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It is that time of year when Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March #1 wafts through the air.   There are graduation parties and newly-minted graduates deciding what the next step is in their life journey.   Having spent 30 years at a university, I know that it also means a very large graduation ceremony with way too much food, lots of family, photos, and hopes for good weather.

When you look up the definition of commencement, it is a beginning or a start.   Other words used to define it are an opening, a launch, an initiation, an inception, or in Alabama terms, a kickoff.   As we reflect on what all the Girl Scouts who are graduating this year, we look back on the many things they have accomplished.    We have seven Gold Awardees graduating this May.   We have thespians, musicians, athletes, and all of these girls can do anything, as illustrated by the fact they are still participating in Girl Scouts.

We wish the Girl Scout graduates of 2016 a future filled with changing the world, one day at a time, one person at a time, and a journey filled with courage, confidence, and character.
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It is spring time, and we are working hard to get ready for the summer camp season while having lots of large camporees and end-of-the-year spring events for troops.   It is always a delicate balancing act to get things done and accomplished between weekend visits from girls.

Since I've received a lot of feedback recently about camps, I want to go through some of what is going on at the different camp properties.   We are fortunate to have four wonderful camp properties, nicely spaced across the council footprint.   Some of our properties are used very heavily, while others are visited less than six times per year.   Usage and wear and tear on a property does dictate how much of the council's resources are spent on a property.   Please understand that we don't have endless financial resources to put into properties, so we have to be strategic about what we spend and where we spend it.

This is the year of our ACA (American Camp Association) accreditation.   This involves a notebook filled with requirements that have to be fulfilled for a camp property to be accredited.   We go through this process so parents are assured we hold ourselves to a high standard.   We do ACA accreditation on the two camp properties where we hold resident camp, Camp Scoutshire Woods and Kamp Kiwanis.   Accreditation automatically triggers certain maintenance and repairs on each of those properties so they are as well maintained as possible.

Just as a reminder, mowing, weed eating, and working on roads with our heavy rains is often where the ranger spends the most time.   This is always an ongoing issue and one that requires immediate attention.

Kamp Kiwanis - As you are aware if you have been to this property lately, we have a new ranger, Mike Breshears.   He is working to juggle several items that need to be addressed at that property that have accumulated over time.   Add to that, due to some bad storms, his first priority was addressing some very large pine trees that came down in the Mariner unit and around the property.  Mike has been juggling some items in the kitchen and dining hall that need attention, while getting the camp property in better shape in general.   His list includes addressing roof issues in the Ranger bathhouse and the staff house.   There are electrical issues he has to attend to, as well.   He also is working to make things easier for the sailing girls by finishing the sail loft started at the Pioneer Unit.   The Ranger's wood/repair shop (which is not accessible to the girls) needs to be seriously decluttered which will take some to clear.  The two-year-old banana boat for that property is not holding air, so we are discussing options, since that is a very expensive item that has not held up with little use.

Camp Scoutshire Woods - Currently, this camp property does not have a full-time ranger.   Jesse Malone has been covering this camp, as well as Camp Sid.   Scoutshire has had a number of issues that have come about this spring that we are working to get addressed as rapidly as possible.   There is a water leak in the line on the path between Echo Lake and the frog pond.   This necessitates running a trench to determine where the break is and replacing the line.   That work is about to commence.   The line is broken in two places, so we have been trying to juggle that with camporees on that property.   Recently, the dishwasher felt the need to simply die.   We have been nursing that piece of equipment along for many years, so we are discussing the installation of a replacement.   But the hot water heater that feeds that dishwasher also isn't functioning well, so it is a combination problem.   We need to replace the coils in the air conditioning unit in the dining hall, so that is scheduled.   We are working on electrical issues around the camp and doing a lot of scraping showers and bathrooms of the peeling paint and repainting, so lots of work going on there.   Yesterday we discovered the camp tractor is not working and in dire need of repair. That is an essential item.  We plan to hire a ranger for that property after resident camp is over.   We are discussing purchasing a couple of smaller stand up paddleboards for the girls to try at summer camp.

