Committed to Getting Girls Outdoors

Orchestrating the programming and activities at Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan’s seven camps is more than a job for Jenn Cook and Jenn Beaumont.

Cook, an Outdoor Adventure Specialist, and Beaumont, Program Manager, say they are committed to exposing more girls to the outdoors as a way to help them develop a lifelong appreciation for the environment. This summer archery and climbing are some of the camp activities planned to foster that appreciation.

Cook said from the time she was six-years-old pilgrimages to Girl Scout camp were an annual summertime event and one she always looked forward to because of the opportunity to learn while also having fun. Eventually she became a staff member and then a camp director.

“Camp was my safe place,” Cook said. “As a kid I could see older girls doing really cool stuff and it gave me the motivation to keep going to camp because as I got older I was able to go on long backpacking trips or overnight adventures and through that I gained a sense of self-worth and made friends. The majority of my friends are Girl Scout friends and those are the ones who have my back.”

Beaumont said she can’t begin to put into words all of the positive experiences and good friends she made during her time at camp. She said camp was and continues to be an integral part of her life.

“These girls come in without a good sense of what camp is all about, but they leave with self confidence and a sense of self worth that will be with them for the rest lives,” Beaumont said.

In addition to benefitting personally from their own camp experiences, Cook and Beaumont said they are able to see firsthand the positive impact outdoor experiences have on young people.

Cook said she sees girls starting to take leadership roles as they get older and coming back to camp as program or training aides. During a trip to Florida last year with GSHOM’s Chief Executive Officer Jan Barker, Cook said the girls who went took control of everything. Such assertiveness is a real confidence builder and part of GSHOM’s mission, she said.

The American Camp Association has commissioned numerous studies about the benefits of camp and the results always show the many advantages of such an outdoor experience.

"Skills such as character building are inherent in the camp environment,” said Peg Smith, chief executive officer for the ACA. “More importantly, research tells us that this growth lasts well beyond the camp experience and becomes a lifelong attribute."
Beaumont said camp provides the right opportunity to get girls into the outdoors and develop an appreciation for what they encounter.

“There is nothing that comes close to the experiences girls get at Girl Scout camp,” she said. “Even though we have different themes for our camps each of them incorporates basics such as learning how to build a fire and cooking outdoors. These are activities designed to address the whole girl.”

However, GSHOM staff say that misperceptions about camp programming persist.
“People still think camp is all crafts and fluff,” Cook said. “Many don’t realize that when they send their girls to camp they’re going to gain skills like cooperative decision making, team building and creative problem solving.”

Although the majority of youth-oriented camps operate in kinder Michigan weather, GSHOM offers programming at its camps throughout the year and not just for girls, but for their family and friends.

This month snowshoeing will be the featured outdoor activity at Camp Wacousta in Grand Ledge while sledding and winter hiking will be offered at Camp Merrie Woode in Plainwell. In February, courses in dogsledding will be taught by Lyndsey Bakus, a professional dogsled racer from Michigan, at Camp Linden in Linden.

“We are a girl-led organization and our programs are created based on what the girls want and what will benefit them when they become adults,” Cook said. “We talk to them about what they want, some want more challenging activities and some want low-key activities.”

In planning this year’s camp programming, GSHOM camp staff analyzed every week that camp will be offered to make sure the proper amount of planning had been done for every age level. All of the programming is designed to meet expected outcomes for each girl.

“A lot of camps offer a flat rate and don’t really do trips and programs,” Cook said. “Our camps are set up so that the girls come as individuals, not as a group or troop, so they don’t know anybody which encourages them to learn quickly about how to form a community.

“It can be scary at first, but they adapt so quickly.”

To make the idea of camp less daunting, older girls will mentor younger girls and a greater focus will be placed on the progression that girls can make at different age levels. As an example, younger girls may start off with day hikes and work their way up to a weeklong hiking trip through upstate New York as they get older.

“The skills they will learn through our camps will serve them well when they go away to college and have to take care of themselves in a new and different environment,” Cook said.

While girls may not be able to immediately see how their Girl Scout camp experiences will benefit them later on in life, “Somewhere down the road they will make that connection,” Cook said.