling more than just cookies these days. Money is tight and so the not-for-profit group is taking a cue from corporate America. The Girl Scouts are merging local groups and selling off part of their most valuable asset: land -- as in the scout's much loved summer camps.

Marketplace's Sally Herships has the story.


Sally Herships: Amber Harrison is a 15-year-old Girl Scout in Ohio. Her mom Kathleen is her troop leader. They're standing in front of a local Girl Scout camp, Hilaka, about 45 minutes outside of Cleveland.

Kathleen Harrison: Over here, we have the lodge where all the cooking is done.

Amber Harrison: The latrines.

Kathleen Harrison: And of course, the latrines.

Everything is green and peaceful. But camps are expensive to run. And local Girl Scout councils around the country are selling off camps like Hilaka.

Amber Harrison: I wish we could tell them that this isn't what we want. We don't want this.

Five camps in the Harrison's area have been sold. And five more are on the list, leaving just two. But the local Girl Scout council says it has a plan: to take profits from the sales and give their remaining camps a makeover, creating what it calls premier leadership centers. One of the first things to be renovated would be the latrines.

Kathleen Harrison: If they gave them a survey and said would you like flush toilets, every single one of my girls would say yes. But do they need flush toilets?

Nationally, membership in the Girl Scouts is down.

Brent Gardner: When occupancy is down, you study why occupancy is down and sometimes it's facilities.

Brent Gardner is on the board of directors of the Harrisons' local council. Locally, Gardner says, they're not seeing as many campers as they'd like. He says the camps his council is responsible for are from the 1940s and '50s, when there were 30 girls in a troop.

Gardner: Well today's troops are 10, nine, seven, 13.

Gardner says many of the local camps are in poor shape. Fixing them up would cost the council $30 million. It wants camps to include aquatic
programs, computer labs and communications facilities. The Harrisons are more the latrine type.

Amber Harrison: It wouldn't be the same. Like if we had like hot water and stuff, it would just be like camping at home.

But the Girl Scouts national office says today's parents want camp to include a learning aspect and sometimes the great outdoors might not be enough.

I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.
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Ms. Herships,

I'm sorry you are receiving harsh words for your coverage on our beloved camp, but I hope you learn from this story. You did not do your homework. You spoke to a mom/daughter and GSNEO. There is an organization fighting hard and MANY leaders, mothers, fathers, daughters, grand daughters...all very upset and trying to save our camps.

You stated "But the Girl Scouts national office says today's parents want camp to include a learning aspect and sometimes the great outdoors might not be enough."

I suggest contacting me at jroilers@yahoo.com I will let you see the learning that went on at the RAINBBOWS camp. This camp had interactive lessons including science, math, history, communication, phys. ed., cooperation, self-esteem, coordination, home ecom., biology, etc. The girls learned all day, every day, while ejoying sun, rain, and fresh air in a seting that allows them to have their minds cleared of every distraction.

I hope to hear from you, and that you decide to do follow-ups on a story that is much deeper than you imagined.

We Girl Scouts say no more workbooks-get back to nature!!!!!!!!!!!

I don't know what to say. Since being involved with Girl Scouting, I've come to see what a joke our media is. I have 8 year olds in the program that know more about what's going on then this reporter. I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude, but it's just so upsetting to see how ridiculous this article is.

That being said:

As it's been said by every other respondant, this is not a financial decision. It's not about money. If you go to GSNEO's own website, it states this in bold and italics. If this reporter spent even a minute on this article, she would have found that information.

This is a popularity issue. The leadership believes the program will become more popular if these premier leadership facilities are built. Avid Girl Scouts are turned away as council continues to change the program and disregard tradition.

Would you fault a soccer team for being frustrated that they showed up for the first day of practice to find their fields have been sold and they will now be playing basketball? Of course not. They signed up for a program and found it was nothing they expected.

Girls today are routinely frustrated that they joined Girl Scouting to learn leadership and community through the outdoors only to find out their camps have been sold and camping is not longer a part of the program. Instead you get to sit and read out of work books.

Girl Scouts are not just upset they are selling our properties. We are upset that we are not being heard, they our selling our camps not out of financial desperation, but to attract members (girls who were probably never interested in the program in the first place), changing the program, and ignoring the members who are loyal to the movement.

Please tell the whole story, please research your facts, please do the job a reporter should do! You owe it to the thousands of young women who are losing a program they feel very passionately about.