Camp Humming Hills - We have been experiencing a number of issues at this camp, which is a little unusual.   The field lines for the septic system have been dug up, and we are working with a contractor to replace the field lines.   We had an incident with someone going through a tent floor, so we are working to address that.  We aren't using the lake at Humming Hills because of its murkiness, and the unused swim dock was no longer safe, so we had it removed.  We dropped loads of rock to stabilize roads.  A pipe under the road washed out in the spring rains, so that needs to be stabilized.  That camp property is used the least of all the council properties.

Camp Sid Edmonds - Fortunately, we have had few maintenance issues at that property.   We installed a new air conditioning unit at the Scott House earlier in the year.   We have also done some other maintenance work around that property, but generally it is in good shape.   We had some concern about the size and health of the trees on the 69 acres we replanted, so we have been watching those closely.

So, if you ever ask yourself where does all that cookie money go, the list above is a pretty good description of where it goes.   Most of these items are expensive and require qualified electricians, HVAC, plumbers, and foresters.   The rangers can do many things, but often problems require professionals for at least part of the solution. 

Also, we had tried to supply toilet paper and paper towels for our camporees.   Sadly, we will no longer do that.   When it was clear that more than a case of paper towels was taken recently, it seems more prudent to ask each service unit to provide their own.

Thank you, Jesse Malone, for coming to the rescue to serve as the ranger for two camps for a few months.   We appreciate his commitment to the girls of this council.


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Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.   For those of you who have met me out and about, you might know that I was often accompanied by someone gold.   She was a rescue golden retriever who wasn't necessarily the healthiest pet, but an animal that loved to be around girls, camps, and council events.

What I have often learned in life is sometimes others know more about what is good for me than I do.    After living here two years with no dogs, I contacted Gulf South Golden Retriever Rescue to see if they had a golden retriever for me.   I had a lengthy discussion with their volunteers (who, by the way, are wonderful).   My criteria was that I needed a dog I could have around the girls.   Because I travel a lot, my dog would need to be happy in the car.   Also, I needed one that I could have in the woods, when I am there alone and with others -- in other words, a dog that would not run off.  They discussed the different goldens they had available at the time and decided they had one that I should look at.   So one April Saturday I drove to New Orleans and met a foster parent, Alicia.   This was clearly an interview.   The question is whether I could handle the dog and whether the dog would connect with me.   This is when I met Amber.

Amber was given her name because of her large and beautiful amber eyes.   The vet in the animal shelter in Houma gave her that name.   But later decided, after having her there for a long time, she should be put down.   She had heartworms, a raging yeast infection on her back that smelled, and two types of parasites.   The vet declared Amber "unadoptable."   Despite this pronouncement, the angels from Gulf South Golden Retrievers went to the animal shelter to fetch Amber.   Alicia took her to her house, where she had two goldens of her own.   She said the first night Amber would not come inside off the deck.   When it started to rain, Alicia went out with a leash and finally pulled her into the house.   Amber was very polite, not getting on the furniture or doing anything offensive.   With much love and lots of veterinary care, she was nursed back to some semblance of health.   She had one true love in life, a tennis ball.

Alicia decided that Amber and I were compatible, so I put her in the car, and we drove back to Mobile, stopping once en route.   She was quiet, attentive, but polite, and somewhat distant.   I learned quickly that she wasn't all that healthy.   After work everyday I would take an hour-long walk up Spring Hill, through the Spring Hill College campus, through the golf course, and then back to my apartment.   The second time I did this I thought I was going to have to leave her and get the car, she could not walk that far.   What I learned was she was still sick and really was never able to walk a lot, unless it was at camp.

Over time I discovered that Amber was a wonderful companion.   She was independent and reserved, but a wonderful teacher.   Because she had this yeast infection, the hair did not grow on her back, so when a girl would see her from the front, she looked very pretty.   But once you were close, it was clear she had some imperfections.   The girls would ask, and I would always explain that it is really what is on the inside that counts; sometimes what you see on the outside can be misleading.

Her teeth were broken, and she never wanted to smile because of those broken teeth.   The vet said she as likely left out on a chain and probably had chewed the chain to get off and that broke her teeth.   Even though her teeth were jagged and rough, she never curled her lip at anyone.   You could crawl on her, do anything you would want to her, but she was never aggressive with anyone.

