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I was just musing on the work our Volunteer of the Year, Barbara Mitchell, has done over more than 20 years with girls.   Not her own children, but girls in public housing that became her girls.   She provides opportunities for girls they might not have otherwise had.  

One of the extraordinary thing about Barbara Mitchell is that she takes those girls everywhere.   I attend events all over the council and you can often see her with a pack of girls on any given Saturday morning.   It is always a surprise and delight to see her smiling, happy to be there with the girls she brought.   She provides girls a role model, someone other than their parent to listen to them, and care about them.   What a wonderful gift to give others!  

Each of you is one of our volunteers of the year.   Sometimes you think no one else is experiencing the parent who believes the troop meeting is uncompensated babysitting, or not paying is acceptable.   Then there's the girl who always tests the limits when you have repeatedly tried to politely and quietly worked to deal with the behavior.   It is always amazing when we discuss volunteers to discover how their issues are similar.   It is someone testing your goodwill and desire to have a wonderful experience for everyone.   We realize there are frequent, behind the scenes conversations and troubles that test your mettle; when your desire is to work with girls, not negotiate parental issues.

Building leaders can be a messy endeavor.  We understand that sometimes it is the glitter all over your kitchen, the stain on the carpet, or  the mess made that wasn't adequately cleaned up when requested.   But every one of you does this because you care about the girls with whom you work.   Each of them comes with unlimited potential, and you work to shape and form those girls into the confidence, courageous strong leaders who will lead us into the future.

On those days when you feel like this is a burden, remember that some day these girls will become women who will change the world.   You are changing their world every time you work with them.   They will change those that go behind.   Thank you, for your time and investment in helping develop girls who will change the world. 

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           As I enter my 50th year as a registered Girl Scout, I can definitely say Girl Scouts has benefited not only me, but also my family.  My experiences as a girl member were minimal at best, but I did make some wonderful friends with whom I am still in contact.  It has been as an adult that I have benefited the most.

            My husband was a career Army officer and that meant we were constantly moving around the world.  In each new location for his entire Army career, I was involved with the local Girl Scout council, either as a leader, Service Unit Chairman, or trainer.  I would actually contact my husband's new post before we arrived to arrange to have a Girl Scout troop.  After ten years, we had a daughter who became a Daisy Girl Scout and continued all the way through Seniors, earning the Girl Scout Gold Award.  Her father was a registered Girl Scout and would accompany us on all of our camping trips and field trips, both in the United States and abroad.  Girl Scouts was a family affair for us.  We would even plan our vacations so that we could attend Scouting events or work on badges with our daughter.

            It was my training as an elementary school teacher which made it an easy transition into troop leadership.  I easily put as much time into our troop plans as I had done for my classroom lesson plans.  It became a creative outlet for me.  Even more important, working with Girl Scouts gave me an opportunity to make friends in our new living environment.   Since finding leaders is hard, a woman who volunteers to take a troop is welcomed into the group and I found many lasting friends from these ladies.

            I have been fortunate to attend trainings at Our Chalet, stay at Olave House, and attend an international event at Our Cabana.  My husband and daughter were also able to visit the world centers in London and Adelboden.  The three of us were at Olave Centre before it was officially open and had a chance to see what it was going to be upon completition.  I still correspond with some of the women I met in Adelboden.

            We lived in Belgium for six years and I enjoyed the opportunities open to Girl Scouts Overseas.  My Brownie Girl Scouts had many combined meetings with the British Brownies and Guides.  We learned about WAGGGS up close and personal.  It was, however, living in Morocco which was the most challenging.  I had girls from seven countries in my Brownie Girl Scout troop.  We used American materials, but having a flag ceremony required some adaptations to include flags for all of the girls represented.

            When we moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, I became involved in the Girl Scout Council of the Pacific, leading a Daisy and a Cadette Girl Scout troop, serving as Service Unit Chairman, and a council trainer.  It was here that I was awarded the Thanks Badge, and what an honor and surprise that was.

