Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Girl Scout Camp Closures Hurt But the Future Looks Bright

I get sad any time a Girl Scout council announces they are closing and selling a camp, and Girl Scout Western Pennsylvania's (GSWPA) recent announcement to close and sell five camp properties is no different. I'm not going to hurts. I joined Girl Scouts in first grade. The fondest memories I have of my years in Brownie Troop 661, Junior Troop 730, and as an "Indie" Cadette and Senior are times I spent at Camp Mosey Wood and Camp Wood Haven in what is now the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania (GSEP) council.

Last night Chrisy Kline and I took a road trip to Edinboro, PA to attend one of GSWPA's scheduled leadership meetings about the camp closings. Our intent was to better understand how GSWPA arrived at their decision to sell the five camps they are going to sell, and to learn what the Council's plans are for the remaining four camps. Here is a summary of what we learned. Please realize that this is my interpretation of and reaction to this leadership meeting. I encourage you to form your own opinion and attend an upcoming leadership meeting (there are several more this month - including one in Greensburg on February 14th). (We will be discussing the information shared in these meetings at the Central Westmoreland Service Unit monthly meeting on Thursday, February 23, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. at the GSWPA Greensburg Office.)

(1.) GSWPA was transparent and they did their research! For the last three years GSWPA has been encouraging its adult members and older girls to get involved in Camp Advisory Teams (CAT) (a.k.a. advisory boards for each camp property). There were announcements in emails and at GSWPA meetings (i.e. annual meetings, service unit meetings, multi-service unit meeting, kick-offs, etc.). GSWPA repetitively told us that they were studying camp usage...and study they did.

The geeky "researcher" in me was in a state of bliss last night when our CEO Pat Burkart shared data regarding usage and cost per girl for each camp (okay, she shared a lot of other data but the most poignant data was the camp usage and cost per girl).

(2.) GSWPA is making plans to enhance Skymeadow, Redwing, Hawthorne Ridge, and Conshatawba to better serve our membership. GSWPA has some initial plans, but they haven't set anything in stone yet (other than what they announced in their official notice about the camp closures) because they want to talk to our membership and ensure interest is in-line with the plans (I hope that means a GIRL SURVEY because after all, we are talking about THEIR CAMPS!).

GSWPA is aware that there are activities and programs at the closing camps that are currently not available at the remaining camp properties. GSWPA is studying ways (and gathering feedback on ways) to integrate those activities and programs into Skymeadow, Redwing, Hawthorne Ridge, and Conshatawba. For example, in June 2016, GSWPA opened a new "splash pad" at Elliott. While plans are not yet set in stone, GSWPA is looking to move the splash pad to Redwing.

(3.) We have to realize that change is hard, but needed. Last year my mother sold my childhood home. This was the home I was raised in. Yes, I haven't lived there for over 20 years, but it was my HOME. I miss my home, but I know my mom needed to sell it. She's now a single woman and she was using about 20% of the house. She was paying expenses on 100% of the house, but only using 20% of it. If you were my mother, would you have kept the house just because my sister and I grew up there? Probably not.

Approximately 13% of our girl membership utilized GSWPA camp properties in 2016. In comparison to Skymeadow, Redwing, Hawthorne Ridge, and Conshatawba, the other five camps just weren't being used enough to keep them open. I know there are folks who have fond memories and ties to the closing camps. Let's work together to keep those memories alive, but let's also press on and work together to make our remaining four camps the best and most utilized camps in GSUSA!

As members of the Central Westmoreland Service Unit, we are extremely fortunate. We have access to THREE beautiful camps basically in our back yard (approximately 45 - 75 minutes away from Greensburg). The camps we typically frequent are remaining open. Let's support our fellow Girl Scout sisters who are losing "their" camps. Let's encourage them to join us in making new memories at Skymeadow, Redwing, Hawthorne Ridge, and Conshatawba.

PS: There is so much more I'd like to share about discussions, updates, etc. from last night's meeting, but I REALLY want you to attend one for yourself if you are able. We will discuss this further at the the Central Westmoreland Service Unit monthly meeting on Thursday, February 23, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. at the GSWPA Greensburg Office.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Cookie Primer for New Troop Leaders and Cookie Managers Within the Central Westmoreland Service Unit

Okay, so you are new to this cookie business. I get it. It can be overwhelming.

The Girl Scout Cookie Program is a time-honored tradition that is LITERALLY the nation's largest girl-run business, and our Service Unit takes the program seriously. Yes, we may even seem to be a bit competitive over it, but I'm going to tell you a little secret...we may SOUND competitive, but we are really all here to help each other out). You need to remember that we take our Law seriously. We ARE sisters to every Girl Scout. Also, this program isn't about us (as volunteers), it's about the girls.

We have several new troop leaders (and new troops in general), so I want to give you a little head start on the Girl Scout Cookie Program. This is definitely not the end-all of details about the program, but it can get you started (until we have our Service Unit training in December).

