Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Missouri Girl Scouts Fight For Their Camps



*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.

36 comments:

  1. That is the sort of thing that makes you just face palm, roll your eyes, or do both.

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    1. I did both; took me an hour to get my balance back.

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  2. wow. And I thought the gov't was bad when it came to spending. Girl Scouts is such a wonderful thing for young girls. This is not a good thing to hear.

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    1. Well, we're hoping to get it turned around through a grass roots effort. I'm working on a writing project now in which half the proceeds will go toward the effort to save Camp Latonka.

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    2. Camp Latonka is not just a summer GS camp. As a leader I took my troop there for weekends all year, especially in the late Fall. The weather was perfect and the camp is beautiful that time of year. My girls loved hiking all over camp. It was a great time of year to build a bonfire down by the lake. I would also like to know why they need air conditioning, when they haven't had it all these years and none of the cabins are air conditioned. That's part of camping. Thank you for your effort and sure hope it helps.

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    3. Thanks Carol. I couldn't agree more - I remember it being a big deal when we got electricity in the cabins!

      The reason they want the Dining Hall air conditioned is because of an idiotic decision to remove the exhaust fan from the kitchen entirely, which in turn made the entire building hotter. My mom used to be a cook there, and said she almost cried when she walked into the kitchen and saw all the absolutely ridiculous changes. As a former wrangler, the barn is what breaks my heart.

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  3. I hope that you all can keep your camp! I hope so! Camps are SO very important! Those inflated prices are way off. No way does it cost so much for those things, as you proved. I hope that people come forward to do what is right. That's the Girl Scout way, after all...

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    1. It sounds like people are coming out to join in the fight!

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  4. Those of us that grew up at Camp Mintahama, in Joplin, are also heartbroken. Thanks for writing this column.

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    1. Our hearts are breaking for you guys as well. I've never been to Mintahama, but I'm sure it's as important to you all as Latonka is to me.

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    2. I've heard Mintahama was also on the chopping block -- here's hoping they find a way to save all of them!

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  5. Loved Camp Latonka growing up.....from Shady Oak to Level Acres. We spent every summer there. We even took a few fall trips with our troop to the lake house. It is beautiful that time of year.

    Breaks my heart to think of it closing. It opened our "groups" to include friends from other councils. I have many scouting sisters.

    Save Latonka.

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    1. My troop liked to do that as well. Nothing like watching a sunrise, sunset, or storm from the back porch of Old House.

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    2. I've only been there once, for a few hours -- but that's all it took for me to fall in love with the place.

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  6. We are going through the same thing here in Alabama, where the same prevarications, manipulations, exaggerations and lots of other smoke and mirrors have been seen since a similar announcement about 4 of our camps.

    We have fought them to a standstill and we're still fighting! don;t quit! Don't give them an inch!

    As Mark says, there's something fishy going on in Girl Scouting and it didn't come from a lake, either.

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    1. Thank you for the encouragement! You keep at it down there. Get your local news involved and get people asking the hard questions - why the big wigs are getting six digit salaries when the camps are being shut down.

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    2. One thing about Scouts -- they don't quit!

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  7. Definitely something fishy going on in Missouri! And you are right, the catfish is delicious! I am a Camp Mintahama (Joplin area) girl. I to went to camp my whole life as you wife did. I feel as strongly as you and your wife feel about his issue. Some investigations need to be done in GS MO Heartland and GS USA!!!
    I am also wondering about possible ideas to diversify our camps to keep them opened for the girls and to bring some revenue to help get them all in the black and supporting and maintaining themselves. What about taking a portion of each of the GS camps and making them RV Campgrounds??? The KOA's and other RV campgrounds across the country are making it. This would bring $ into the camps and possibly also get some retired snow birds involved in camp maintenance and up keep for the price of there camp spot. Any thoughts on this???

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    1. I think it's a good idea, but I don't think it would work well legally - however, I see no reason why it couldn't be done in the off season. You might share this with the folks on the Save Camp Mintahama and Save Camp Latonka pages, they'd know more about the red tape than me.

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    2. I've heard rumors of some push for investigations -- we'll see where they go. As Emily said, I'm not sure about the red tapes issues, but it certainly seems like making use of the camp when the Scouts aren't there would be a worthwhile idea to pursue.

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  8. Such a sad story, Emily. I certainly can understand why you and your husband are so upset. I've heard that this sort of thing goes on all the time and it's so unreasonable and unnecessary. I hope you can find a solution.

