Thursday, February 02, 2017

Girl Scout Camp - From the Inside Looking Out

This is an expanded version of a Blog Post I recently wrote for Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois regarding my experiences at their STEW Overnight Leader Training event at Camp Dean in Big Rock. I hope you enjoy the unedited and original version. I enjoyed writing it so much that it ended up being three pages long 😬So I decided to post the full version on my own blog.


Camp Dean- STEW- From the Inside Looking Out

In 2016, My sister and I took my three kids to attend the Arbor Day Tree Planting event at Camp McCormick. I am a leader and girl scout mom from Girl Scouts of Central Illinois (GSCI), the council just south of GSNI. At the Arbor Day event, we were approached by smiling leaders who told us all about the Annual STEW Leader Training event at Camp Dean. The leaders were excited and enthusiastic. They had a neat display and handed me a great flier and a registration paper. I explained that I wasn’t from the GSNI Council, thinking that this event surely wouldn’t be available to me, and instead I was met with even MORE excitement, and a very inclusive invitation to come across council lines, AND BRING MY FRIENDS! I left Camp McCormick that day with a glowing, warm, happy feeling. I am sure many of you can relate to that, and understand “This is what it means to be a Girl Scout.”

I am a mom to three kids, then aged 8, 6, and 3. One Time in the last Ten years, had my husband and I been able to leave our kids for more than one night. I had never gone anywhere by myself since having kids… and I needed this. Desperately. I needed to go to Girl Scout Camp. My grandma’s saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way” motivated me, and I was going to find a way. I wouldn’t know anyone at the event. Not one person. But I had met those leaders at Camp McCormick who were all so excited to meet me, and I am not a shy person. I am a Girl Scout Leader, and in fact, a lifelong girl scout and a former leader’s daughter. This event was for me.

I made extensive plans to have someone else pick up my preschooler and my older kids from school. I coordinated who would watch them each day of the weekend. I put STEW on my calendar, ordered my STEW Tshirt, and chose my top class choices for the STEW Event. I chose Night Games, Girl emPOWERment, Look Ma No Pans!, Nature at Play, and Traditional Girl Scout Ceremonies. And I waited for September.
Camp Dean

I had never been to Camp Dean. Camp is about 1 hour and 15 minutes from my home. I set out on Friday (by myself! A Free Mom!) When I arrived at Camp I was so excited, I loaded my wagon and headed to Dean Lodge. There were no assigned sleeping arrangements, so I could choose if I preferred a cabin or a tent, and because I love to tent camp, I went for a tent. I found an open tent with only one bunk taken… and claimed a bunk
Friday Night at STEW. Crafts, Gorp Bar, New Friends, Night Games Class

Back at Dean Lodge, everyone was abuzz with laughter, chatting, and two of my favorite things, CRAFTS and GORP! There was a make your own GORP bar! I spent the evening chatting with ladies and making crafts, excited to find some crafts that I had seen on Pinterest but hadn’t had a chance to test out yet. I met a leader and class facilitator who owned a TOTE of glue guns, and I knew I was in the right place. I also met my tent buddy, who was also a leader and class facilitator. The first night I discovered leaders that enjoyed similar books and TV shows as I do. It was above all of my expectations already. I attended a Night Games class that taught us all about Games to play in the dark with our girls, from the famous Snipe Hunt, to more educational games like Night Eyes. There is nothing as refreshing as sleeping under the stars, and although it was cool at night in the fall, we had beautiful weather and I scooted my cot to the edge of the tent so I could stick my head out the front and look up at the sky. This was a peace and quiet, a back to nature, and a time with other strong women that I really needed as a busy mom and volunteer.
"Look Ma, No Pans!" and lunch with GSNI CEO Fiona Cummings
My Saturday STEW classes were amazing. I was getting to know people; leaders were excited to see someone from another council, to bounce ideas off each other, to make new friends. I was pleased to find my tent mate teaching my cooking class at lunch. I’ve done a LOT of campfire cooking, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was still so much I could learn, and that I wouldn’t feel like I was doing  the same things over again. We worked as a team, making meals in the unit house kitchen and cooking them over charcoal and wood. We made Chicken Quesadillas, Cucumbers and Garlic Hummus in Pitas, Tabouli, Refried Beans with Polenta, Chocolate Cake cooked in an orange rind, and banana boats. The food was amazing. I learned new skills and tips, for example… did you know you can buy premixed liquid cake batter in a zipper bag? Great for camp, just unzip and pour! And nonstick aluminum foil, where have you been all my life?