Amber had a special affection for babies.   The first time I met her we went down the street to visit a baby.   The baby rolled a tennis ball to her nose.   She nudged the ball back to the baby, who giggled with delight.   How did she understand that was a baby and needed this more gentle care?

Amber and I traveled thousands of miles in the council car.   She loved the car rides.   She would get into the back, onto her "throne," and fall asleep, getting up to turn or stretch only occasionally.   When we arrived, she would check to see where we were and get out and go about her business, knowing we traveled to many different locations.   As she got older she would bark and "ask" to go out in the car if she didn't feel like she was in the car enough on a particular day, especially on the weekends.

Amber loved to go to camp.   I would stop, get out of the car, and she would look around to see what camp we were visiting.   She loved all of them, although she always had some trepidation around Lost, the very large dog at Humming Hills; not because she didn't like him, just because he is so large.   But days at camp were always welcome days, she would run, sniff the air, and see what she could find.

Again, sometimes we don't understand who becomes a friend.   Her favorite dog was Scout, a pug belonging to "Woody," our longtime volunteer and sailing camp director.   She and Scout would play and frolic together.   I never understood it. Scout could stand underneath Amber's stomach, he was so short, and she was so tall.   But she was always excited to see Scout, and he loved to see her.

She was good with girls that are afraid of dogs.   They would come near her, often scream, she would never flinch.   She would never do anything other than accept them and their lack of familiarity with a kind and gentle look.   She became the ambassador of what a good companion animal can be.

Amber was my companion for the past seven years, working for GSSA to bring joy and love to those she was around.   Two weeks ago she passed to walk across the rainbow bridge.   Where she will have a mouth filled with tennis balls and peace.   Thanks to all who loved and cared for her during her years with me.

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In the upcoming weeks, we will have two large celebrations, one in Mobile and one in Montgomery to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scout Gold Award.   As many of you know, this is one of three pinnacle awards girls can earn as a Girl Scout.   These are the Bronze Award, the Silver Award, and the Gold Award.

We have many troops working to earn these awards doing lots of projects around the council and within their own community to "Make the World a Better Place."   This will be a celebration of those projects and that hard work.   It is a great opportunity to hear what the girls have accomplished, as well as meet these high-achieving Girl Scouts.

The event will be held on Saturday, May 14, at the Renaissance Riverview Hotel in Mobile and Saturday, May 21, at the Capital City Club in Montgomery.   It includes lunch and some fun, and is $16 to attend.   If you can't attend, but want to be supportive, you can sponsor the lunches of some of our distinguished girl recipients.  Please contact Jeannie Napper at jnapper@girlscoutssa.org for more information.

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I'm writing this on a Monday morning, following events at most of our camp properties all weekend.   We had girls doing all sorts of things this weekend, but mostly they were learning while having fun.

It is simply amazing to see so many people outdoors, working with girls to learn about their environment and their world.   They honed their skills that will serve them for a lifetime and and got to experience new things.    There was zip lining, canoeing, archery, horseback riding, sailing, tie-die, starting fires, making a meal over an open campfire, s'mores, and a campfire to round out the evening.   The weather wasn't quite perfect. Although the sun was warm, the wind was brisk and the evenings chilly.   But the girls and their mentors integrated that into their weekend experience.

As we have talked to girls who shared this experience, whether it was Camp Scoutshire Woods, Camp Sid, or Kamp Kiwanis, everyone reported they had a great time.   In fact, some that we talked to were wildly enthusiastic about the weekend they had.   This is what fond memories are made of, and I have to think it was not only the girls who had a memorable weekend.

Thank you to all who went to a lot of work and effort to make that weekend so fantastic for so many.   We appreciate all you do to make the world a better place.

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I suspect we all have those who have gone before us that we look up to or consider our heroes.   One of mine is Eleanor Roosevelt.   Wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she had a troubled childhood with a father who was an alcoholic.   She felt like she was an unloved child, despite being from a very wealthy family.   She was not especially attractive, and her grandmother reminded her of that deficiency frequently.   Mrs. Roosevelt had many children and then had to confront her husband's debilitating illness, polio.   Mrs. Roosevelt would have not preferred to be in the limelight for a large portion of her life. However, her husband sought public office after public office, serving as a three term President of the United States.

