*note* Like all my columns, this was first published in the newspapers Albion New Era, Churubusco News, and Northwest News. This one came out on August 28th.
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
For probably obvious reasons, I was never a Girl Scout.
As a kid I might have happily joined, because that’s where the girls were. At an age when other boys were into baseball and spitting contests, I saw the future. But alas, I was put into all-boy gym classes, which explains why I don’t like sports.
Since I wasn’t one myself, I married a Girl Scout. She’s an adult Scout, mind you.
For all intents, my wife grew up at a place called Camp Latonka, a Missouri Girl Scout facility where she spent every summer, becoming a counselor in training and then a counselor and horse wrangler before I married her and took her away from all that. It’s the only part of marrying me she really regrets, other than my puns.
Emily’s mother was also involved in the camp, along with most of her friends. That’s where Emily made most of her friends.
Now they want to shut it down.
“They” are the Girl Scouts of Missouri Heartland’s board of directors, as part of what seems a nationwide trend in shutting down GS facilities. I assume the GSMH board consists of people who understand, and probably were, Girl Scouts. And yet, somehow, they seem to have underestimated the reaction from Scouts who called Latonka home.
At first glance, the closing seems reasonable. There’s another camp a little over an hour away, after all. Why not shut down one, thus saving money?
Ah, but something is rotten in the state of Missouri. (Not the catfish, they’re delicious.)
The GSMH board listed over two hundred thousand dollars’ worth of upkeep needed to keep Camp Latonka running. Some of those seemed quite reasonable. Others? Let’s see:
$35,000 to replace a 65 hp tractor.
Okay. I spent five minutes on the internet and found 65 hp tractors for $12,000.
$12,500 for air conditioning in the dining lodge.
Um, why? Latonka has operated over 60 years without air conditioning in that building. Have we become a nation of such wusses that Scouts, of all people, can’t stay hydrated and enjoy the open air? Besides, if cooling is such an issue, why did someone remove the heavy-duty exhaust fan from the kitchen?
A 26 hp commercial zero-turn mower for approximately $10,000.
First hit on the internet, found one for less than $3,000. A mower isn’t actually needed that much anyway except for Sports Field, when it’s not underwater. Worst case scenario, you could turn Sports Field into a meadow.
$85,000 for new toilets/showers.
Wow. I’ve been there, and the ones they have seem in pretty good shape. Say, maybe we should compare this list to how much it would cost to bring the other camp to the same standards the board set for Latonka …
Oh. The GSMH board didn’t bother giving an estimate for the other camp.
Most of my readers are in Indiana, but pay attention: This is going on across the country. It’s the same thing that’s hurting our entire nation: Politics, and people higher up who’ve lost touch with what their organizations are supposed to be there for.
Let’s do some apple to apple comparisons. Since most Latonka supporters would rather this not be a competition between two camps that should both stay open, I’ll avoid naming the other one:
Camp Latonka has three units, with four to five cabins that sleep eight.
The Other Camp (TOC) has three units, with four to six cabins that sleep four.
CL has two large shower houses with four flush toilets, and eight hot water showers, along with showers and flush toilets in most of the buildings, and several latrines.
TOC has two latrines per unit, and four cold showers per unit, of which I’m told two are in working order.
CL has all plumbing underground.
TOC has all plumbing above ground. (You won’t see that much in Indiana.)
We could go on, but all in all they’re both good camps with long standing traditions, and girls who loved their summers there. If one has to be shut down, I suppose it makes sense to make a choice and stick by it. Maybe they should sell the one that will bring the most money, to use in other Scout camps and programs?
But there’s a problem.
TOC could, indeed, be sold. Camp Latonka could not.
Only one small part of Latonka is privately owned, the part that has some of a zip line. (That’s a truly terrifying high wire ride through the forest.) The rest is run by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which leases the land to the Girl Scouts for the outrageous price of one dollar a year.
In other words, the Scouts wouldn’t get a dime for giving up the waterfront property of Camp Latonka, with its camp already built and operational, and with a group willing to volunteer to keep it that way.
Oh, wait. People who’ve volunteered to help maintain and run Latonka have been turned away. Volunteers. At least one donation was also turned away.
Did I mention the something fishy part? And I don’t think it’s coming from the waterfront.
Now we’re hearing stories that the camp isn’t being maintained properly. Things done wrong or not at all, the horses sold off, mattresses left out instead of being stored, tents nailed to the platforms, screens being repaired with sprayed on foam insulation … all things that could have been done properly by the volunteers, if they’d been allowed to volunteer.
What’s going on?
Did I mention that the Properties/Risk Management Manager at Girl Scouts of Missouri Heartland used to be director at … The Other Camp?
I don’t want to see any Girl Scout camp shut down. The higher-ups in the organization seem to have forgotten that they’re there for the girls, and a lot of the girls are poor. An extra hour or two getting to the nearest camp could be the difference between an enriching experience and being stuck at home.
However, it’s getting more and more clear that the deck is stacked, the dice are loaded, and hey: You shouldn’t be gambling with a kid’s camp. Somebody made up their mind without taking certain things into consideration, such as what works, and what’s fair, and what’s right. Is this what’s going on across the country in Scouting?
Is the Scout organization no longer trying to help out wherever it’s needed? No longer willing to serve, to do the job well? What are they there for, if not the girls?
I was never a Girl Scout, but I married one – because when you’re a Scout, you’re a Scout for life. My Scout is heartbroken. And it doesn’t have to be that way.