  • Learn about the eight variety of cookies.
  • See where all the cookie money goes.
  • Read about the five skills the girls develop through the program.
  • Peruse the Cookie FAQs (At the time I am posting this blog, the FAQs have not yet been updated for the 2017 program.)
  • Learn a little bit about Girl Scout Cookies over the past 100 years. (We are celebrating 100 years of Girl Scout Cookies this year.)
(2.) Decide who your troop's Cookie Manager is going to be and let the Service Unit know. This is the approved volunteer who will organize the program for your troop.

(3.) READ YOUR EMAILS FROM THE SERVICE UNIT AND THE COUNCIL. I know we all get busy at this time of year, but now is not the time to ignore or delete Girl Scout emails. 

(4.) Check your online troop roster. We know that administrative details are a pain in the butt, but they are a necessary evil. If a girl is not registered, she simply can't be a part of your troop until you get her registered. If the parents (or you) need help getting her registered, reach out to the GSWPA Customer Care Center or to the Service Unit.

(5.) Finally, realize that there really isn't anything you should be (or must be) doing right now. If you've read through the five skills for the program, identified a troop Cookie Manager, keep up with your emails, and ensure that your troop roster is up-to-date, you are on track for a fantastic cookie season.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Every year I like to organize my Girl Scout year around a theme or a core goal. Every year it changes a little bit based upon the needs of my Service Unit and troops.

This year it is going to be "I'M CONTAGIOUS and PROUD OF IT."

On Monday evening I hosted a meeting at my house for my service unit leaders and key volunteers. WOW! The energy I felt was AMAZING. It was definitely CONTAGIOUS and I am PROUD OF IT!!!!!

For the past six years I've served as the manager of the Central Westmoreland Service Unit of Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania. I've had the honor of welcoming in MANY new troops and new girls to Girl Scouting. I love to see the excitement on the girls' faces as they try something new (like their first cookie booth or camping for the first time). I think my fellow leaders can agree that their excitement is CONTAGIOUS.

Unfortunately, volunteer numbers across the country are falling. There are less and less volunteers willing to be Girl Scout leaders, therefore less and less girls get introduced to Girl Scouts. Now that isn't something to be proud of.  :(

I've found though that while it is important to ASK someone to be a volunteer, it is more important to Be CONTAGIOUS and BE PROUD OF IT with potential volunteers. Sure, sometimes being a leader can be a little frustrating. But let's be honest. Don't the totally awesome experiences out-weigh the little bit of frustration you face? So instead of dwelling on the negative, BE CONTAGIOUS and share the excitement. Be honest, but instead of harping what you don't like or don't agree with, share the fun, the laughter, the goofiness, the LOVE you have for your girls in your troop.

While are Service Unit is going to work on some things within our organization (namely adding some things to our website to help out new leaders/volunteers or new potential leaders/volunteers), you can do your part by being CONTAGIOUS and sharing your amazing stories with everyone you encounter.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Is Your Troop Girl Led? I Mean REALLY Girl Led?

Girl Scouts affords girls the opportunity to develop leadership skills (and a host of other developmental skills that we can talk about later). One of the most challenging things for newer adult volunteers to grasp is the concept of Girl Scouts being "Girl Led."

I was trying to think of the best way to describe what exactly this means (because it truly is a developmental process and means something different at each level of Girl Scouts) and I came upon this report that Girl Scouts USA commissioned in 2009 called Transforming LEADERSHIP Continued: A Guide to Understanding the Girl Scout Processes.

Now, your local council has some form of leadership guide for volunteers that explains what exactly it means to be "Girl Led" (here in Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania we call it Volunteer Essentials), but I really like how GSUSA's report lays it all out into a table for each Girl Scout level.

According to GSUSA, "Girl led simply means that girls are playing an active part in figuring out the “what, where, when, how, and why” of their activities. This means girls are more engaged in playing a critical role as decision-makers in the planning and implementation of their activities. As part of a girl-adult partnership, volunteers can use this process to strengthen girls’ empowerment and decision-making roles in activities. Adults provide age-appropriate facilitation, ensuring that planning, organization, set-up, and evaluation of all activities are done jointly with girls. The girl led approach to ideas and activities ensures that girls are engaged in their learning and experience leadership and decision-making opportunities as they prepare to become active participants in their local and global communities" (p. 17).

As I stated earlier, GSUSA's report then breaks this concept down into awesome charts by Girl Scout level. So here you go....

We're going to start a series real soon, right here on this blog, on how some of our local leaders build upon this concept of being "Girl Led" right here in western Pennsylvania.

Stay tuned to upcoming blogs.....

Friday, February 5, 2016

Girl Scout Volunteers are Tea Bags

At a college I used to work at in eastern Pennsylvania, we used to begin every meeting, gathering, etc. with a Mission Moment. This served as a time to center ourselves and focus in on our task at hand. That Mission Moment might be a prayer, a poem, short story, or short devotional.

