Monday, June 6, 2016

Camp for Every Girl: One Troop Leader's Efforts to Make Camp Accessible to Every Girl Scout

The Girl Scout Way 
After learning about girls from another Service Unit who were unable to attend camp due to lack of finances and resources, Troop Leader Nichol Lee sprang into action and is now working to help every girl experience the magic of camp. Check out Q&A with her below! 

Why do you think it is important for girls to experience camp?

As a young girl, my parents sent me to church camp for a week.  I was so scared and didn’t know anyone other than the girls from my church.  I was uneasy as I didn’t know what to expect or what we would be doing all week.   Since I didn’t know my counselor, I was uncomfortable asking her what I was supposed to be doing with some of the stuff my mom packed for me.  I didn’t know I was supposed to shower every day and change my clothes.  So needless to say, my laundry load was pretty much clean when I got home.  Of course, my mom was not happy with me, but I learned my lesson for the next year.  

I attended church camp every year and even worked at the same camp until I graduated high school.   I loved meeting up with old friends and making new friends every year.   Spending that time away from home to spread my wings and make my own decisions was exhilarating!

I didn’t have the chance to join Girl Scouts when I was a little girl as it wasn’t available where I lived.  When my daughter was in 1st grade she wanted to join Girl Scouts, and I became the Troop Leader.  When my troop was in 3rd grade we decided to try out the Service Unit camp out.  We didn’t have a good experience for our first year of camping.  The next year there was an opening as SU Camp Director and I immediately signed up to take on this big task. 

I have a passion for making sure camping is available to every girl.  Camping to me is a great experience for the troop to bond and work together as a troop.  I know it can be hard for parents to send their girls away for the first time, but with a little faith, their daughter will be able to spread her own wings!

Tell us about your experience at Camp Champions (i.e. what activities did you participate in, what were some of your favorite memories)

When I started as the Camp Director for OHSU, I started looking around for a camp ground that could handle a large service unit like Oak Hill SU.   After I interviewed Camp Champions I immediately fell in love.  Camp Champions is an all-inclusive camp with wooden cabins, activities for every level, a full service kitchen and was large enough to hold our large service unit.  

Every year I design the entire weekend around a theme.  This year was a Survivor theme.  I have a small team that helps plan the event and we start a year in advance.  Although Camp Champions provides all the activities for Saturday, there is a lot of work that happens behind the scenes. 

Camp Champions has a full time staff that is always willing to work with any accommodation we need.  Nowadays kids have more and more food allergies.  I love that Camp Champions goes above and beyond to make sure meals are provided for girls that are gluten free, vegan and have a peanut allergy. 

This year we tried a few new things while we had troops checking in on Friday night.  We provided a water bottle for every girl and adult that attended.  We also had a scavenger hunt.   I came up with clues about the different activities the girls would be doing and set them up all over the camp.  Each troop won an award at the end.  This year to go along with the theme, each troop created a Survivor flag.   Every troop had so much fun and it was a great way for them to see where they would be on Saturday during their rotations.  
This year we did Skits & Smores on Saturday night.   I LOVE watching all of the girls come out of their shell and work together on a skit or song.  We had 343 girls/adults attend this year and it is so amazing to see even the shyest girl get up in a big crowd and be comfortable with her troop by her side!

To go along with the theme, I asked that the Skits/Songs be about surviving.  Yes, some of the theme was about the show Survivor, but to me it is way more than that.   At the SU camp we have girls in Brownies through Ambassadors.   Every girl can face a different “Surviving” challenge in life.   Many girls face new schools, new circle of friends, families separating, family members getting sick, and even bullying.   I wanted the troops to really think about where t

hey are in their journey and how they are surviving in their everyday life not only as a girl scout but a girl. 

One of my favorite skits was of my troop.   I had seen them practice it, but I had no idea how it would touch me at the end.   My girls are in middle school and they see bullying almost every day occur.   My daughter played the special needs girl and the other girls in my troop were the popular girls making fun of her because she has special needs and she is a little different.   One of the popular girls was a little unsure about following the others and didn’t really want to make fun of her.  In the end, she convinced the others girls it was not right to make fun of my daughter.  