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    1. A bunch of people are working on a solution -- we're all doing what we can. Thanks!

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  9. GSUSA needs to be investigated for it's role in closing all these camps. Have you seen the map of Girl Scout Camps/Properties sold or in jeopardy after 2006 GSUSA realignment. Follow this link: http://soscamps.weebly.com/ The list seems to be growing weekly. Girls DO like camping, and our camps provide an experience that can not be replicated in other environments. Please get involved and let GSUSA know that we want an immediate moratorium on the sales of our camps. Information on the status of these camps has come from info obtained from the internet or by examining council information. Please contact us with additions and/or corrections. We have not included camp closure information prior to the realignment.

    Tell Congress, Inquire into the massive closures of Girl Scout camps! Congressman Bruce Braley of Iowa has written a letter to congress asking them to inquire into the massive closings of camps around the country and their link to the pension funding problem. Please support him by signing our petition at change.org. http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-the-president-and-congress-of-the-united-states-investigate-the-girl-scouts-of-the-usa-and-their-request-for-pension-relief?utm_campaign=signature_receipt&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition%22Girl

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    1. Well said. I have indeed seen the list and, since I probably haven't been clear enough on this point, I don't think we should let this turn into a camp vs. camp fight -- whatever's going on, it's going on at higher levels.

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  10. Mark, I'm so proud of you for writing this article! You know that Camp Latonka is not just a place Emily & I went for summers, it's a piece of our heart! Some how we WILL keep it open so that the former counselors and staff can see there daughters and grand daughters enjoy the same wonderful "Home by the Water" that we did!

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    1. I know -- and I know everyone will keep working at it!

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  11. WOW! This is amazing! this is pretty much identical to what is happening in Louisiana! Camps were deemed too close together once the council merged (previous councils had wisely chosen areas away from main civilization which put them near the edges of their jurisdiction). The camp with half leased (at about the same rate) and half owned was picked. We balked and they added another one to it (both of which happened to be the formerly of the same council) now that second one has already sold and the first has been closed. They have turned down money and assistance offered from volunteers (specfic things like "we won't take any money with strings attached" have been said) It is a wonderful and functional camp but since it's capacity is pretty well capped out at 72 girls plus staff (beyond that you have to get creative with feeding folks) it cannot hold events of 200 girls and therefore cannot ever manage to serve 10% of the girls - their supposed magic number. However I doubt any of the facilities reached 10% just cause it is hard to convince 10% to add something else to their calendars that the adult leaders are nervous about leading. Though every one I have ever gotten out there and introduced to it - LOVE IT.
    Your situation is so similar I wonder if the the same guy from GSUSA came down and did the study of the properties and if GSUSA sent out a report or something to the CEO on how to sell your property to fund your salary, and others.
    Anyway thanks for adding to the squeeky wheel that we are to become.

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    1. You're welcome ... as for if it might be the same guy, I suspect this whole mess is coming from the top down, one way or another.

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  12. I remember going to camp at latonka for years and with out fail I would cry to go home the first few nights and just like the emotional mess I am now I would cry when I had to leave. Latonka was there for it all for me atleast and I met a true friend there. She was staff and I a camper, but to this day we still talk. Said staff member never had a Saturday date in which apimpled faced teen didn't called, you can't find that on every street corner. I think the fact that camp latonka was more than just a camp is lost on the council. It saddens me that other girls don't get the chance to have that experience as I did. AND I for a fact know some of us need those places and people to hold on to.

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    1. You're absolutely right. It was clearly more than just a summer camp -- Emily still has many, many friends from her days there. Clearly the minds of the higher-ups are elsewhere.

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  13. There are LOTS of us "old" Girl Scouts who are heartbroken about the rampant sale of camps all over the country. Join the fight--interact, catch up on the issues, and join together in the cause through various websites--one is http://soscamps.weebly.com/, or Rebel Scouts or Trefoil Integrity on Facebook. If we all join in we can return this organization we all love to something good again.

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    1. Thanks for the link -- I'll pass it on!

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  14. Great Blog and great effort by you
    /wife to save a wonderful camp. I have many memories or working with my father on the Old House when the camp first opened. The ladies of CL are doing an outstanding job in saving the camp and it is wonderful to see the response from the once girls and now grown women.

    Charles B Brown

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    1. Hopefully the new book will make some money toward keeping the camp in operation!

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