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Our girls are in crisis.  Girl Scouts is here to help.  

Have you taken time to study the most recent statistics about girls in our state?  I hadn't, either, until recently, and I was appalled.  I share the following with you not to be depressing or inflammatory, but to remind us all of the importance of Girl Scouting in the lives of those to serve.  We have the power to change these stats and make the world a better place for our girls. It's simply what we do.

The Girl Scout Research Institute's "State of the Girl" report details the harsh realities of life for many girls in Alabama. Girls in Alabama ranked 30th in terms of overall well-being. Girls ranked 21st in terms of emotional health, 33rd in physical health and safety, 34th in economic well-being, and 42nd in education. The report also notes that roughly 26 percent of school age girls in the state are currently living in poverty and around 8 percent of girls, ages 6 to 17, have experienced some form of neighborhood violence. Clearly, these numbers leave much room for improvement.

This report is the first of its kind to focus exclusively on girls, which allows Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama to direct its efforts toward bettering their lives. With programs focusing in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), financial literacy, healthy eating and exercise, and reading readiness, GSSA has a positive impact on every girl we come into contact with. However, with decreases in funding and a lack of volunteers, our ability to serve girls is in serious jeopardy.

Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama has the tools it takes to instill leadership skills into the girls of our future, but volunteers are desperately needed to put these tools to use. They are vital for the survival of our organization.

I want to thank the many volunteers who have joined us in this effort. Please spread the word to others about how rewarding this work is and how greatly it is needed in our communities. Together, we will change the outlook for southern Alabama's girls.  

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The Girl Scout Leadership Experience changes lives.  Period. As volunteers and Girl Scout parents, you know this and so do I. 

I've watched my daughter and countless others become strong, capable, successful young women through their experiences in Girl Scouting.  Whether it's exploring careers, doing science experiments, or helping feed the homeless in their communities, Girl Scouts are developing skills that will serve them throughout their lives.

Through the Girl Scout Leadership Program these girls will develop a strong Sense of Self and Positive Values.  They will be Challenge Seeking.  They will develop and maintain Healthy Relationships. They will use these skills to participate in Community Problem Solving, contributing to their world in positive and meaningful ways.  In short, they will grow up to become women who make the world a better place.

I want you to meet a Montgomery Girl Scout alumna, who credits her experiences in Girl Scouts for who she is today. Deja Chappell, who will be attending YALE says, "Girl Scouts certainly played an early role in who I am today. The curriculum, badge work, and ventures demand engagement with the world around you. The last four years of Girl Scouts consisted of me working on an urban organic farm, going backpacking for a month in the Rocky Mountains, and studying Arabic intensively in Morocco."  What an amazing young woman and what a powerful story!

It's recruitment season, and our staff is busy working our communities to recruit new girls.  We need you to join us in spreading the word that Girl Scouts is something every girl needs.  Please, tell your friends, your neighbors, your fellow parents that:

Girl Scouting is relevant.  Girl Scouting is an important key for girls' success. Most importantly, Girl Scouting is something every girl needs.

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It's my first week on the job as your CEO, and it's been a whirlwind of excitement.  School is starting across the council, and our staff is getting ready to head out into our communities to recruit new Girl Scouts.  This is my favorite time in the Girl Scout year, as it's full of such promise for new things! 

While it may be my first week as CEO, I've actually been on the job at GSSA for nearly 14 years. During this time, I've had the pleasure of getting to know many of you. I plan to spend some time this fall visiting service unit meetings and council programs, and I look forward to meeting those of you I don't know yet and learning more what is going on in your community.

To start, though, I want to tell you a little about myself.  Most importantly, I'm the mother to two precious children.  Our 10-year-old daughter is a Junior Girl Scout, who just earned her Bronze Award, and our two-year-old son is a running, giggling bundle of little boy fun. A native Alabamian, I grew up in Wetumpka, and met my husband of almost 16 years while we were working at The Auburn Plainsman during our college days at Auburn. We love to spend time together as a family, particularly if it involves traveling or our family movie nights.

As I mentioned, I've worked for Girl Scouts for many years. I'm a GS parent and also was a girl member.  I had such fun during my time as a Brownie Girl Scout at Saint James School in Montgomery, and my favorite GS memory remains my very first trip to Kamp Kiwanis. I began my work as a staff member as Development Director for the legacy council, South Central Alabama, and later served as Chief Operations Officer for that council. For the last nine years, I've worked as GSSA's Chief Operating Officer, directing the council's day-to-day operations and supervising several operational units.

I look forward to working with you and our hardworking staff in the coming years. We have great potential to make a difference in the lives of even more girls - and with your help, we will provide them with the skills they need to change the world.

