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It is always good to be grateful for those who support you, especially in these tight economic times.   We appreciate all the hard work, hours of effort, and patience each of you has to make Girl Scouts possible.   Without the millions of hours you provide, this endeavor would not be possible.   Thank you for all you do.

We have been fortunate during the past year to have a number of companies and organizations assist us by providing some great resources and programming for the girls.   I thought it was important that you know so you have an opportunity to thank them or patronize their business.

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama has supported our STEM initiatives through a generous grant they have provided annually.   The grant funds paid for the Hyundai Fun Day at Auburn University last spring.   They also supplemented a number of other STEM programs throughout the year, including the Robotics Team.

If you walk into the Montgomery Service Center, you will be stunned by its new look.   It includes removal of some disgusting carpet, replaced with laminate floors in the heavy use areas and carpet in the lighter use areas.   The common areas received a fresh coat of paint, and there are new blinds.   This was all done through the generosity of the Montgomery Kiwanis Club and the Kiwanis Foundation.  We also are grateful to volunteers from Sherwin Williams, who donated their time to paint.  Redoing our offices is low on our list of priorities, since our goal is always to focus on projects that   so we are appreciative of their generous gift.

Each year, Alabama Power Company supports us in a wide variety of ways.   This year, they provided some needed funds for operations, a donation rarely made.   We also appreciate the Alabama Service Organization, which provides staff for the Autumn Adventures program at Lake Martin.   This is a great partnership between their staff and the children of the community near Lake Martin.

We have partnered with the Virginia Colleges in both Mobile and Montgomery.   We have an adult fundraiser that we started this year called Martinis and Manicures in Mobile, and in Montgomery it is M3, which stands for Martinis, Manicures, and Massages.   Many in the community do not realize that Virginia College has programs in cosmetology, manicures, and massages (in Montgomery only), so this was great advertising for their services and a good opportunity for their students.   We are planning similar events at both locations in 2015. Let us know if you would like to be on the planning committee.

We had a new fundraiser last spring in conjunction with Cinco de Mayo in Mobile called the Salsa Challenge.   Since the Mobile area thrives on food competitions, such as the chili cook-off, we thought we would give it a try.   Golden Flake provided all the chips for the event.   Iberia Bank was one of the sponsors that provided a salsa team.

Pilot Catastrophe Insurance was generous to provide many pieces of commercial kitchen equipment for our camp properties.   We are grateful for those because they are very expensive when purchased new and many of our pieces of equipment had aged enough to become unreliable.

When you are at Kamp Kiwanis and see a lagoon filled with sailboats, as well as the slope toward the boat dock, you might ask where they came from.   We have had a number of generous benefactors give them to us one at a time.   This summer we had a volunteer who knew someone that had a pontoon boat to donate.   We appreciate the generosity of others to build the mariner sailing program with those assets.

The Mobile Junior League is underwriting a program with girls in the Mobile area this year.  They will develop healthy living materials that can be used by troops and for council programming.

Thank you to all our generous corporate benefactors who support making the world a better place through girls.

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I spend a lot of time, as does COO Karlyn Edmonds, working with the rangers to make sure the camp properties are the best we can provide with our finite financial resources.

I was talking to one of them awhile back who said someone told him being a ranger must be the best job in the world, to have the views and the opportunities.   His response was that yes, he likes his job, but he doesn't get to enjoy it in the same way those of you who go up to camp do.   He looks around and sees nothing but work.   There's always more to do.   There's grass to be cut and trimmed.   There are building issues where the list is simply endless, even though he is working on it all the time.

One night when I was up at camp, I couldn't sleep and was thinking through how many buildings GSSA uses.   GSSA has 36 buildings and 36 bathhouses, for a total of 72 buildings.  This many buildings require a lot of maintenance.  Just think of the number of roofs when it comes to that.   We also have more than 700 acres to maintain.   This 700 acres has six lakes, five of which we care for.   

