The Girl Scout Camp Difference: a conversation with Jill Joswiak

Jill Joswiak: troop leader, parent of a Girl Scout, and big-time Camp Advocate!

She didn’t go to camp when she was younger, but she’s let her daughter, Helen, go back every summer for the last 10 years. Why?

“The opportunity for experiential learning. There is nothing you can’t try or learn to do. The counselors provide a safe environment, encouragement and enough guidance to help the campers not get frustrated, while letting the scouts figure out the task by having to problem solve, and ultimately have success. My favorite example of this is learning to sail at Camp Black Hawk.

“I think that having this opportunity in a single-gender environment allows them to try, and fail, and try again and succeed and then ultimately lead. At camp, they learn and do with a greater comfort level that translates into more confidence and success. Knowing that they have tested out new skills (including leadership skills) in this environment, they can go out into the world and have success. Finally, Girl Scout camp is built around the promise and law, which is the foundation of the movement.”

As a parent, what was it like sending her to camp for the first time, versus sending her off last summer?  “There was a great sense of pride in that what she knew she wanted to do after the very first summer (attend leadership camp in a journey to become a counselor) was actually happening.”

What would you say to a parent who’s just not quite sure they’re ready to send her off to resident camp yet?  “Attend a Me and My Guy or Me and My Gal Session with your scout. Meet the staff that will be leading your scout. Get the feel for the camp, and the activities and the facilities. That way, you will have a good idea of what it will be like for your scout. The comfort that I gained as a parent from meeting the staff was what made it so easy to send her the next year. The anxious parent in me knew that she would be safe, and the Girl Scout Leader in me knew that she would have an opportunity to learn and grow that was separate and distinct from her Troop experience. She would make new friends, and gain independence.”

What sort of growth have you seen in your daughter that you’d credit camp with?  “Courage – Her choice of location for her solo overnight amazed me, and she is a hammock camper, something she learned at Black Hawk. She is braver than I was at that age, and even in some sense, now. Problem Solving – the opportunities to have to make things up on the fly due to changing weather conditions, or changing schedules, the mood of the campers or equipment and supply needs, abound and is one of the great things that you gain from Girl Scouting. Compassion for younger Scouts when they are homesick. Leadership – Leading younger scouts, volunteering to help. Confidence in her outdoor skills and the ability to lead. For example, she went to resident horse camp, and when she returned for Me and My Gal, her and some of her fellow resident campers volunteered to help get the horses ready for the Me and My Gal campers so more scouts could experience horseback riding. I was amazed at the skills she learned in such a short time. Always open to trying new things in the Girl Scouting environment. Tradition­- carrying on those ever important camp traditions and especially the songs.”

Anything other general information you’d like to share? “As an adult, I found my a-ha moment in Girl Scouting at Girl Scout camp with my daughter. Lying in a tent, while being serenaded to sleep, I realized I had a gigantic smile on my face and was truly happy. I would encourage parents or grandparents to share in that experience of Me and My Gal or Guy. I am humbled by the fact that Helen wanted to attend Me and My Gal with me last summer, regardless of where it was held. She suggested and insisted because she knew how much it meant to me. I am so very grateful for all that camp has brought to our lives, including a lifelong family of friends.”

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