            As an adult volunteer I've marched in Veterans Day parades, attended theatrical productions, attended events at Macy, visited the Juliette Lowe House in Savannah, gone whitewater rafting and ice skating, had a living room filled with cookies from floor to ceiling, visited many unusual places, learned much Girl Scout history and many traditions, and participated in international events.  My daughter and I enjoyed sharing Girl Scouting together and having my husband along made it a wonderful family experience.  I definitely benefited from the Girl Scout organization on all levels and have received more from it than I could possibly ever give.  I'm definitely a better person because of my Girl Scout experiences and the love I have for the organization.

 -- Nancy Karrick

            I began my Girl Scouting Career in the year 1975 at the age of 5.  I entered as a Brownie Girl Scout and my mother was my troop leader.  Girl Scouts mean many things to me, but can be grouped into my three major rolls in Girl Scouts as a Girl Scout, a leader, and a Girl Scout camp counselor.  These three major stages of my Girl Scout career each hold special meanings in their own right.

            As a young child, I was not very athletic and could not join dancing.  I had many interest and Girl Scouts introduced a way for me to experience my many interest and belong somewhere among my peers.  I made some very special friends that first year in Brownies and between Lydia's mother, Sandy's mother, and my own mother, we always had a troop leader.  We stayed friends for years.  Sandy even stood in my wedding in 1996 some 21 years after our first Brownie meeting.  We learned about camping, cook outs, compass skills, hiking, canoeing, singing and friendship.  We even took part in our own cookie sales growing up, selling our share to help earn money for our troop and council.  Girl Scouts as a child made me a very strong, independent, girl.  The comments and teasing from other girls as I was growing up held no meaning as the family I had in my Girl Scout Troop was more important.  Holding a Girl Scout membership was important to who I was to become as an adult.  My best childhood memories all stem from Girl Scout activities.

            I think the saddest day would have been when I aged out of Girl Scouts.  I still wanted to participate as an adult, so I become the Girl Scout Unit Cookie director in 1988.  I will never forget the look on my father's face when the big truck backed up in the driveway and delivered 1000 cases of cookies.  My mother and I had decided he was on a need to know basis and he did not need to know about the delivery until it was already being delivered.  I will never forget the overwhelming peanut butter smell that enveloped the house for weeks.  I felt a great sense of accomplishment with that first cookie sale as an adult Girl Scout.  Exactly 22 years later, I began assisting my daughter with her first cookie sale and am amazed at the skills she has learned while selling cookies.  Each year that passes our troop sells a few more boxes and learns a little more about the business of cookies.  Again I find myself as the Unit Cookie Director and housing the cookie pantry at my house.  The smell of peanut butter when the pantry is fully stocked for the first weekend of cookie sales brings back the feelings from my very first cookie sale as an adult Girl Scout.  I think watching my Brownies and Juniors this year develop some business sales techniques and sell their cookies instilled a sense of pride in the life lessons I am able to guide these young girls through. Girl Scout Cookies and the sale of those cookies will always be an important part of what Girl Scouts means to me.

            I stayed active in Girl Scouts with my unit until I went away to college and this is when I switched to being a camp counselor at Camp Whispering Pines.  I was the Unit director for the farming sessions of camp.  I was not only in charge of 24 girls every week but also 7 cages of animals.  Those summers I learned how to care for not only the rabbits I was used to raising but also chicks, ducks, goats, pigs, and cows.  We took our ducks canoeing with us and walked our goat and cow on a leash around camp with us.  We began each camp session singing a rewritten version of the "Green Acres" theme song as "Pine Hollow" and showing off our animals.  I met so many wonderful young girls and had the opportunity to affect change in their life.  I worked with a diverse camp staff and took away many memories of some great summers.  Camp allowed me the opportunity to teach these young girls many of the Scouting skills I had learned as a Girl Scout.  We cooked out once each session, anything from a Hobo lunch to Solar Oven Lasagna, we cooked whole chickens over hot coals and we roasted s'mores. One very rainy s'mores night, we had a competition with another counselor to see who could light a fire even in the rain.  Needless to say my little farm girls had a fire floating on a garbage can lid with a tarp held over the top to keep the rain from putting out the fire.  We learned a lot about perseverance that night but we had our opening night campfire while no other unit was able to start their fire.  My girls were very proud of their unit that week.

