GSSEM response to Associated Press Article

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Girl Scouts is one of the Nation’s most beloved and recognized organizations. The courage, confidence and character millions of girls develop by participating in Girl Scouts has helped to inspire many of America’s most successful elected officials, business owners, astronauts, journalists, and the list goes on.

To keep Girl Scouts strong in the twenty-first century, our Movement has had to evolve to address challenges and meet the needs and expectations of girls and adults. As you may know, the larger Girl Scout Movement began making major, fundamental changes several years ago. In 2006, the creation of a new core business strategy consolidated our local Girl Scout councils from over 300 to 112 and led to the development and launch of new, innovative programming centered on a girl-led leadership experience. With such changes come challenges that are not unique to Girl Scouts. 

Recently the evolving story of Girl Scouts has drawn the attention of the Associated Press (AP), which generated an article that has been republished in a number of local online and print publications around the country. The article looks broadly at the state of affairs around cookie sales, GSUSA’s pension plan and staffing, and the sale of properties at various councils. We believe this article to be slanted towards the negative, and that it does not tell the whole story about the national organization or the local councils.

Girl Scout of the USA (GSUSA) is in the midst of a major organizational shift that will help to better align resources to strategic priorities and enable GSUSA to be more agile and customer focused, and to better serve girls, councils, and volunteers. National CEO Anna Maria Chávez came to the organization 18 months ago, at which point the National Board of Directors tasked her with continuing the transformation of our Movement, streamlining Headquarters, and creating an external presence for our brand. Toward that end, with the assistance of over 10,000 of our volunteers, field leaders, girl members, staff from councils and GSUSA, and National Board members, GSUSA has been taking the necessary steps to be a customer-focused organization for the 112 councils, 2.3 million girls, and almost 1 million volunteers it serves. Having experienced much of that work in the structuring of GSSEM over the past four years, we know that while it can be challenging, there is reward in the improvement of service and opportunities for our girls and adult members and volunteers.  

Locally, Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan (GSSEM) has found that the merger saved $2.5 million per year due to savings in salaries, benefits, liability insurance, telephones, supplies, etc. To accomplish this, we have had to eliminate duplicative positions and consolidate systems, and utilize modern technology. The cookie sale revenues generated by the more than 20,000 girls who participated in this year’s sale stay here in the local community and help to fund activities that help the girls to develop the important leadership and life skills they’ll need to be successful now and in the future.

With regard to the pension plan, GSSEM is one of about one dozen councils that are not a part of the GSUSA pension plan. Therefore, we are not affected by the challenges that the GSUSA plan presents many of our sister councils. We do support GSUSA and participating councils in actively pursuing a technical change in a law that would provide relief. Legislation has already been introduced in Congress asking for the same pension-funding rules that apply to corporate plans.  GSSEM is maintaining the old frozen pension plans that we inherited from the legacy councils, we have kept them funded all along, and our retirees are in no danger of losing their benefits. Once vested, current staff receive a modest 3% of salary match towards a defined contribution plan, which is a “pay as we go” expense so GSSEM will not have a pension funding problem down the road.

A very painful subject is camp properties and outdoor education. After an 18 month Long Range Property Planning Committee Process during 2009-10 involving more than 70 volunteers and girls, GSSEM idled two of our five active camps.  One remains shuttered, and another, The Timbers, was sold to the Grand Traverse Nature Conservancy.  Fewer than 80 girls per year were attending The Timbers in Traverse City, and about 70 of them were from out of state. Currently, at GSSEM, only about 18 percent of our membership uses our camp properties annually.  Last year, of our nearly 26,000 girl members, only about 700 girls attended summer camp and only about 4,000 girls attended a weekend camp event.  Our camp properties are utilized for about 90 days a year - but GSSEM must maintain them for 365 days a year. We currently subsidize the three camp properties at about $1 million per year to keep them open, despite decreased attendance and revenues from membership not paying the actual cost of camping at our facilities. 

Our facilities are modern, clean, comfortable, and meet all licensing and accreditation standards. We provide almost all fresh instead of frozen food, and our programming is first rate. 

GSSEM has invested quite a bit of funding into our remaining camps with the hope that attendance will increase, but outside of the same eight weekends in May and June, our properties just never reach capacity, the camps are mostly empty of people, and therefore the camps are very heavily subsidized in order to serve a small percentage of the membership.  We will continue to be challenged in the coming years to find more effective ways of offering Outdoor Education so that more of our girl members are able to experience the 101-year-old Girl Scout tradition of being outdoors and enjoying nature.  

On a more positive note, GSSEM recently sold one outsized office building in Flint, and we are thrilled that we will be now able to replace it with a new Service Center similar to the Clinton Township Service Center (as recommended by the LRPPC).  We hope to sell the vacant office building in Clinton Township in the coming year.  The board continues to discuss our property situation regularly.  Please remember that the board of directors is very mindful that once property is sold, it is gone.  Decisions about property have been and will continue to be very thoughtful.

GSSEM appreciates the support of our members and volunteers, and thank you for your willingness to read more about the whole story that was not told thoroughly in the AP article.  Volunteers and staff are all very much concerned about providing quality experiences for girls.  A balanced view reveals the promise and the future of our beloved organization. Please be assured that our movement is strong and that by working together we will continue to grow, and be the premier leadership organization for girls. 

Please remember that you can call or email the CEO, the COO, or the Communications Department for full, accurate information about media coverage of Girl Scouts.  The quickest way to get in touch with all of us at once is to email ceo@gssem.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

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