I want to introduce you to the new Camp Scoutshire ranger and his wife, Chuck and Leigh Norris.   They come to us from the Isaac Creek Campground where they have worked for more than five years.   They are in the process of moving into the house at Camp Scoutshire Woods. Leigh enjoys mowing, so I have seen her on the mower every time I have been up to camp.

I wanted to give kudos to Jesse Malone, the Camp Sid Edmonds ranger.   Jesse spent the entire summer at Camp Scoutshire Woods.   We have been struggling with a water leak from the winter months that would just not stop.   After hours of work and blown gaskets galore, we finally found out the water pressure at Camp Scoutshire Woods was double what it should have been.   No wonder we could not get the water to stop flowing.  

Jesse has spent the summer and now into the fall working diligently at Scoutshire almost daily with the ranger.   He has replaced toilet innards, showerheads, cleaned up the kitchen, and used a bulldozer to grade where we have chronic erosion issues.   They have really worked on the craft hut, grading the front entry, replacing all the screens and getting the sink to work.  Frankly, I have never seen Scoutshire look so good.   If you are up there in the near term and see Jesse, thank him because you can't pay people to care the way he has for the properties so girls can have a great time on them.

We also were up at Camp Humming Hills recently.   The pine forest is coming along nicely.   I was pleased that most of the trees planted are now over the top of my head.   They look very healthy and sturdy, which is always good given how much wind whips through that area on a regular basis.   I'm always awestruck at why someone would build a swim dock in the manner they did at Humming Hills.   I had always figured it was dilapidated instead of being built in a way that looks like something out of a Halloween distortion experience.

Finally, at Kamp Kiwanis we are about to build a small observatory up there.   We have a benefactor with some restricted funds who wanted the funds used to honor a deceased Girl Scout.   We will be working on that project through the winter.

If you are up at camp, do take the time to meet the ranger and thank him for all he does.   I recognize not everything works all the time, however, it isn't because these staff members aren't doing their job.   And yes, they have great jobs, but never underestimate how much work maintaining those properties can be.

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Summer must be drawing to a close.  Labor Day is now in the past and we are in the midst of recruitment.   We always look forward to a set of fresh new faces to change the world through Girl Scouts.

Social Media
I thought I would run through a few reminders on issues around publicity.   We love to see photos of girls doing things around the council footprint.   Our PR staff use them as best they can through our website, GSSA Weekly E-newsletter, Facebook page, Twitter feed, Flickr photos, and Instagram media outlets.   If it seems like you see some of the same girls, it is because they are the ones who send us photos.   We would like to see photos of EVERYONE!   Please send your troop and activity photos to communications@girlscoutssa.org.   Label it with the troop number and what the girls were doing to have fun, and we will share with everyone!

GSSA Weekly E-newsletter 
It's a good idea to have all the parents in your troop subscribe to the GSSA Weekly E-newsletter.  It comes out every Thursday.   It is full of great ideas, new program listings, trainings, announcements and reminders.   This is the most widely-used resource across the entire council.  We feel it is so important that it is automatically delivered to the email box of every adult member!  Nonmembers can sign up on our website at www.girlscoutssa.org.

Calendars
On our website, we offer our Event Calendar, where council-presented programs are listed as soon as they are finalized.  We also keep an Other Opportunities Calendar for noncouncil events that may be of interest.  Many community events, volunteer opportunities, and Service Unit/Troop based events are listed here.  A Volunteer Training calendar is featured on the Volunteer Resources page of our website - it's an easy way to see what upcoming certification opportunities are available to volunteers. 

Blogs 
The Virtual Volunteer blog keeps you informed of larger issues - like new faces on our staff, upgrades at council properties, plans for camp programs, etc.  We also sometimes feature leader tips, so you are welcome to submit a blog post to share with your peers!  Our Girl Blog is where Girl Scouts are welcome to express themselves.  Our Press Reps write entries here, and this is also where we interview Gold and Silver Awardees, so that other girls can benefit from their experiences.  All Girl Scouts in the council are invited to submit blog entries that are related to their Girl Scouting experiences.  For either blog, please submit to communications@girlscoutssa.org.