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The first time I met Liz Brent, I instantly I liked her.  What I didn't know yet is what a smart, talented, remarkably kind, and funny individual she is.  I also didn't imagine what a cherished friend she would become. 

During the last nine years, I've spent countless hours with Liz. We've driven thousands of miles on two-lane roads together, made countless presentations, and worked as a team to serve our girls.  We've locked ourselves out of cars, faced down multiple snakes, and dealt with our fair share of sticky issues. One of my favorite memories of Liz involves a trip to Camp Humming Hills where she and two board members ended up getting her car stuck in the woods and having to hike back a mile and a half through a bog to get out.  The hilarious text messages from the ranger's wife kept my family in stiches all evening! 

What I really want you to know about Liz, though, is how hard she has worked for our girls.  Liz tirelessly worked to rebuild this council after it was merged during realignment. She has faced challenges that most of our volunteers and girls couldn't fathom, and she has done all of this with great wit and determination. Most of the work she has done is behind the scenes.  Liz doesn't show off or tout her accomplishments.  She simply works hard and does what needs to be done.

We have a wonderful staff, and I think I speak for us all when I say how much we appreciate Liz.  We will miss her boisterous presence, quick wit, and of course, her adorable companions -- Boykin Spaniel puppies, Lhotse and Eiger.  We also will hold in memory, sweet Amber, who was more than Liz's pet, but our honorary co-worker for many years.  

Thank you, Liz, for giving of yourself to make the world a better place.  Thank you for being our leader, and thank you for being my friend.   I wish you and Hal the very best!

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GSUSA has released a series of videos about getting our Girl Scouts comfortable in the great outdoors.  Check them out for a step by step guide! 






 

It is an honor to accept the role of CEO of Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama.  I look forward to serving our girls and each of you in the coming years.  But first, I want to thank retiring CEO, Liz Brent, for her many years of dedicated service.  She will, most definitely, be missed.

 

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My goal as CEO will be to maximize the Girl Scout experience for our girls.   I have a passion for our mission, and know that Girl Scouting changes lives -- be it girls from Butler in a rural grant program, traditional troops in Mobile or Montgomery, in-school Girl Scouting programs in Beauregard or Rockford, or Camp Sunshine, a well-recognized initiative for girls in public housing communities.  As a Girl Scout alumna and mother, I've seen our organization from the eyes of a girl and a parent, not simply an administrator, and I understand first-hand the importance of the work we do.

  

I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this wonderful organization. In the coming years, I look forward to working with you to blaze new trails, serve our girls, and make the world a better place. 

 

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I am packing up my office, thinking about what "retirement" might look like for me.   I've replaced my beloved Amber, my golden retriever rescue that many of you knew with two Boykin spaniel puppies.   They are not the same as Amber, comfortable and familiar, it's a challenge.

I'm packing up two offices, with gifts, photos and nostalgic items collected from more than nine years of working for a very large contingent of girls.   It provokes many memories of fun times, girls who have become successful women, and today's girls, working toward that same end.   What fun it has been, how many I have seen grow and become leaders, women who will contribute to their community.

As some of you may be aware, my husband and I have commuted for the past nine years.   So the spaniels will be joining an elderly golden retriever and a very smart 3-year-old black Labrador retriever.   I expect there will be many days that I will yearn for the commotion of the office, too many things to do, money to juggle, requests to consider, blogs to write, not enough hours in the day.   During a large part of the year I had options on girl events I could attend to see Girl Scouts in action.   What a wonderful opportunity that was, to see girls learning, growing, honing skills.   These girls get out of bed on Saturdays and do things, they don't sleep in and play video games, and they are girls of action.    I suspect my Saturdays might have different options in retirement, not as fun as the ones I have had.

I was fortunate when I came to Alabama that I had the support of the board and the volunteers.   Trying to forge one entity into two independent organizations with very different cultures was no small feat.   Where other CEOs for realignment failed, I was fortunate to have a group of adults who were in this endeavor for the girls.   The key thing we could all agree on was this is about the girls, not me, not where the headquarters is, it is for and about girls, nothing else.   By focusing on what is important and what we could all agree on, we experienced much more success than others.   That is to the credit of the many people engaged in this merger nine years ago and their ability to pay attention to what is important: the girls, our future.

As I take my leave, sad to go, but looking toward the future, I would ask that you continue to keep the girls as the focal point of all you do with Girl Scouts.   As you welcome a new CEO, Karlyn Edmonds, someone not new to this endeavor, I would ask that you would continue to be as supportive to her as you have been to me.    Karlyn is hard-working and well-positioned to take GSSA to the next level.   Many of you know Karlyn and are familiar with her many skills.   Know that her strongest attribute to be the CEO is her commitment to the girls of this organization and its mission.