            I began as a Girl Scout Leader the same time I became Cookie Unit Director.  I was one of the first Daisy Girl Scout leaders in 1998.  At the time Daisy Girls were not allowed to earn badges, they just completed a scrap book.  My girls marched in a Cub Scout parade to earn their first fun patch.  Daisy Girl Scouts was also only a one year program for Kindergarten girls before they entered Brownies in First Grade.  I stayed as a Daisy leader and would pass off my Daisies to another Brownie leader and then take more girls as Daisies the next year.  This only lasted two years until I went away to college, but I enjoyed both years and learned plenty from my Daisies.  In 2008, I started another Daisy troop with my oldest daughter and have been her and her sister's leader for the past 5 years.  Our troop has evolved over the years and is in for many changes as I release the girls to run their own meetings as they grow up and become leaders themselves.  I am proud to be a part of each of these girl's lives and hope I have made some impact on their life for the better.

            Girl Scouts is an organization that can help shape tomorrow one girl at a time.  I am a very proud Girl Scout both as a girl and an adult.  I am passing the love of Girl Scouting on to both my daughters and all of their friends.  Girl scouting to me shapes young girls to be successful in the future.  The experiences gained through the Girl Scouting program will help these young girls change the world.

-- Tammy "Panther" Ortego    
Girl Scout Troop 9195

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As a teenager, one of my favorite memories of Girl Scouts is summer camp.  During a two week camp I did a ropes course, spelunking, canoeing with an overnight stay on the bank, and a backpacking hike with an overnight stay.  I had a great time making new friends.  Camp adventures were demanding, scary and at the same time- thrilling! The counselors urged me to engage in new experiences and encouraged me when I was unsure. For example, I found out that I like horses, but not horseback riding. Girl Scouts provided a way for me to expand my horizons in a safe environment. 

 

Now as a Girl Scout Leader, I try to give my girls the same opportunities and a variety of experiences.  I'm offering support during their first canoe ride, making camp dinner or just sleeping in the tent for the first time. When one of my girls was too afraid of the zip line, I set the example and went before her even though I was scared too.  Despite the fact that I hit the tree stump at the end of the line, I laughed and my girls laughed too.   I'm proud to say that she went down the zip line after me.   The shout, "I did it!" was music to my ears and helped soothe the big bruise forming on my behind! Watching sister Girl Scouts supporting each other and and having a great time are moments that I treasure. 

 

When I see the girls slowly break out of their shell by leading presentations on World Thinking Day and I watch the older girls in the troop help the youngsters finish their craft, my heart warms.  I know that they are learning to make their own decisions and will become great confident women of the future.


-- Kim Manley

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How often have we been moved, given gifts, or good advice from a great teacher and not really thanked them?   As we grow older and reflect on the gifts we have been given, we regret not thanking some of those individuals.

Volunteers are a wonderful!   Our girls and staff have the privilege of working with a tremendous group of individuals on a daily basis.   We have volunteers who have worked with girls for more than 30 years and others who are just getting started.   We have individuals who teach girls about horses, how to swim, how not to be afraid of bugs and spiders, and how to become a women of courage, confidence, and character.   It is a gift.

I always stand in wonder as I watch what some girls can do with the encouragement and support of those adults around them who care.   These girls try things they would never want to try.   They learn they can do anything they set their mind to.   But this is because one of you has given them that slight nudge, or word of support that empowers them to try something new.   I have seen girls put their face in the murky lake, ride a zip line, look at a snake and a variety of things because a busy adult gave back to a girl.