We work hard to keep our website and social media up to date, and the most timely resources are our Facebook page and our Twitter feed; please like us and follow us.  But if you have concerns, questions, issues or hear things that don't make sense, let us know at communications@girlscoutssa.org.

Patriot Day

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I have a friend who sends jokes and other items that are of interest. We all probably have at least someone who does that.   I'm paraphrasing the story some, but there was one last week about a schoolteacher who didn't allow her class to sit in their chairs.   She asked them how did they earn the right to sit in that chair?   The children came up with various responses, but none that suited the teacher.   She then had a group of soldiers and veterans come into room with their chairs.   The teacher noted that someone sacrificed so they could sit in that chair each day.   How often do we take this for granted?

For many years, I lived next door to a trauma surgeon.   He had been one of the inventors of MASH units in the Korean War.   He was a quiet, respectful, skillful man.   I awoke one morning around 5 a.m. and happened to look out the window.   Kendall was headed off to the hospital, clearly for an early surgery schedule.   But before he left, he was out in the front yard running the American flag up his flagpole.   When it reached the top, he stopped and saluted.   I suspect he did that many mornings, and I just happened to see it on this particular morning.   In doing this, he signified his respect for those who had gone before.

Each and every day, there is someone out there still fighting for us to retain the values and freedom we give little attention to.   In this day and age when the threats to us become more complex and less visible, there is someone out there working to protect our freedoms and our way of life.   One of the attributes of being a Girl Scout that I appreciate (and other activities don't offer) is a reverence for the flag.   Our girls, as well as Boy Scouts, learn about the flag, how to post the colors, and how to respectfully take one out of service that shows signs of age.   Too often, with the frenetic pace of life, we don't take the time to consider flying the flag comes at a cost everyday, human cost.

On this Patriot Day, remember many gave an ultimate sacrifice so you could sit in that classroom chair and learn.   Thank you to all who have gone before and given so much.

August 25, 2014

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The new recruitment year is in full swing, and we are working hard to recruit more girls so they can experience how to change the world through Girl Scouts.

We were fortunate to have members of Troops 7230 and 7238 at the GSSA Board of Directors meeting.   The board was able to speak with three of their older girls.   What a great conversation they had.   It was clear this troop is girl led, and they had plenty to say about what they were learning, what they had learned and their plans for the future.   This group rocks!   It is amazing to see what girls can do when they set their goals and then work toward them.   We would like for all girls who want this experience to have it!

On the GSSA website (www.girlscoutssa.org/join), we are posting all the recruitment events across the council.   Please let your field executive know if you are having a recruitment event, so we are certain we have all of them listed.   Also, we are working hard to coordinate what the field executives do with what the service units are planning.   Please be sure your field executive has the complete list because this is how everything is listed, and those staff at the service centers has the information so we can accurately respond to calls.  Information and coordination are critical to maximize success.

The girls from Troops 7230 and 7238 shared how much they had gained from the trips they had taken as Girl Scouts.   This summer, they went on the Savannah trip and found it very worthwhile.   They are busy planning for their next expedition.   One of the interesting asides we heard from these girls was how much they enjoy participating in parades.   It was an interesting conversation because we don't always think of this as a program activity, but as they described why they enjoyed the parade, the learning elements started to become clearer.

Having spent the summer at camp, it is clear that girls do enjoy Girl Scouts.   They learn about all types of topics in a fun and easy way.   Much of their learning is hands-on experiential, so it becomes fun.   If you know of a girl who needs Girl Scouts or a potential leader, please let your field executive know.   If you aren't clear who that is, send an e-mail to membership@girlsccoutssa.org.

Thanks for all you do to change the world!

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School has commenced, and it's a good time to be reminded of things that might have faded during the summer.

 

It is important to register your girls as Girl Scouts.   If you have girls who participate but are not registered, they are not covered by GSSA insurance.   You might think, "Well, we aren't doing anything dangerous."  However, you would be surprised how many claims we have annually from simple accidents.   I was stunned to find some girls not even registered prior to the start of the cookie program.   The problem is that, if something happens, this impacts you personally and won't be covered by our insurance, so registering girls who participate is important.

