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Major donor, some supporters unhappy with Girl Scouts

By admin Published: December 24, 2011

The Girl Scouts of North East Ohio is facing a buzz saw as it tries to shed four camps that it deems too costly to keep.

Members and a longtime family of donors are complaining that the organization is straying far from its roots and downsizing the very attraction that sets it apart.

''What they're doing is so misguided and wrong,'' said adult Girl Scout Donna Spiegler of Shaker Heights. ''We're going to do our best to stop them.''

The Northeast Ohio council announced this month that it would move ahead with plans to sell four of the seven camps in its 18-county area, including Crowell/Hilaka in Summit County's Richfield Township.

The council has spent three years reviewing the camps before deciding that four had to go, as have six others that have been sold or returned to their owners since 2009.

When all is complete, the council will have relinquished 10 camps and kept three.

''When the board looked at the whole thing, there was?underutilization,'' said executive director Daisy Alford-Smith. ''But more importantly, there's deferred maintenance that leaves us potentially liable for any kind of injury.''

Brent Gardner, chairman of the council's property committee, said the seven current camps need $18 million in repairs and improvements.

Many camps do not comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Swimming pools need to be fixed, roofs replaced and sewage treatment plants modernized.

Security is an issue.

''We don't have enough security measures to feel good about our girls being at camp,'' he said. ''It's a different world'' than it was at the height of Girl Scouting in the 1950s and 1960s.

''If we took every dollar out of every cubbyhole, we wouldn't have the money to do it,'' said Gardner, who lives in Bellevue. ''It's so big a number that there's no way.''

He thinks that the camps could be purchased by a conservancy or park district so they would remain green space. All revenue would be used to turn the remaining three camps into ''premier leadership centers'' with modern amenities, he promised.

Unhappy responses

Yet for members with fond memories of campfires, s'mores and nature walks, the decree is hard even, impossible to swallow. The response has been loud and long and unhappy.

A group of adult Scouts called Trefoil Integrity is raising $50,000 to get an injunction and stop any sales. The group argues that about half of the 37,000 members camp and that camping is what makes Scouting special.

Trefoil members and girl supporters have peppered the council leadership with email and calls, camped at the council's Macedonia headquarters to show their disgust and set up a pro-camp website called GSCampsavers. Almost 1,500 signed an online petition to block the sales.

''Being untouched is what makes these camps special,'' adult member Amy Joy Triola of Norton argued in a letter to the leadership.

Girls in at least one troop are boycotting the organization's signature cookie sales, now under way.

Marie Cassidy of Aurora said the girls in her troop sold cookies in the past only because the proceeds supported the camps. This year, unhappy with the decision about the camps, only two of the 12 members will sell.

''The girls aren't interested in the other programs'' that the Girl Scouts offer, she said. ''They just want a place where they can be outside.''

If other troops follow suit, the impact could be huge. Cookie, nut and candy sales generate $8 million a year, more than two-thirds of the council's $11 million budget.

''Will donors continue to support an organization at such odds with its membership?'' Lynn Richardson of Richfield, president of Trefoil Integrity, wrote to the leadership.

Donor Guy Renkert of Canton is incensed about the leadership's decision. Three generations of his family gave the Girl Scouts the 276 acres that became Great Trail Camp in Carroll County's Malvern.

The organization is showing a ''blatant disregard'' for his family's generosity, he complained.

His family did not restrict its gifts because it felt certain that the Scouts would use the land for camping, hiking and outdoor education.

''We're looking at our options,'' Renkert said.

Alford-Smith said she is forging ahead, advertising for proposals by the end of the month for Crowell/Hilaka Richfield Township, Lejnar in Lake County's Painesville, Pleasant Valley in Seneca County's Green Springs and Great Trail in Carroll County.

But even Gardner, the head of the property committee, is uncertain that the Scouts will be able to sell the camps because of the controversy:

''I don't know if we're going to get there. There's no joy in making these decisions.''

Carol Biliczky can be reached at cbiliczky@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3729.

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