At the end of the skit, my daughter stood up in front of the crowd and explained it was not okay to bully special needs kids or any kids who are not like you.  She told the crowd she has special needs, she is dyslexic, and has ADD.  Just because she is a little different, doesn’t mean she is any different than the other kids in her school.    I was SO proud of my daughter for standing up in front of the crowd and speaking out.  After the evening was over, several leaders and girls camp up to her and gave her a hug.  They also said they were so thankful she spoke up because, they too have been bullied for their learning disabilities. 

How did the idea of sponsoring camp for another Service Unit come about?

I was sent an email from my SUD Janessa Glenn about a service unit needing some help to get camping started in their service unit.  After several emails with their SUD, I learned they have not camped in over 3 years.   They used to have an older girl scout organize the event for them, but unfortunately, they couldn’t keep that going.  

About a month after corresponding with the other Service Unit, I quickly learned they needed more help than I could offer them at that time.  I was also in the middle of cookie season and planning for our SU camp out.  

When I discovered what the girls could afford, I quickly reached out to my SUDs.  I had this idea of inviting this other Service Unit to our camp out.  I wanted to make sure it was okay with my SUDs before I reached out to the other Service Unit.   When I explained the situation to my SUDs, it meant we would have to sponsor some of the girls in this other Service Unit.   They immediately said yes. 

Within a few days of talking to my SUDs, I contacted the other Service Unit and pitched my idea.  They were beyond thrilled.   They were concerned that many of their girls would need assistance financially.  I reassured them, that no matter what we would figure out a way to make sure each girl that wants to go, will be able to go. 

After talking to the other Service Unit, I contacted our MDE Anita Braun to find out what I need to do to get the funds to help these girls.  I learned there is a process in which the girls have to go through to receive financial aid from council.   Although the girls that went didn’t get all the funds they needed for camp, Oak Hill Service Unit sponsored the rest of what was needed. 

When I learned the girls that went have never camped before, it broke my heart.   In March, we had an upcoming Service Unit Leader Meeting.  For the past few years, I’ve had troops ask me about why they should go to the Service Unit campout.  This year I put together a presentation about the big event.  At the end of the presentation I wanted to approach my Service Unit for help to sponsor these girls.  

I am not a person who “cries” in public.  At the end of my presentation I was overwhelmed at all the Leaders who had stepped up and donated.   They have never met this other Service Unit, but I could feel their compassion for my cause to help these girls.  

Tell us more about your efforts to help make camp more affordable and accessible to more girls.

When I first discovered why this other Service Unit stopped camping, I reached out to council.  I wanted to know why it costs so much for Service Units to use the council camps.   I had explained to KJ (Council Camp Director), we have got to find a more affordable way for underprivileged service units to be able to use the council camp facilities. 

We began really digging into what each camp facility offers and going over what it would cost for them.  At most of the council camp facilities, service units have the option to bring in their own food and cook it themselves.  We brainstormed a way for other service units to purchase three different camp packages based on their needs.   They can purchase a basic package and plan the whole weekend themselves, all the way up to allowing the camp staff to plan their weekend. 

I wanted to bring awareness to council that there are other service units in our council that can’t afford to camp at a council facility due to the cost.   Another problem is there are service units that are not big enough to have a service unit camp on their own.  Some facilities require a minimum number of girls so the camp can pay their staff. 

This year, we not only had the other Service Unit with us, but we also had two other smaller service units join us.   I welcome as many Service Units that want to join us.  However, I also want to design a fall and a spring camp for these smaller Service Units and have one big camp each season.  

What did you/your girls learn from this experience?

I believe everything happens for a reason, and all of this started with one Service Unit reaching out for help.  Through this experience, I have learned that we all need help.  I am so thankful to be part of a much bigger circle of leaders within in my Girl Scout community.  

I never knew how much my love for camping and my passion for making sure each girl in not only Oak Hill Service Unit, but all of the surrounding Girl Scout Service Units would widely spread.   I just wanted to be a voice for this other Service Unit, and make council aware of some changes that needed to be made. 

It wasn’t until we were leaving on Sunday to head home, had this whole experience really touched me.  As we were checking troops out, one of the Brownie troops from the other Service Unit and a Brownie troop from OHSU told me they are going to be sister troops.   When I asked them what that meant to them, they said “We are going to continue our friendship and plan events together”.   It was then, that I realized reaching out to the other Service Unit was the best decision I ever made. 

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