Mrs. Roosevelt was simply amazing on many fronts.   This is not to say she was without flaws.   However, like a fine wine, the older she was, the more she saw life from the lens of many with whom she visited and worked.  She was a humanitarian, a stateswoman, and she changed her world for the better.

Sometimes we know others though the nuggets they leave behind.   In the case of Mrs. Roosevelt, gems of wisdom that quickly express thoughts that I agree with or experience.   As I muse through some of Mrs. Roosevelt's thoughts, I think of many of you, who might not have the visibility of Mrs. Roosevelt, but who exemplify many of her nuggets of wisdom by what you do with girls to change the world.

Here's some of Mrs. Roosevelt's wisdom that remind me of the many volunteers I encounter. I hope you will enjoy some of them as much as I do.

A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.

You must do things you think you cannot do.

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

Since you get more joy out of giving to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.

Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.   You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror.   I can take the next thing that comes along.'

The giving of love is an education in itself.

You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.


I am privileged to see many of you face difficult issues.   I see you share your love.   You make others happy.   I've seen the notion of woman as a tea bag in action, facing many complicated issues with girls and doing some amazing things.   But most important, you are building the future by the beauty of your dreams.

Thank you for what you do to build girls into women of courage, confidence, and character.

 

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Building birdhouses, marking trails, horseback rides, sailing, making paper, what fun girls can have on their weekends.   Learning never looked so much fun.   I saw girls doing all sorts of things this weekend, learning and giving back to others while enjoying each other, the woods, and nature.   When asked if they were having a good time, they all gave an enthusiastic "yes!"

We have some great council programs planned for the remainder of spring, and I know of many troops who have some fun stuff planned as they draw this school year to a close.   I often wonder if the girls who do not participate in Girl Scouts have any idea what they are missing?   Do they recognize that there is so many opportunities they could have that will shape what they know and who they will become.

A part of what I saw this weekend and is pervasive at the programs we have is the commitment and devotion of many adults who take the time from their weekend to make this happen for their girls.   I know sleeping over this past weekend at camp was not a warm night.   Spending hours getting girls to an event, dealing with the chaos of sleeping in a tent or at camp, and returning them home takes a lot of time and patience.   I have the opportunity to meet many of you, who are always generous, kind, and caring.   I am always struck with how unselfish and wonderful our volunteers and parents are.

We don't always let you know how much of a difference you make in the lives of those you shepherd.   When I have the opportunity to talk to older Girl Scout alumnae, especially those who continue to meet 40 years later, it is the troop leader they talk about.   They enjoy one another, but they always talk about how the troop leader taught them to swim, took them out of the state for the first time, or taught them to cook over a campfire.   Those stories are simply wonderful.   You might not continue to meet with your troop 40 years from now, but never underestimate how much impact you have on the lives of those you touch through this endeavor.

Thank you for what you do to make the world a better place.

The sixties were an unusual period in the history of our country with civil rights, women's movement, Viet Nam, and the beginning of technical growth.

This might also be called the last series of a particular type of Girl Scout resident camp scouting, the long period resident summer camp. Over time competition would arise from camps for band, tennis, cheer leaders, computers and many other subjects coming to the interest of young people.

Amid this time frame there was Camelot, a magical name given to the camp sessions at Camp Scoutshire Woods.  Margaret Ellis was named camp director of Scoutshire Woods for a three year contract which in her own words meant, "the first year I won't know what to do, the second year will go well, and the third year I'll think I know everything and it will be time to leave."

While serving as assistant camp director under Barbara Phillips, Ellis was known to say, "lf l were king..." So when staff members returned for her first term as director, they said, "OK, now you are the king. What are you doing to do?" And thus her camp nickname became, The King.

At that time Scoutshire Woods had 120 camper spaces. Ellis promptly took more than 120 reservations. "I oversold each session," she said. "Having worked for an airline for 12 years, I knew there would be no shows." And it worked, every time, each session, three times a summer, camp was completely full. That hasn't happened since then. "One time we did end up with 121 campers," Ellis said, "But we found another bed in storage and set it up."