An unexpected part of our lunch, and it turns out of STEW in general, was being joined by GSNI CEO Fiona Cummings. I’ve spent my whole life in scouting and I had never met a Girl Scout CEO. Fiona wasn’t just there. She didn’t just “drop by” camp. She was WITH us. She was camping with us, cooking with us, listening to us, and really sharing the experience with us. Fiona came to my lunch class and I was honored to talk with her, laugh and have fun. She is so approachable and fun, and truly listened to what leaders need and want.
Nature Abounds at Camp Dean

While at Camp Dean, I noticed a lot of fun things that I had never seen at the two Girl Scout camps I had been to in my lifetime. Gaga Ball. Large outdoor musical instruments made from PVC and Wood. The Mud Hole. Fiona explained to me that it was important to encourage leaders to bring their girls camping, and that GSNI could help leaders by providing activities that the girls can do that don’t require lots of planning and packing by leaders. We talked about just “being” at camp, and about how nice it was that leaders didn’t have to worry about planning and orchestrating an activity for every moment they are at camp. This really struck a chord with me, and gave me a new confidence to take my own girls to camp at the council level. Fiona also gave me a GSNI Big Book that day. I was pleased to spend time with her and to see her throughout the rest of my stay at Camp Dean.
Amazing Food, Beautiful Scenery, and Finally Understanding a Compass
STEW taught me how to use a Compass (first time in 30+ years that anyone had tried to teach me how to use one!) and we did a neat activity that we could do with our girls, placing a starting flag in the ground at our feet, following directions on a pre-printed card with our compass, and placing flags at various stopping points, that formed a shape of a heart or a square if we had followed directions correctly. The Traditional Ceremonies class was so helpful. I hadn’t received any leader training about planning ceremonies. The only thing I was drawing on were my memories of ceremonies from when I was a child (that was too long ago) and internet resources. I learned that there are red sashes and white gloves for flag ceremonies! I left with a new confidence for teaching ceremonies to my own troop, and ideas as to the resources that my own council might have, which I was previously unaware of. The Girl emPOWERment class was one of the hardest. It really dug deep at the self esteem issues that plaque our girls and women. I experienced and participated in an affirmation bath, which is one of the hardest things I have ever, ever done. There were a lot of tears flowing that day, but I left renewed. I’ve since taught my own troop Flag Ceremonies and Etiquette, Bridging Ceremonies, and also taken them overnight to a council camp.

Other leaders were taking classes in Crate Stacking, Creating PVC Camp Kitchens, Car Camping, Letterboxing, Knitting, Archery, Boating, Pie Iron Cooking, Vegan Cooking, and the highly coveted Dutch Oven Cooking (which I was told was taught by the queen of Dutch Ovens) There were even women learning to sew and quilt in the lodge, they made amazing fall leaf quilted wall hangings. Geocaching, Digital Photography, Camp Songs, Team Building Games. There was quite literally something for everyone, even an experienced scout or leader. STEW gave me new skills and, more importantly, renewed my confidence to teach these skills to my own girls.

Saturday Night Murder Mystery Theater and Ice Cream Bar

Saturday night was my very favorite at Camp. The STEW Team brought in a Murder Mystery Theater. I had not been that excited in a long time. It’s one of those things I have always wanted to try, and the consensus among other leaders was the same. Dean Lodge was a place of excitement and mystery. The Mystery Shop’s production of Chained Melody was a highlight of STEW. It was fun. It was challenging. It was TEAMWORK. We were divided into large teams that filled Camp Dean Lodge. I am proud to say that my team (with Chatter, Barb, Kendra, and Christa) Solved the Mystery Theater. Out of all those teams, our team WON! And that night I made even more new friends. Friends who I stay in touch with today and hope to see at STEW this fall. In Fact this year at STEW, I will be TEACHING a class on Girl Scout SWAPS. I hope to meet you there!