Interestingly, everything that will supposedly be included in the "Premier Leadership Centers" already exists in the camps that GSNEO already owns. New buldings, flush toilets, venues for outside experts to come in an show girls how to do do different things.
As for "green" architecture and "unique features" that the GSNEO board proposes for the PLCs, what is more unique than the mill built in the 1920's to generate electric power from the self-clarifying lake at Crowell Hilaka? Or the dance hall built on springs? All construction designed by inventor James Kirby. The problem is not so much the selling of camps as it is that it is being done without a solid foundation of research. The council office has not kept accurate records, it keeps no records of what programs or campsite command waiting lists. It does not adequately promote its programs at camp. When council delegates questioned the board for specific information, they have no answer. Or we are told we are just being emotional over nostalgia.
This is completely unacceptable. For more information & to learn what you can do to help, visit www.trefoilintegrity.org. Donations to protect the camps can be sent to Richfield Historical Society / po box 215/ Richfield , OH 44286 / write "FoCH" on the memo line

Ms Herships,
Another aspect of the Girl Scout way of doing things is our governance. This is in our bylaws. Delegates are voted into their position by the general membership and vow to represent the wishes of the membership to the Board. The delegates are part of the "policy-influencing" section of governance.
In our bylaws it states that the delegates in partnership with the Board of Directors decide what general direction of Girl Scouts in the local council.
That has not happened and as easily as you can get feedback from Mr. Gardner the harder it is for us delegates. He does not answer our e-mails and will not listen to our concerns.
This taking of our camps is happening across the country and we need an advocate to get these Councils to follow their own bylaws and to stop relaying prevarications to the media.
We are asking for help.

Dear Ms. Herships,

Does NPR have an investigative reporting wing or is this "News Organization" simply a mouth piece for the Progressive movement? Really. I am not trying to be snide (although it does sound as though I am.)

The reason I ask is because one of the board members I spoke to said that "young girls in our modern era are not interested in camping." When I asked "What are 'Modern Girls' interested in, she replied, "Managing money." If I hadn't known she was serious I would have laughed in her face. But it is not _just that I am a third generation Girl Scout with many, generational stories about this rugged old camp - and its not just that none of my family - nor my niece (who currently camps at Hilaka) were or _are particularly interested in Girl Scouting as a vehicle to learn about money. I almost laughed because the "GS Board Member" that told me this works for one of the largest banks in North Eastern Ohio. Her position? Loan officer.

I'm sorry but I see this as a conflict of interest - to be a GS Board Member _and a loan officer when the GSNEO of in the middle of a fight against the membership body who is pro camping for the basic reasons one is usually "pro camping."

The Banking Board Member is just the tip of this iceberg (although I'm not saying anything fishy is going on.. )Oh how I wish NPR had an Investigative Reporter worth her salt because the conflict of interest angle just keeps poking me in the ribs.. Did you know the famous Brent Gardner sells Real Estate Insurance for an Ohio Real Estate Brokerage firm that specializes in million dollar, plus properties.

Hmmm..

No, I'm _not implying anything here - just a few facts that probably mean nothing but would it be too much trouble to ask a true reporter to roll up his or her sleeves, push past the carefully crafted press releases and Truth Speak and actually do some LEG WORK?!

Isn't there _anyone in this government run press pool that can handle an investigative story? This story has long legs.

Aren't we in the Green Era pitting Corporate Greed against an Environmental Cause?

Yeah, sure, the Girl Scouts are a "Non Profit" group. But the CEO makes a mid six figure salary and lets face it, sitting on Boards is mostly about social positioning. If you're a loan officer or a luxury property insurance broker, what kind of people do you suppose you meet at cocktail parties?

Yeah, well, I didn't learn a lot about "birds of a feather" in Girl Scouting. That came later when I grew up and entered the real world of "Scratch My Back and I'll Scratch Yours."

There's something rotten in Denmark (or should I say Richfield, Ohio) and not one reporter to date is willing to break a fingernail (or a sweat) to learn the truth.

This camp is an historical treasure where girls learn the thrill of wind through the trees, the beauty of silvery water feathering off a canoe paddle, the solid feel of dry ground underneath your shoes and much much more. You can't have those experiences at a mega learning center.

Sadly, the CEO and GSNEO board members have no reverence for the illustrated experiences above. How could they? None of them grew up Girl Scouts. Knowing NOTHING about camping, this board and CEO are selling the Girls Scouts of North Eastern Ohio down the river for their own personal gain. Maybe its not a financial gain - but you can be darn sure they are constantly working the social and corporate ladder of success. Moving those primitive and obsolete camps off the GS ledger is seen as a plus in the world of banking and real estate taxes. I'll bet my badge-heavy Girl Scout sash on it.

Please ask your editor to cut your wings loose. There's a real story here. Wouldn't you like to win a Pulitzer? Dig deep and make a real difference to your career and to the upcoming generation of girls that need a voice.