Each session began on Sunday afternoon and ran until the following week on Friday, lots of days and nights to make new friends, renew the old, and learn new skills. Church services were provided on the Sunday in the session. More about that later.

There were four units-Whispering Pines (Whispers) a cabin unit for the youngest of campers, Innisfree, also cabins, for the intermediate age. The cadets and senior campers were in tent units called Gypsy Glenn and Four Winds. And yes, there were nice bath houses with showers. Many activities were offered: swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, archery, crafts, overnighting away from the units, and overnight canoe trips on nearby rivers.

Three healthy and delicious meals were planned by dietician Marguerite George and served in the pleasant Dining Hall. Campers handled the table waiting chores and clean up.  Singing was always a big part of the meals. Flag raising and lowering took place every day, and a rest period after lunch as this was lower Alabama summer weather and there was no air conditioning. (Staff used to sneak into the walk in cooler in the kitchen.)

When Ellis took over, the Catholic girls were taken to Mass in Citronelle, clad in Sunday dresses. They did not like this return to civilization and a definite division with the other campers was created. Those left at camp would hold a devotional of some sorts. There was no unity of spirit. But Sundays became a highlight when Ellis arranged to have a priest from Spring Hill College in Mobile come and say a Folk Mass on the grounds of Scoutshire. Everyone was welcomed-in Girl Scout dress uniform-and no one was turned away from the communion table. (Jesuits at Spring Hill are known to be free thinking in such matters. Nobody asked and nobody told.)

This was the age of folk music and many of the counselors played guitars and banjos, and all of them sang. The sound of this music echoed through the clearing and rose above the pine trees which composed the "camp cathedral."  This folk mass continued every Sunday as long as Ellis was camp director and has proved to be one of the most memorable activities of those camp days.

The first year of Ellis' direction was the first time summer camp had ever been integrated. Five girls of Cadet age were registered and the staff placed them in the tents without any regard to the color of their skin. (Ellis, however, made sure her daughter was in one of the tents with a black girl.) After several days it was obvious things were not going well. A unit meeting was called and the campers were asked to discuss any problems. The Afro-American girls said they were unhappy because they had come to camp to be with their friends and they were separated in different tents. At their request they were all moved to one tent and camp proceeded happily the rest of the session.

Last night ceremonies stay in nostalgic remembrance as well. Half-pint milk cartons were collected from the dining room and the last night of camp as darkness fell, campers put birthday-size candles in the cartons and floated them off the swimming dock to sail into Echo Lake. Songs were sung and last times were spent together and good byes said often with tears. (The following morning the canoe instructor picked up the cartons from the lake in keeping with the Girl Scout philosophy of always leaving a site cleaner than it was found.)

Taps were played every night by Ellis' nephew, who was on staff as handy boy. The sound of the bugle over the lake at bedtime is another memory most campers and staff carry for a lifetime.

Older campers who had passed swimming and canoeing skill tests were permitted to go on the overnight canoe trips, about eight or ten canoes. Most of the boating and waterfront staff went along. The Styx River in Baldwin County, and the Escataba in Mississippi, with their calm water and sandy beaches for camping were among the favorites.

Ellis vetoed the Tombigbee River from the previous year when she was assistant camp director. They discovered that a large commercial river with its motor boats and barge wakes was no place for a canoe with no keel and teen age girls. The canoe trip groups took tents, sleeping bags, and food and supplies needed for over nights.

Have Girl Scouts and other youth programs made any progress through the years? With all the competition for the time of Girl Scouts, camp has been reduced to three day events or a week at the most with many of the activities eliminated entirely. And can you imagine today's camp director bringing along her husband who came up from work in Mobile every night, two dogs and a four-year old son, who now likes to brag he spent three summers at Girl Scout camp?  (Her two daughters were Girl Scouts and regular campers.) Or a priest allowing the Jewish campers to come to the communion table? Things don't always change for the better.