As life is increasingly busy and people are reluctant to volunteer, they want the quick easy tasks, not the ones that require some training, negotiation, planning, and lots of patience.   But at the other end, being a Girl Scout volunteer is the gift that doesn't go away.   We have troops in this council that met as girls and continue to meet today, more than 40 years later.   Last summer I attended the funeral of a Girl Scout leader whose entire troop attended, and those women were in their late 50s.   They met every year for a reunion.   When this troop leader's daughter passed away, they moved in to fill the void.   They visited with her, called her, took her places, and made sure she was taken care of.   It was a testament to what a caring group this leader shaped by the actions of these women, years later.   And when they visited her, they laughed like they were young again, telling stories of when they were in Girl Scouts together, stories of how their lives had changed.

Know that every day you are giving back and investing in the future by your actions as a Girl Scout volunteer.   The thanks might be brief or not well formed.   But we are all guilty of not thanking those who give to us the way we should.   And years later, when you think the girls are long gone, know that they will be using the skills you taught them, summoning the courage you showed them they had, and have become the confident women you meant for them to be.

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One of the great stories about Juliette Gordon Low is that she was willing to sacrifice one of her most prized possessions, her pearls, to secure the continued growth and success of Girl Scouts.   She gave up something she loved so this organization could live on and thrive more than 103 years later.   What a gift that was.

Recently, I attended a GSUSA CEO conference, and the discussion was around the need to grow membership and to continue to find ways to be relevant to today's girls, with changing needs, access to new and different ways of communicating and learning, and much more competition for their time and attention.   The issue is how to respect and integrate the values from the past while still appealing to today's girl who lives life at a faster pace.

The meeting was fruitful, and the CEO leading the discussion noted, as she often confronts people in the organization who want to cling to the past, she always reminds them that Juliette Gordon Low was a change agent.   What she founded as Girl Scouts was a new idea, and that organization had to change and adapt to stay alive.   So CHANGE is the important element of the long time success of Girl Scouts.   CHANGE is at the center of who we are and what we do.   Journeys, Studio 2B, whatever the current curriculum of the day will come and go.   What dwells at the heart of what we do is encouraging girls.   The best Girl Scout leaders have always understood that the organization at its heart and soul is GIRL LED.   Allowing girls to make choices, they learn how to make good decisions and the consequences of decisions.

I worked for a long time in higher education and came to understand that more learning came from allowing students to make their mistakes than trying to save them from their blunders.   That failure and making mistakes is as much a part of growing and understanding as always making excellent decisions.   The ability to reflect and garner insights from losses and learning to cope has great value.

As you give the girls you work with your gift of time, think of those pearls.   That time will never come back, to you or to them.   It is a precious gift that cannot be replaced.   And as you reflect on why you do this, remember you change each of those girls and they change you.

Thank you for giving your pearls.

When our oldest girl reached Girl Scout age, we searched for a troop. Finding none, I decided to be a leader myself and took the training and was approved.

Problem: what to do with our younger daughter during meetings. Deciding that rules are for when you run out of brains, I took her to meetings with me and she became a regular part of the troop.

The matter did not end there. Among my troop members were five other scouts with sisters both older and younger. They all became members of our troop! Soon we became known as the "Sisters Troop" and amazing things happened. Siblings who had not ever gotten along well at home became close and also related to the other "sisters". Parents reported that the good relationships carried home from troop meetings and everyone was happier.

The wide range of ages did not hinder our troop from being one of the closest and most achieving groups in the area. We are forever thankful that Girl Scouting brings out true sisterhood in every way and remember fondly the beginning of such companionship in our Girl Scout Troop.

-- Margaret B Ellis

liz_brent.jpgWe have had another successful annual meeting.    The timing of this meeting is always a challenge because of varying spring breaks around the council footprint.   We managed to hit several school districts' spring breaks in this year's venue, but happily we still had a nice audience.   We held the annual meeting at the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Wiregrass in Dothan.   Thanks to them for hosting us.

