Dear GSUSA


Just this week, a group of us were invited to go back to camp – it was WONDERFUL, seeing old friends, old places, and just plain reminiscing. But….

What the heck happened to camp?

I understand safety – we were all kids once, and campers, and then staff. Maybe we didn’t practice what we preached all the time; maybe we took chances on occasion. Shoot, some of us were at camp the same year of the Girl Scout murders in Oklahoma and we didn’t panic then – we just all wore whistles, just in case. They were never needed, and weren’t used after the summer of ’77.

I understand, too, that “things were different” and “everything changes.” I’m sure what we in the 70s and 80s experienced was a bit different than what camp was like in the 30s and 40s. For instance, we had bug spray, they probably did not. (Although after the summer of ’72 when I accidentally sprayed it in my mouth, I pretty much stopped using it!)

Back then, they probably didn’t ride bikes around camp either, or have the Green Machine or the Gators…but then, the camp is almost three times the size now. And while I don’t know of all the changes, I’m wondering if you still have horse shows and regattas and all-camp activities like scavenger hunts and talent shows? And what’s with the unit songs that hardly anyone seems to know exist, let alone the words or the melodies? And since when did “Green Trees” become the camp song, to replace “Cedar Trees?” I mean, c’mon, it’s not Camp Greenledge after all!

But this is really bothering me – and many others as well:

This is not camp. You don’t have electricity for everything at camp; you sure as heck don’t provide air conditioning. A fancy barn is just fine and dandy, for a professional horse farm or at the racetrack. Buffet dining? When kids today barely have family dinners and way too many never do learn basic table manners…I also heard rumors about “specially prepared meals” – seriously? Okay, fine, a lot of kids have allergies but sheesh – we just had to make do with whatever we were served!

Oh, and before I forget, what in the world were you thinking when you created that Harry Potter unit?? Okay, wait, that deserves MORE question marks and a few exclamation points:????!!!! Now I feel better. A little.

See, here’s the deal, this is what camp is truly about:

Camp is about nature. It’s about roughing it, about waking up to a sunrise, or going to sleep while listening to the whippoorwills. It’s not about the whir of a fan or air conditioning…it’s not about having shingles on the tent roof, it’s listening to raindrops fall on the canvas.

Camp is learning skills to handle the natural environment, like woodcarving and knife safety, firebuilding, archery, Indian lore, knot-tying, setting up a campsite, using a compass, and so many other things – not reading a popular fiction series and doing…well, whatever it is Muggles do when they’re “learning” whatever it is they’re learning.

Camp is about tradition – sure, things change and sometimes for the better. But a Girl Scout who learns a song at camp can connect with all the other Scouts who learned that same song, whether they were campers or staff in 1930 or 2010. Like the Girl Scout Promise – surely that hasn’t changed!

And mostly, camp is about friendships. I’m still friends with folks I met at camp almost 30 years ago! We bonded over things like rainstorms and flooded round-up tents – in which we slept for overnights, on the ground instead of on cots; we bonded over things like a long creek-walk, after which we scrubbed down with special soap and STILL ended up covered in poison ivy. We fell off bikes together, got stomped on by horses or thrown off altogether; we bonded over ER visits and hopping in the dining halls and taking a buddy to go fill the kerosene lanterns. Heck, we even have fond memories of latrines and falling out of hammocks and roofless showers!

I guess the point is that things don’t have to be comfortable, things don’t have to be like “home.” Because, after all, camp is supposed to be different, it’s supposed to be out in the woods somewhere, it’s not supposed to be like every other so-called camp – like for soccer or dance or whatever. It’s supposed to be about nature and self-sufficiency and friendship – and tradition.

And, of course, Girl Scouts. Take a look at “today’s” programming decisions. No, girls aren’t necessarily interested in the same things that they were 30 years ago – but a lot of those things offered then are still skills that these girls will someday need. We can look back and laugh at some of those badges, like Cooking and Sewing and a host of others that may seem outdated – but think about this: most girls will still need to know how to cook at some point in their lives, and even how to sew.