Most staff members returned year after year to spend ten weeks at Scoutshire Woods-one week of pre-camp training, and three sessions of two weeks. Some counselors remained for clean up after camp closed. (At that time Camp Seale Harris for diabetic children held a camp session at Scoutshire after the Girl Scouts finished their time.) The quality of the memories and friendships made during the three years of the reign of "The King" cannot be found today. Going on to nearly fifty years later, those girls of those summers continue to be the best of friends meeting again frequently. One of them still volunteers to do a program at camp every summer.

And why was it called Camelot? The time when John F. Kennedy was president before his untimely death was often referred to as Camelot. Some of the staff members picked up on this and compared the glorious days of summer at Scoutshire Woods to it.

 

Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.


Written by: Margaret B. Ellis
Camp Director, 1968-69-70

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Volunteers are the lifeblood of this organization.   They have been since its inception more than 104 years ago.   Without volunteers, our girls would not be as well poised to change the world, as they do on a daily basis.   We are fortunate to have more than 2,500 wonderful parents and volunteers who work with girls and we appreciate what each person does to make this endeavor successful.

Each year, we choose from our 2,500 volunteers one individual who exemplifies a commitment to the girls and changing their world.   This year, we are delighted that Pat Hall from Butler is the Volunteer of the Year.

Pat was a girl member of Girl Scouts for ten years.   She has served the girls and the community of Butler in Choctaw County for more than 30 years in a leadership role with Girl Scouts.   

When I first came to GSSA, I noticed Pat, not because she made a point to remind me of who she was, but because at every event I saw her at, I noticed she wore a Girl Scout uniform.   Pat is quiet and self-effacing.   Not one to draw attention to herself in any way, she is always at annual meetings and council events, present involved and engaged in the business of the council.   It took me awhile to figure out who she was and where she was from.   It took me longer than it should have to visit her in Butler and see the Little Green House where their Girl Scouts meet - a house that has been in Pat's family for many years.

As a Girl Scout, one of the events Pat remembers most is attending the Girl Scout International Roundup in Idaho, which welcomed over 9,000 girls from all over the world.   The roundup lasted for two weeks.   Can you imagine a two-week roundup of that size today, what an event that would be?!

Pat has done exemplary work for girls with Girl Scouts in Choctaw County.   She is known as a contributing citizen of her community, but serves as the face of Girl Scouting.   She has been a troop leader, service unit manager, cookie cupboard person, and after-school Girl Scout coordinator.   She has done it all.   She still juggles meetings, volunteers, parents, and opportunities for girls in her community, even as her own daughter is grown up and has a family of her own.    

Pat Hall lives the Girl Scout Promise and Law on a daily basis.   She does many things for others and has consistently made her world a better place for more than 40 years.   Congratulations Pat, we are proud to serve alongside you!

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It is spring and the azaleas are in bloom, as well as the spirea, dogwoods, redbuds and a wide variety of other trees, bushes and flowers.   For those of you bothered by pollen, yes, your car and outdoor furniture is coated in that lovely yellow dust on a daily basis.   But spring announces the fun of the season and the always popular end of the school year.

This spring has given us way too much rain for some of our council events, causing us to postpone them. I know of a number of camporees and sleepovers at camp that needed to be changed because of the monsoon and storms we have had this spring.

The rangers are reporting they are spending a lot of time working on washed out areas of roads and trails, which is always a challenge this time of year.   It is time when I'm listening to requests from them asking for loads of rock and gravel to stabilize roads for later use in the summer.

Sometimes, in this context, we don't recognize what we do have and how wonderful it is.   We have had folks from other councils come and use the Scott House at Camp Sid Edmonds as a base during the Christmas holidays and spring break.   They come and explore what Alabama has to offer both the fantastic biodiversity, the Gulf Coast, and what we have at our own camp properties.   They are always very complimentary of the living conditions and the convenient location, which allows them to explore this part of the country.

I know many of you have discovered the convenience of using one of the camps as a base for exploring enjoy both what camp has to offer, as well as other areas close to camp.   I'm always interested in some of the trips troops do that take the girls to explore and understand their own.   It is one of many ways we see you contribute to the future by showing girls what their world has to offer.

Thanks for the time you spend investing in the future by sharing your gifts with girls.

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