 

When we have space and the opportunity, we try to include tagalongs and siblings, but GSSA pays additional insurance for those individuals.   We cannot allow these children if we don't have tagalong insurance because they are not covered if an accident occurs.   Please respect our request when a program or training description indicates no tagalongs.   We don't do this to be offensive, but it increases the cost of the event to have them present, and we do it only when it is appropriate.   We have already turned someone -away who brought tagalongs to a recent event. 

 

We subscribe to all Safety Activity Checkpoints provided by GSUSA.   We have requested that some of those regulations be changed, such as the one which states that those who cannot swim are not allowed to canoe.   However, we expect you to comply with those regulations.   Each ranger has been provided with a new notebook outlining the various policies and regulations on GSSA properties.   It is not their role to enforce those regulations, but they do have a notebook with the documentation that applies to their camp.   If you have questions, they have this at their residence.   Please check because we have been told about some flagrant violations from last year that we cannot have continue this year.   Most of you are excellent about complying with these rules, so this applies to those few who aren't obeying the rules.

 

We work hard to assure the safety of the girls with whom you work.   We vet the adults and work to assure we don't do anything that would put the girls in harm's way.   Last year, I attended a couple of events where the parents/troop leaders were present, but not tuned in.   The beauty of our program is that girls experience time with adults who can shape them to become contributing citizens.   Try to be present with the girls you are chaperoning; it is a gift they will not forget.


Most of the time when I'm around girls and volunteers, I'm always impressed with what

some of you do with the girls in your charge.  There is a great deal of interest, caring, nurturing, and learning that happens.   It is always beautiful to watch.   Thank you for all you do.

 

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Once upon a time, I was lucky enough to work for a brilliant Jesuit priest.   He was a genius.   I was a young dean and not sure I was impressed with his constant stream of ideas.   I was the resident skeptic.   My mentor had been a trusty, reliable, predictable boss.   This new president was handsome, charming, energetic, and enthusiastic about everything.   I don't know if you have ever had a friend like this, but he was constantly invading my personal space.   One entire basketball game he practically sat on my leg, until I finally asked him to move over, whereupon he laughed.   He knew he was sitting on my leg. He just wanted to see how long I would tolerate it.

Over the years, I learned that working for someone who was a genius took a lot of time and energy.   Some days it took me awhile to even figure out what he was babbling about, but I learned to love him.   I believe he was the perfect boss for me at a time when I needed to be moved out of my comfort zone and confront some change.

One of the maxims he believed, which I now embrace, is that you will not change unless you are standing at the edge of the cliff, looking down into the abyss, with someone nudging you to go over.   When you look down and see what could be ahead, you will make the dramatic changes necessary to stay on the top of the cliff.   His point was always that change is good.   It is hard, but it also makes you better.   His advice to us was that we would work smarter, and during his tenure there, we did.

This is a year filled with change for the Girl Scouts, also.   As with the Southwest Alabama United Way defunding, declines in other funding sources, a lackluster cookie sale come together, we have to make some changes.   Staffing is our largest expense, followed by fixed costs of properties.   The check for the electric bill I signed this afternoon for one month was more than $6,700.   That is what it runs each month across our properties and that was just one power company.   We have many.

This year we will be looking for ways to maximize the girl experience.   We want to continue the quality programs we offered the girls, but do it smarter and less expensively.   We want to increase the number of girls; we do this because we believe the Girl Scout Leadership Experience changes lives.   I see this daily.   We want to provide the type of support to our wonderful volunteers that they desire.   We have attainable goals for this year.

I was looking over the edge at the abyss as I worked on the budget.   As we have staff leave, we won't be able to replace all of those positions.   As I look at a long list of equipment volunteers would like at camp properties, we might not be able to afford many of those this year.   However, with that said, as we work to increase girl numbers and the quality of our offerings we are optimistic about what this year holds for our girls.   I will keep that list for after the cookie program.  You will experience some changes this year.   You will see the staff working smarter and aimed to achieve better customer service and the best year possible for your girls.   Change is good! It moves us forward.

