NorCal Girl Scouts struggling to fund camps

August 9, 2010 7:45:32 PM PDT
The Girl Scouts of Northern California are facing some tough choices. A record number of girls are attending camp this summer but the scouts are struggling to find the money to keep the camps running.

Camping has been part of Girl Scouts for almost all of its 100-year history. There is no question camp activities have evolved over the years, but the basic idea remains.

"A lot of people think it's just guys who get to do all the outdoorsy stuff, but I think it's important that girls do it too," 13-year-old Emma said.

At Skylark Ranch, a Girl Scout camp in the hills of Santa Clara County, campers learn to ride, shoot bows and arrows and overcome challenges. But an hour away near Santa Cruz, another Girl Scout camp called Hidden Falls is closed for the summer. The camp needed major repairs and the scouts could not afford them.

"Girl Scouts' first priority is to keep our girls safe and make sure they can have good quality program in a safe environment," spokesperson Dana Allen said.

Property Manager John Swader showed ABC7 some of the problems. The infirmary has lots of rustic charm, but it needs a new roof.

"It's allowing the water through to where it's making all this water damage into the kitchen area," Swader said.

All over the camp the results of years of deferred maintenance are apparent. Last winter a huge tree came down on the swimming pool, and the final straw was a big rain storm that washed out part of the road.

"This used to be a nice little turn out and then a large section of it washed down," Swader said.

Just over the edge is a 40-foot drop down to a creek. A new retaining wall to make the road safe will cost $80,000.

"Girl Scout camp is a really magical place and to bring that camp magic to people, it's really expensive. We have a hard time keeping up with the toll Mother Nature takes on our camps," Allen said.

The Girl Scouts of Northern California covers 19 counties and they own or operate 29 properties. Most of the land is used for camps, but there are also some buildings for indoor scout programs and office space. It costs about $500,000 a year to maintain all that property and like many non-profits the scouts are hurting.

"Donations are down and expenses are rising; we have ever increasing benefits costs and health care costs and so it's a challenging time," CEO Marina Park said.

A record number of girls are attending camp and the scouts want to keep it affordable so they are not considering huge hikes in camp fees.

But they are considering just about everything else -- increased fundraising, more outside rentals, partnerships with other non-profits and even selling property.

"What would it look like if we had fewer properties and we invested more money in the properties we had to make sure they are really meeting the needs of today's girls," Park said.

The Girl Scouts of Northern California has 50,000 girl members and 30,000 adults. They will spend about a year looking at the options.

And the CEO says whatever happens, they are committed to keeping camp a part of scouting.

"Our mission is to build girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place and a really big part of how we do that is by getting girls outside and connected with nature," Park said.

Just in case you are wondering about cookies -- sales were actually up this year. But they still did not bring in nearly enough to pay for all the needed camp repairs.

The Girl Scouts of Northern California has done an extensive member survey about the future of their camps.

They also launched the Camp Champions program this year for families that can help subsidize the full cost of their daughter's camp experience. The program helps keep camps open and serving as many girls as possible.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney


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