One of the things that makes the annual meeting a challenge (besides the spring break schedules) is that the meeting reviews the previous year while we are at the half way point of the current year.   This happens because our annual audit is not complete until then, so we make time to review the financial results.   We will be posting the annual report and the council financial results from our audit on the website this week.

Last year was not a good one financially, a direct result of the lack of funding from the United Way of Southwest Alabama.   Because of this our organization experienced an $83,000 funding reduction with virtually no warning.   It wasn't a fair and measured funding cut and affected Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.   Both organizations are still reeling, working to continue to provide the quality of service we had with such a dramatic budget reduction.  

United Way givers tend to give on a monthly basis through payroll deduction.   We have been unable to locate those individuals in the Mobile, Clarke, and Washington counties to give to us directly to continue to provide quality service to those locations.   We do want to acknowledge we continue to receive support from Wiregrass United Way, River Region United Way, Baldwin County United Way, Lake Martin United Way, Troy United Way, Selma-Dallas County United Way and a host of United Funds.   We appreciate their vision and investment in the future of their communities through shaping young leaders.

Fewer staff has a direct result in recruitment of fewer adult leaders and therefore serving fewer girls.   The girl numbers last year were frightful, and it is heart breaking that girls who would like to be Girl Scouts cannot do so because of funding.   Fewer girls resulted in a much smaller cookie program, which is the primary source of our revenue, at 75 percent.    Thus, as we worked to reduce expenses through staff lay-offs, our revenue spiraled in a negative direction.

We continued to offer more than 50 council-hosted programs during the year, working hard to serve the girls who were committed to Girl Scouts.   Those programs included some great STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs.   We also partnered with the local universities to have events on their campuses, often using current students to assist in providing some great fun activities for girls.    Summer resident camp was a great one.   We had many girls who were willing to experience the great outdoors and move out of their comfort zones by trying things they haven't before.   That ran the gamut from mounting a horse, to putting their face underwater in a murky lake to riding the zip line.

We had five girls earn their Gold Awards last year with some outstanding projects.   This is a significant accomplishment for these girls.   It includes not only their project, which has to be significant and sustainable, but they have to complete hours of other Journeys and requirements as a part of that significant milestone.   The girls who earned their gold award last year are Morgan Alford, Amerie Gramelspacher, Katie Kirk, Bailey Sawyer and Rebecca Pober Citrin.    More information about each girl and her project can be found in the annual report.   We are very proud of these girls as well as the 27 that earned their Silver Award, and the 112 that earned their Bronze Award.    These girls are changing their world now.

Another of last year's challenges was the number of significant water leaks at Camp Scoutshire Woods and Kamp Kiwanis.   With a harsh winter the water lines, buried not far below ground level broke with a spill at Oka Misha at Camp Scoutshire Woods dumping 1,000,000 gallons of water into the lake.   The rangers worked most of the winter months addressing the water leaks at both camp properties.   As we replaced water lines we also put in additional valves so we can isolate one unit from another to turn the water off.

Since we were precariously close to ending the year spending more money than we brought in, we had our forester evaluate the pine plantation at Camp Sid Edmonds.   That pine forest was mature and needed attention, so we clear cut 69 acres of the pine plantation there to address the revenue shortfall.   It was a good time to cut timber and the funds produced from the pine plantation closed the revenue gap from fewer girls and a tough cookie program.   The pine forest will be replanted in January 2016.

The best part of the annual meeting is always awarding the Volunteer of the Year to one of our wonderful volunteers. This year's recipient was Barbara Mitchell.   Barbara has delivered Girl Scout programs and served as a role model to girls in the Dothan Public Housing community for more than twenty years.   Please read this blog entry about her many accomplishments..

For the entire annual report and financial report, please click here.

BarbaraMitchell2015VoY.jpgLifetime Girl Scout Barbara Mitchell is an amazing woman. She has worked tirelessly to provide Girl Scouting to girls in Dothan's public housing community -- changing lives and certainly making the world a better place.

Barbara came to Girl Scouting through her work at the Dothan Housing Authority where she served as a liaison between DHA and its residents by engaging and involving them in worthwhile activities, events and challenges on both a personal and community level.