Another thing I can’t say enough about…. The food at Camp Dean. There was an ice cream bar, a Taco Nacho Bar, Fresh Baked scones and fresh fruit for breakfast (yogurt and berries and granola!) Everything was delicious. (Kudos to Julie Schmale!)

Sunday’s Date Was September 11th. We started the day by cleaning up our campsites and helping close down the buildings around camp. I learned how to clean composting latrines! We were able to choose teams that we wanted to join as part of the National Day of Service. My group went with Camp Dean Ranger Guy to clean out a storage shed on the camp premises. We organized lifejackets, bunk mattresses, cooking utensils, and many other camp items in the large storage shed to make room for a truck that needed to be parked inside for the coming winter. We got rid of things that were no longer needed and swept the concrete floor. Then we helped Ranger Guy to setup the PA System for the upcoming Scouts Own Flag Ceremony and skit, where we honored those who fell on 9-11. It was another emotional time at camp.
Cleaning the Shed During National Day of Service at Camp Dean's STEW Leader Training Camporee 2016

As a leader and a girl scout mom, I often watch camp through the eyes of my 9 year old daughter. When I pick her up from camp, it seems like she has grown inches each year, and she has stories to tell for hours. I like to pick her up all by myself, without her siblings present, so that we can have a few hours after camp to just chat about all the excitement that happened. Until Camp Dean, I hadn’t truly been an overnight camper at Girl Scout Camp since 1983. When picking my daughter up from summer camp, we get to talk about the fun times at camp, and sometimes the hard times at camp. Maybe disappointment from an activity they were going to do but didn’t happen (weather or heat perhaps.) or maybe an interaction with a new friend that didn’t go as well as we hoped. Maybe there was a bee sting, or a fall, or bug spray in the eyes. The way you felt when you were really scared to get into that canoe but you found out that you LOVE canoeing! Or that time your whole unit got caught in the rain and had to run back to the unit house and sit on the floor soaking wet to have hot dogs for supper when you knew all the girls closer to the Lodge were having something better.
Girl Scout Camp... Then and Now...

Time after time, we have discussed how even things that didn’t seem to go “just right” at camp, become memories, and sometimes very funny ones. Sometimes we meet a new friend because of circumstances that we didn’t see coming. Sometimes we get over our fears or realize new strengths that we didn’t know we had. There might be tears at camp, and much joy. Camp can be an emotional place, and each time I feel that we come back changed. Maybe we ARE a little taller and maybe our smile IS a bit broader. Camp Dean and STEW gave me that feeling from the inside-out, for the first time since 1983. I wasn’t just seeing it though my daughter’s eyes. I was remembering my own camp experiences, looking back at my camp memories, and adding to them. Even the hard memories from 1983- when Brownies couldn’t go down the Camp Mudslide, there was pepper in my scrambled eggs, I went “In” the “Out” Door in the Food Hall, and there was a snake under my cot that required the Ranger’s attention.

GSCI Troop Leader
GSCI Service Unit Event Registrar
Lifelong Girl Scout and Leader’s Daughter

Footnote:  My family was very happy to see me when I got home from camp. My kids had lots of questions about what I did, who I met, and where I slept. I was as excited as my 9 year old daughter gets after camp, and I told them all about it. I also ripped off my bandana (Camp Hair, Don’t Care) and begged to take a very long, very hot shower. I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of my children not only survived, but my husband really stepped up his game and his confidence with the kids over that weekend. Ever since spending a weekend away, his ability to do things for the kids magically increased. While I was away, he took them to Walmart, out to breakfast, and many other fun things were done. I was pleased. The big kids each owned their own Pokemon shirt when I returned. They were very pleased. The smallest one was wearing his big brother’s clothes…. But they were all happy, healthy, and excited to see mom. I think the weekend alone with daddy was good for everyone (Daddy too!) and I know the weekend at Camp was amazing for me. I can’t wait for 2017’s STEW Event. Hope local leaders will consider joining us!

 **I can't determine the exact year I attended Girl Scout Camp at Camp Tapawingo as a Brownie. I believe I was 5 or 6, and It may have been 1984 or 1985. I was just guessing dates.

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