Kerrin Winter-Churchill

@Sally Herships
I very much appreciate that it is difficult to tell a story like this, and that you had a source, but if that source is Brent Gardner or another higher-up at GSNEO it only takes a google search to discover that they have been skewing the information to suit their purposes. That is what I have a problem with. At the April 16 general assembly meeting Gardner stated that 50% of our membership camps. In a recent newspaper article that number was reduced to 5% by Mr. Gardner. I thus have a very hard time accepting him as a reliable source for a story like this.
I did not intend to imply that selling camps and creating leadership centers was your opinion. What I question is the fact that it states that money is tight. This statement lends credence to the case for selling camps, and that is simply not the case for GSNEO. We're not rolling in excess cash, but according to the financial report presented at the April 16 general assembly meeting we are in the black. Moreover, the cost to bring these camps back up to scratch was quoted to us as being in the area of 1 million dollars. That is well within the 8 million dollars brought in by the girls each year through cookie sales. If the girls want camps and they consistently raise the money to keep them going, they should have the right to overrule the board's decision to sell the camps.
Every article I have read, and nearly every radio/television spot I have seen quotes Gardner or some other higher up saying that girls don't camp, but quick internet searches prove that not to be true. I am therefore dissatisfied with the quality of reporting on this issue. That, again, is not a statement about your reporting. It is a statement of frustration of the situation in general. It seems that the media is unwilling to really dig into this story. They'd rather present a tragic story of childhood memories being sold, rather than looking into the real issue which is one of democracy, representation, and the future of this organization we value.

@Margaret Hoffman: contacting the Friends of Camp Eagle Island is a great idea. And when I first started my reporting that’s exactly what I did. When I learned the sale of Eagle Island hadn’t yet formally been put in motion I continued speaking to councils/and camp supporters around the country including SaveCamps.org. The editor of that website directed me to the council in NE Ohio. When I learned how many camps in NE Ohio already been sold and how many more were on their way it seemed like the right place to report from and I was very lucky to find a local mother and daughter who could represent the voices of concerned parents, scouts and troop leaders combined.

@ Kerrin Churchill and @Rachel Oppenheimer, the necessity or lack of for selling the camps as well as the budget necessary to create premier leadership centers isn’t my opinion. As you can hear in the story these ideas came from a source.

My goal here was to tell a balanced story with voices from both sides. It’s always tricky for a reporter to write about a sensitive topic and it’s important to remember that the reporter isn’t the source.

Yeah, I agree.. here's my response..

"Yawn.. when will the media ever get a story right? You are wrong Ms.NPR. This is _NOT a financial decision unless you are writing about the fact that the CEOs and Board members are lining their own pockets for their own interests. Sure, "learning centers" .. what a CROCK! And you _fell for it. What ever happened to actual investigative reporting - or is that like Girl Scout Camping, "a thing of the past." Too bad for all the girls who wish to go camping but can't find a place to camp. Too bad for our society which is being manipulated by self interested people posing as Board Members and CEOs across the country. The travesty of Girl Scouting is just a microcasm for what is happening to the United States of America. We will be a land of lemmings, all "learning" how to turn on a computer. I am _so disappointed by the waste of this opportunity that words fail to describe.. Dear Writer, you were just a pawn.. please collect your award and advance up the corporate ladder of success. At the top, you will meet Board Members and CEOs just like those you were duped into believing. You get what you deserve.

Kerrin Winter-Churchill"

Yawn.. when will the media ever get a story right? You are wrong Ms.NPR. This is _NOT a financial decision unless you are writing about the fact that the CEOs and Board members are lining their own pockets for their own interests. Sure, "learning centers" .. what a CROCK! And you _fell for it. What ever happened to actual investigative reporting - or is that like Girl Scout Camping, "a thing of the past." Too bad for all the girls who wish to go camping but can't find a place to camp. Too bad for our society which is being manipulated by self interested people posing as Board Members and CEOs across the country. The travesty of Girl Scouting is just a microcasm for what is happening to the United States of America. We will be a land of lemmings, all "learning" how to turn on a computer. I am _so dissapointed in this opportunity that words fail to describe.. Dear Writer, you were just a pawn.. please collect your award and advance up the corporate ladder of success. At the top, you will meet Board Members and CEOs just like those you were duped into believing. You get what you deserve.

Kerrin Winter-Churchill

I was a second generation Girl Scout from the time I was old enough to join all the way through High School graduation. Every summer I went to camp for multiple weeks. Later as a young adult I worked at summer camps. I then spent ten years as a Girl Scout professional staff managing programs and camps for a highly successful council headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When the mergers were announced I (along with the balance of a deeply committed and passionate staff) immediately knew it was a mistake and those who us who could leave did. That was in 2007. I still get emails and FB posts/messages from volunteers about what has gone wrong in "corporatization" of GSUSA. Your story misses a 100 year history of putting the girl first and the dollar sign second. Selling land that you'll never be able to buy again because of a lack of fiscal and marketing leadership is a disgrace to the organization that Juliette Low hoped we would be. I'm proud to be a financial supporter of a group of former campers and staff trying to save Camp Eagle Island a camp where I worked in my 20s on Saranac Lake, NY owned by a council in New Jersey. If you want a real story about the reality of divesting land and the long term impact that has on the youth women of America who for 100 years looked to Girl Scouts for the opportunity to learn about and explore the out of doors and gain leadership skills please contact one of the board members of the Friends of Camp Eagle Island. They will tell you the truth.

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