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Where did the summer go?   For me, this summer has reflected the adage "time flies when you are having fun."   I don't know about you, but we had a good summer.   Almost all of the staff was able to spend at least one day at resident camp, seeing what the girls are doing and working with them directly.   Sometimes, when you are dealing with the business aspects of Girl Scouts, you need to find and take the time to get out and savor what we really do, work for and with girls.   I saw some great learning and fun this summer. It was a joy.

School begins for much of GSSA this week and into next.   It feels like summers are just getting shorter and shorter.   I hope you had a chance to enjoy your children during their time away from school and that they are looking forward to the school year.

I spent most of my career working at a university.   The beginning of each academic year was marked with frenetic activity, some initial chaos, and the hope of great things to come.   There was not one year I was there that the hope of great things to come went unfulfilled.   I'm not saying every year was perfect or without its challenges.   However, I learned a lot from the students I worked with every year.

GSSA has some challenges this year, working to regain the lost girl members that resulted from the loss of United Way funding in the Mobile area.   We have new staff that we need to integrate.   We are always confronted with more girls than adults we can stretch around them.   Girls benefit from Girl Scouts programs; there is abundant evidence to prove the power of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience.

If you know of anyone who would be a good leader or volunteer, please suggest Girl Scouts to him or her as a place to spend quality time with some of the best girls in the State of Alabama.   Each year by the end of September we have lists of hundreds of girls and no troop leaders, it is gut wrenching.   If you have additional room in your troop for additional girls, please let your local area field executive know.   I spent the summer watching how Girl Scouts can and do make the world a better place.

I hope you have high expectations for this year, and it holds the promise of great things to come.

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If you pay a visit to the Montgomery Service Center, you will see considerable chaos.   However, you will also see that the larger building, 145 Coliseum Boulevard is receiving a significant facelift.   This is thanks to the Kiwanis Club of Montgomery and the Kiwanis Club of Montgomery Foundation.    Through their generosity we are able to redo the floors, paint, and replace the front blinds.   We are hoping the new custom blinds will serve as some excellent advertising for us.   To help stretch the funding from this grant, employees from the Sherwin-Williams Company are donating their time to paint our office.  If you know a member of the Kiwanis Club of Montgomery, please go out of your way to thank them for their gift and express your appreciation at your local Sherwin-Williams store.

We are always appreciative of the generosity of others.   Baptist South Hospital Foundation will be providing the supplies for our First Aid kits this year.   Thanks to them for the supplies that expire annually and can be costly to keep updated.

We have received a couple of additional sailboats.   They have not arrived yet, but one is a fairly large boat and another is a sunfish.   Thanks to Dr. Mark Kassels and an anonymous benefactor for these generous gifts.

One of our volunteers who drove a car load of day camp girls this summer put us in touch with a local businessman who donated a pontoon boat to us on Lake Martin.   I have heard that the boat is much nicer than the one we owned.   Any interested troop is welcome to make advance arrangements with the ranger for a tour of Lake Martin in the boat, complete with his commentary on who lives where.   (Please make arrangements well in advance; your only cost will be the gas used by the boat while you are there.)   Our thanks to volunteer Caroline Breshears, who not only spent a lot of time assisting girls at camp, but also brought us this new boat.

In the Mobile area we are in the midst of our annual brand campaign with the Mobile Area Boy Scouts of America.   We work during the summer to remind our constituents that we no longer receive any funds from the Southwest Alabama United Way or the Lee County United Way.   We still receive generous support from ten other United Ways and United Funds, including Baldwin County, River Region United Way, Wiregrass United Way, and Lake Martin Area United Way.   So if you live or work in Mobile, Clarke or Washington Counties, please remember that if you previously gave to the United Way, Scouting appreciates direct donations.   If you have any interest in doing a pitch for Scouting at your own work place and work in Mobile, Washington, or Clarke Counties please let me know.