Barbara has always believed the easiest way to reach adults would be through their children. It was because of this belief that Barbara started both Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops in the housing authority.  Girl Scouting specifically began there in 1995 and has been going strong thanks to Barbara's leadership ever since.

The size of the troop took off and grew by leaps and bounds. For years the rolls grew with repeat registrations of twenty to thirty girls and added new girls. The top enrollment grew to 67 girls!

Barbara met with different groups of girls five times weekly - one day at each complex - until their numbers were such that we transported and met with one level per day. People from the community were brought in to do programs, and were invited to join ongoing programs. These included programs with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, dance classes, basketball, volleyball, vacation bible school and arts activities, just to name a few.

Some of Barbara's favorite Girl Scout events over the years were part of the Studio 2B program for older girls. Barbara and her girls' favorite Studio 2B event was a Mini Destination to the caves in Chattanooga, TN. Of course, they drove up to Chattanooga the evening before. Barbara says they dubbed themselves "the troop who liked to sleep around." If they could find a way to stay overnight, that's what they did. On this trip they didn't just stay over one night, but two -- enjoying all of Chattanooga . . . Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls, Rock City, Market Street Bridge, and the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Barbara says the girls' most memorable trip, though, was to Plains, GA, where they visited with President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalind. President Carter taught their Sunday School class, and the girls attended worship service with he and his wife. After service, they allowed the girls to take pictures with them, and they visited the library, museum, his boyhood home, the campaign office, and road the train.

In 2008, Barbara retired from Dothan Housing Authority, but not from Girl Scouts. She decided to continue what she had started and remains a dedicated volunteer -- serving girls who benefit so greatly from our program.

Barbara is grateful to the Dothan Housing Authority for providing meeting spaces, transportation and support and to the staff and volunteers of our council who have supported her in her efforts to make the world a better place for girls.

Barbara also sends love to her special guests, Ida Danzy, Pat Williams, Cathy Walker, Ahneysha Jackson, Sheila Twiggs, and all the girls and families she's had the pleasure to serve.

We thank you, Barbara, for your continued work to create girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

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As we say goodbye to one of our program staff, Amy Farrar (camp name "Sunny"), who has done a great job at summer resident camp and programs, we welcome Amanda Abercrombie. Amanda comes to us with program and camp experience from Girl Scout councils in Mississippi and Tennessee.  Our fantastic program staff has been developing camp programming throughout the cookie program, and Amanda has jumped right in!   We anticipate another fun summer this year!    Please check our website (www.girlscoutssa.org/camp) to learn more about our summer camp sessions.  

Amanda was happy to answer some questions so we can get to know more about her.

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What do you hope to bring to your role as STEM and Outdoor Program Manager?

I hope I can translate my love, knowledge, and appreciation for outdoors, camp, and STEM into fun and exciting programs that will capture the girls' interest and inspire them to want to continue to learn more. 

What's your favorite part of camp life?

My favorite part of camp is the camaraderie that is fostered in a camp environment.  Camp is a very unique environment that encourages fast friendships that can last a lifetime.  Additionally, I enjoy the comfortable atmosphere that comes with working at camp.  At camp you are encouraged to be a version of yourself that you don't always get to show in the seriousness of everyday life.  Camp is the only place I know where it is perfectly acceptable to  run around in a pirate hat, sing camp songs as loudly and off-key as possible, walk around all day smelling like campfire smoke, and still have the respect/admiration of your campers and fellow staff members.    

What do you want girls to take away from their camp or outdoor experience?

My main goal is to help girls grow on the inside by being outside.  Camp, as well as other programs, is a wonderful opportunity for girls, staff and volunteers to grow and expand, not just their knowledge of the outdoors, but their confidence, self-esteem, and comfort zones.   I feel that everyone who comes to camp or participates in a program takes something away from the experience and with each year they build on the foundation of the year before. 

Thanks, Amanda, and welcome to the GSSA team!