Friday, June 6, 2014

Girl Scout Twilight Camp

Last night I had a rather emotional experience. My friend, Debbie Chrissinger and I went to do a presentation at the Girl Scout Twilight Camp in Los Alamos, New Mexico - where both she and I grew up. Why did we do this? Because twenty-two years ago, we started this camp for our Gold Award projects.

Not everyone knows what the Gold Award is, but it's the highest honor in Girl Scouts. Some would call it equivalent to the Eagle Scout honor, but... well... Boy Scouts bristle when I say this, but I think the Eagle Scout Award is more like the Silver Award, the second highest honor in Girl Scouts that can be done in middle/junior high school. Read on to see what it is we had to do to earn our Gold Awards.

When Debbie and I were sixteen, we'd already worked together planning a variety of council-wide events all over the state of New Mexico, including a new badge program that we launched with a weekend long event with some help from a grant from Reader's Digest - which we applied for ourselves. We had mentors, but they encouraged us to work on our own. So for our Gold Awards, it seemed to make sense to plan another event, but not a simple, weekend event. We thought back to ten years before, in 1983, when we'd gone to a Girl Scout Day Camp, which had ceased running after that session. It seemed like a great resource for girls, but we looked into why it had ceased, and tried to find another option.

What we came up with was a twilight camp, meaning a day camp that runs in the evenings, after working parents are off for the day. This way, we figured, more parents could be involved, and the program might be more sustainable in the long term. Debbie and I each designed a program (I for Brownies, she for Juniors) for our week long camp, and then set about getting volunteers.

We recruited the camp director, all the core staff, the nurse, and the PAs (older scouts to help out with the units.) With a laser printer and some rubber stamps, we designed information flyers, registration forms, and resource packets. All of the camp registrations, which we distributed county-wide through Brownie and Junior leaders, came in to us, and we divided them up into units and designed the name tags and color bandannas they would wear. Using an ever so rare color printer, we printed iron on logos that we put on T-shirts. That took several hours, ironing all those on, but then we gave them to the campers to tie-die the first night and that was a big hit.

Debbie and I trained the staff, briefed them on their responsibilities, and put together the schedule. The first camp took place in the summer of 1993 at Ponderosa Campground, where our old Day Camp had been, and we had roughly 100 girls. A volunteer to be the following year's camp director stepped forward within hours of the opening ceremonies.

And now, 22 years later, it's still running. We were invited back the second year to design a second program, so that returning girls wouldn't do the same activities twice, but then the camp took on a life of its own. When they invited Debbie and me back this year, it was pretty surreal. 22 years means two generations of Girl Scouts have attended all six years that they were eligible as campers, and then volunteered all 4 years they were eligible as PAs. When the camp took a year hiatus a few years back, another scout did her Gold Award by relaunching it and expanding recruitment to nearby towns. Now, to put this in perspective, this grown woman who is a rising sophomore in college was not born when we created Twilight Camp. She began attending years after we were no longer involved, and claims she demanded her parents schedule any summer vacations around it. She had to fight to make her project eligible for her Gold Award; her committee felt that running a program that had already been created wasn't a big enough project to qualify.

The camp even has its own theme song now, composed by one of the adult volunteers, and the campers all knew it by heart. A few of the attendees went out of their way to thank us for creating a program that they have loved and enjoyed year after year and one PA even came up and admitted she always wanted to meet us, ever since she found out the history of Twilight Camp.

Debbie and I were invited so that we could do a short presentation on who we are and how we created the camp, then we had all the girls write notes to their future selves, listing things they wanted to do in Girl Scouting. The notes were placed in little plastic tubes that were sealed with a cork and had a blank tag, on which they were to write the date they'd open the letter again.

We suggested they open it when they each earn their own Gold Awards. Much of what I know about how to run my own business, I learned hands-on from Girl Scouting. People may mock the program, but I think that just goes to show how ridiculous people can be. I'm guessing few of these detractors have ever had an experience like Debbie and I got to have last night, and Twilight Camp isn't over yet. We met next year's camp director during the closing ceremonies. Girl Scouting didn't just teach us how to plan a program, it taught us how to leave a legacy.

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