Don’t get me wrong, the new activities are great – but let’s not lose focus on the basic premise of Scouting. Straight from GSUSA’s website: “She [Juliette Low] believed that all girls should be given the opportunity to develop physically, mentally, and spiritually. With the goal of bringing girls out of isolated home environments and into community service and the open air, Girl Scouts hiked, played basketball, went on camping trips, learned how to tell time by the stars, and studied first aid.”

And I think that the basics are what seem to be lost.

It’s supposed to be camp, not a vacation to Disney Camp.

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8 comments on “Dear GSUSA

  1. Sheri Ewing says:

    Thanks – very well said. Sheri

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  2. Jessica says:

    You’re right: LOVE THIS ONE!!

    The cafeteria style of dining was introduced my first year as staff so needless to say that was a rough year for me. I still miss family style (which they still do at dinner… but it’s not the same). Some of my favorite memories involve sitting at the table at a meal and singing as loud as I could. Or rushing in to sit at the table of my favorite staff member. ::sniff::

    Trust me when I say that I’m not a fan of a lot of the programming, either. I definitely rolled my eyes when I heard about the HP unit (even though I’m a HUGE fan — do we really need one of those???). Some of them have been really neat, though. There’s a night owl one where the girls don’t go to bed before midnight and do a lot of exploring of camp at night (and you remember how magical of a time that was, I’m sure!). There’s a Center Stage program the last session in which the girls write, act, direct, create their own play and then perform it for the whole camp.

    And, yes, there are still all camps. The AWITs have a horse show twice a summer (because there are 2 groups of AWITs), and there is always at least one regatta each summer. All camps have changed a little bit. One of my favorites as a camper was Gold Rush and it’s been a long time since that was played, but they have at least three a session, not counting campfires.

    I think the biggest things that kept me coming back year after year were these:
    1. At camp, it didn’t matter what was going on at home because time seemed to stop in the middle of those seven hills. The summer of ’96 was the first summer after my parents split and I was finally able to let go of all the anxiety I had built up about it — I was FREE to just have fun and be a kid!
    2. At camp, I found people who I probably in a million years never would have been friends with in the real world. But at camp? Never thought twice about it because we all had this common blood running through our veins.
    3. At camp, things were constant. It didn’t matter how old I was or what things were happening at home or in school. I knew I could go back to camp and pick back up on friendships like summer never ended.
    4. At camp, I was able to slow down and enjoy the little things — the way the rain sounded on the tent roof at night. The way little girls’ laughter sounded when you were being goofy at campfire or the lunch table. The way the sun would hit in Wohl Meadow just right as we assembled for campfire.

    And many, many, MANY more things, of course.

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  3. Franny says:

    I was a camper and staff the same era as Jessica — and I agree — the changes were difficult to stomach when things had been one way as long as you could remember.

    That barn looks pretty– but I can tell you there were lots of times it was a pain in the butt. The new shower house — I wasn’t a lifeguard but they assured me it was a pain to clean. If the old shower house still existed, I’m sure the little girls would be still showering in swim suits until they figured out that everyone had the same parts and no one is really paying attention to anyone else anyway.

    But I realized that what really mattered to me was that we were getting girls out there trying new things (still don’t get the HP unit, but what can I say), and that’s what’s important — getting girls to try riding a horse, canoeing, arts and crafts, looking at the trees and seeing them, listening to the noises at night, making new friends (that will forever hold a spot in their heart) and helping these little girls become big girls and independent women. So maybe the methods have changed, camp has certainly changed, but if they’re still accomplishing those goals, I can’t argue too much.

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    • When you mentioned the barn, something just popped into my head – the old fly traps! Probably aren’t using them anymore…not very high-tech or high class, lol!

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  4. Franny says:

    The bag fly traps or the fly tapes? Because both are gross, but were still in use the last time I worked at camp a few years ago.

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  5. Franny says:

    EWWW So glad I missed that! Last I knew they were using plastic bags that have some sort of attractant in them — you break the vial and add water to a fill line, then the flies come, drown, and you have to (carefully) poke the bags with a broom handle every so often to mix them up. If you poke too had the ick water comes out on you.

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