One of my former students, John, really embraced the concept of the Mission Moment. He developed an amazing Mission Moment that I'd like to share with you (I've adapted it to fit into our roles as Girl Scout volunteers).

We are all tea bags! In order to really become what we are meant to be, we have to submerge ourselves into things (i.e. being a Girl Scout volunteer). Now some volunteers have the bandwidth to keep themselves submerged for a long time and take on a lot of things. Other, due to other responsibilities can only submerge themselves for a shorter period of time or take on less responsibilities within Girl Scouts. Regardless, we are all taking part of ourselves and positively impacting the lives of girls in our troops, service areas, and councils.

Regardless of what you can commit to doing for Girl Scouts (i.e. being a troop leader, chaperoning a troop field trip, serving as a troop cookie manager, taking on a role in the service unit, serving on a council-wide committee), you make a difference. (Think about it like soon as a tea bag is submerged into a hot cup of water, that water is never going to be the same again. Instead, it's going to become something stronger and better.)

Now sometimes, we leave our tea bag into that cup of water for a bit too long. We exhaust ourselves. We become burnt-out.

Here's the point of this Mission Moment....

It's okay to take your tea bag out for a while and rest, rejuvenate, and grab another tea bag when you are ready to re-submerge yourself. When you build a good team of volunteers, if you need to take a break for a bit, someone else should be willing to step in and cover your cup for a while. (Just ask for help. You'll be me.)

About this time last year I was feeling extremely overwhelmed with my job, school work (I'm a doctoral student), family commitments, and life in general. My tea bag was over-submerged. I had to take a step back from my duties as the Central Westmoreland Service Unit manager. I got to that point partly because I took on way too much (I tend to think sometimes that I am super-human) and didn't ask for help. Fortunately, we have a great team of volunteers, and Andrea was willing to step in an fill my shoes for a while.

At our March 3, 2016, service unit meeting, we are going to have a brief program/session on how to avoid volunteer burn-out. We have AMAZING volunteers doing AMAZING things with the girls our service unit. My colleague Cathy and I want to help you avoid burn-out.

(Please know, if you are a volunteer outside of our service unit but would like to attend this session, email me at for details. Any Girl Scout volunteer is invited to attend.)

Yours in Girl Scouts,
Chrissy Schaeffer
Service Unit Manager
Central Westmoreland Service Unit
Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania

Monday, January 18, 2016

Basic 8 Outdoor Skills

Do you have girls in your troop that enjoy being outdoors? Are you at a loss for a way to effectively introduce outdoor skills to your girls? I've spent a great deal of time researching different programs and ideas, and I think (so far) the best program I found is on Scouting Web. (This is not to say that programs offered by Girl Scout councils across the country aren't good or effective, it's just that I really like the resources Scouting Web makes available on its website for leaders to use.)
Here's an example of a way
to display your Basic 8
Outdoor Skills pony beads.

Scouting Web, by the way, is an unofficial website that includes scouting resources for boy and girl leaders (i.e. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Frontier Scouts, American Heritage Girls, Campfire USA, and other USA Scouting Groups). 

Scouting Web compiled a Camping and Outdoor Skills Day program and it's available for you to download on their website. Their program offers the Basic 8 outdoor skills and games and activities to use to teach these skills to your girls. As the girls master each skill, Scouting Web suggests that you give each girl a pony bead to place on a bracelet (my girls are building their Outdoor Skills Bracelets using pony beads and hemp string).

The Basic 8 Outdoor Skills and Scouting Web's suggested corresponding pony beads colors are:
I found this idea on Pintrest. Use buttons
instead of pony beads to make a Basic 8
Outdoor Skills Bracelet.
  1. Outdoor Manners (blue)
  2. Dressing for the Outdoors (purple)
  3. Knot Tying (brown)
  4. Knife Safety (yellow)
  5. Fire Building (orange)
  6. Outdoor Cooking (red)
  7. Safety and First Aid (white)
  8. Protecting the Environment (green)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Business Ethics and the Girl Scout Cookie Program

In my last post I talked about a way you can introduce goal setting, decision making, and money management to your troop. Now I'd like to address a fourth component of the Girl Scout Cookie program - Business Ethics.

Every council sets their own start and end dates for their cookie program. Here in western Pennsylvania, our program begins on January 8, 2016. That means that girls are not able to sell cookies until January 8th (actually, in the Central Westmoreland Service Unit we go a step further and set the start date as January 8, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. EST). 

The start date (and time) is an integral component of teaching business ethics to your girls. 

We set a start date (and time) to ensure fairness for all girls. Some troops received their cookie packets (order forms, etc.) in November. Others didn't receive their's until December. Some won't receive their's until the first week of January. Without a set start date (and time), you could start your sale as soon as you receive your order forms - giving your girls an unfair advantage over those troops that don't receive their forms until later.

It's important that you stress the importance of the start date (and time) with your girls. Teach them the importance of business ethics and use the start date (and time) as an example of having good business ethics.