Fundraising is an adult activity and we appreciate the assistance of Girl Scout volunteers, alumnae and parents with cultivating support in our community.  We appreciate the leads and assistance many of you lend to us by giving us suggestions on businesses and others who are willing to make the world a better place by giving to girls.   We always appreciate those leads and your generosity and that of others.

Also, please consider shopping with our business partners and be sure to tell them you appreciate their support for girls. If you know of a business or organization who would like to join our list of distinguished partners or to learn more about giving opportunities, feel free to contact me at lbrent@girlscoutssa.org or Melinda Stallworth, Director of Advancement at mstallworth@girlscoutssa.org

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I had a long visit with a good service unit manager last week that said it is sometimes confusing who is doing what around the service centers because it seems to change.   She is accurate; we have experienced a lot of change recently, so I thought I would introduce some of the new council staff and outline some contacts that have changed, hopefully this will serve as a good resource for you.

This is the year of the early arrivals, Jen Thrash's baby showed up about a month early recently, so we are scrambling to get some work done in relation to the membership plans in each area.   With that said we are welcoming some new staff in Membership.

Field Executive - Gulf Region

Allison Marlow, mother of five children (ages 2 to 11), has just relocated from South Carolina.   As a long-time Girl Scout mom and service unit leader, her service unit in Hawaii increased their membership from 125 girls to 425 girls during her time there.   She resides in Fairhope and is eager to meet and get to know you.   She can be reached at amarlow@girlscoutssa.org or 800/239-6636, ext 1402.

Field Executive - Wiregrass Region

Brandy Lydick joins our staff as field executive in the Wiregrass.  Brandy and her family live in Chancellor, and she has a daughter who is a Girl Scout in Geneva.  Brandy is working on completing her Bachelor's degree in business and has considerable experience in office management and customer service. Brandy looks forward to growing Girl Scouts in the Wiregrass.  She may be reached at blydick@girlscoutssa.org or 800/239-6636, ext 2103.

Associate Field Executive - Wiregrass Region

Launa Boynton will be working with Brandy in the Wiregrass.  Launa was a Girl Scout as a child, and has held many volunteer positions with Girl Scouts since then (beginning as an assistant leader in her 20s.)  She has lived all over the United States, and has resided with her husband and twin girls (rising 7th graders) for in Enterprise for seven years.

Money Raising Projects - questions and requests for those requests need to be sent to Melinda Stallworth.   She can be reached at extension 2802 or mstallworth@girlscoutssa.org.

Programming - Mary Anne Brutkiewicz will be retiring at the end of July, and her programming assignments will be taken up by Christina Smotherman and other staff members.  She will be returning to teaching Spanish at USA, and we wish her the best. 

Camps and Property

Joe Turner has been hired as the new Ranger at Camp Scoutshire Woods.  Joe has his own carpentry business and has been working as a contractor for 42 years. He and his wife, Cindy, have two adult children and two grandchildren.  He has taught Sunday School class for 40 years at the First Baptist Church of Citronelle. He love fishing and participates in tournaments.  He is excited about improving Camp Scoutshire Woods for our girls.

Just as a reminder, we did clear cut 69 acres at Camp Sid Edmonds and thinned some of the inner portion of the camp.   It looks dramatically different.   Each time I'm up there I'm surprised at how it changes from one week to the next.   I was pleased to see some quail while I was up there and the work was going on.   We have not noticed any significant changes in the wildlife.

The camp calendars have been opened up for camporees.   We have been discussing a couple of council wide camporees opened to anyone wanting to attend.   This worked very well the last time we tried it, in fact we had a waiting list.   Hopefully that will be put on the calendar shortly.   As a reminder, camp reservations are made at either service center but it is easier to make the Scoutshire and Sid reservations at the Mobile Service Center and the Kamp Kiwanis and Humming Hills reservations at the Montgomery Service Center.

We will continue to work to keep you abreast of changes as they occur.