I will always look back on these nine years with great fondness and wish for the continued success of GSSA as a great Girl Scout council that builds girls who will lead us into the future.

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Time for school to begin,  and  it's the start of a new Girl Scout year! This time of year our membership staff is frantically working to line up as many recruiting events and activities as possible.   We do not have a large membership staff, so like during cookie season, everyone in the office is turning their attention to membership.   We did gain some lost ground on membership last year, but the long-term trend is still on the downward slide.   This is disheartening; especially when we recognize the value that Girl Scouts has made in our life or the lives of the girls we interact with.

We have many schools and events we simply cannot get to, even though they would be happy to have us recruit at them.   We are always interested in utilizing the assistance of others.  If you are willing to assist us, please coordinate with the field executive for that area, since each has a clear idea of what works best for their assigned territory.  We certainly appreciate any time you can give to help us make sure Girl Scouting reaches as many girls in southern Alabama as possible.

Thanks for all you do to make Girl Scouts successful.

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I was fortunate to have an opportunity to be up at Sail Away camp last week.   This camp is a specialty camp that is focused on sailing all week long.   Because it requires higher-level skills, such as swimming and good strength, it is intentionally a camp for older girls.   It isn't often that I get to observe our older girls in action.    But this was an especially gratifying experience.

When you sail you don't move to your destination in a straight line, you tack, which is back and forth, zigzagging, rather than directly.   You have to rely on the wind, or lack of wind to move you to your destination, so arrival is not necessarily in your hands solely.   You also have to work to get to your destination; sailing is an active sport, not passive.   You are always looking for the wind and determining your next move in relation to the shifts in the wind.

What I observed was a group of girls who were highly skilled.   There were a few younger ones, working with the Sunfish, which has only one sail, so in some ways it is harder to deal with.   They were doing a great job working their way along the edge of the cove to move out into the more intense wind of the length of the lake.

There was another larger group of more experienced girls, who were working on rigging the larger boats with two sails.   Once rigged, those girls quickly tacked out to get into the big air of the lake to sail.

It was amazing to watch.   These girls were skilled, self reliant, resilient, and knowledgeable.   They were good about listening how to rig the boat, then proceeded to rig their own.   From there they took action.   They were told what to do, watched, and then managed to take care of their own boat and they were on their way.    They illustrated their confidence, their ability to think in action, and make adjustments.

If you ever wonder about the quality of the leadership skills that being a Girl Scout imbues, watch these girls sail.   They exhibited many leadership qualities.   They were able to put together many leadership skills to hone a skill they will possess for a lifetime.   Although sailing might be a metaphor for later life, sometimes we can't take the direct route, our path is indirect and fraught with unanticipated challenges.   But after watching these girls, it is clear they have benefitted from honing their leadership skills and will have capabilities they can apply to life's challenges.

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As I sit here writing, there is a slight breeze off Lake Martin, although the humidity is pretty high today.   This is the best office in the world. I spent 30 years in higher education in a basement office with no windows, so you have no idea how much I have enjoyed my summer offices in the woods.

As I write this, I see girls standing on stand up paddleboards, kayaking in the slough, now with skills they did not possess when they arrived.  Some didn't want to try the stand up paddleboards, but summoned the courage to give it a try.   Now they can paddle around without ending up in the water, but seem to enjoy falling in, too.

There's another group in the Sawyer-Weil Pavilion, singing songs with different hand motions, while some are working on making lanyards.   The song floats across the water and through the woods.

There's the whirrrrrrr of the zip line running.   Girls are donning their helmet, putting on the harness, getting connected to the lanyard and experiencing a thrilling rides down the line.   Some are concerned about taking that step off the platform, but these girls have courage, so they will try it.

Away from where I sit, there are girls learning to swim.   Many come to camp and can't swim.   I learned to swim in a murky lake. It is hard to put your face in a body of water where you cannot see your feet, but they do it.   They learn how to swim, how to get out to the floating dock, and how to have confidence in the water.

These girls have slept with spiders in their tents, hiked around camp in the dark, lived with mosquitos and other bugs, and heard noises by sleeping in the outdoors they have never heard before.   They have cooked their own food in the outdoors, sat at a campfire, and learned songs to hike by.  They have become more independent.   They have done what a very small percentage of the population does, learned outdoor skills and how to live in the woods.   What a wonderful gift.   I'm fortunate to meet many older women who talk about how learning to camp and these experiences changed them.   They still value this experience at the end of their lives, so what seems to just be "a week at camp," will be a memory that will last a lifetime.

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