The former head of the Friends of Camp Coleman is now leading the Girl Scouts council, the very group she once opposed in a fight to save the camp.
Sarah Edwards is the new board president for local scouts. In a private letter to the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama (GSCNA), Dawn Stanley resigned from the position she had been elected to this May.
“I want to thank Dawn for her service to Girl Scouts during this time of transition within our council,” Edwards said in an official statement to membership. “Any time there is a shift in organizational direction, it is to be expected that some board members will voluntarily transition off. This transition allows for new leaders to be recruited who have been identified with the experience and skills needed to successfully carry out some of the organization’s new key strategies.”
News of Edwards’ new role spread fast among membership, particularly among supporters of the grassroots organization that seeks a restoration of traditional values in scouting — namely, the salvation of local camps, including Camp Coleman.
A lifetime member of Girl Scouts, Edwards was president of that grassroots group and was the original petitioner of a discovery motion still active in Jefferson County Circuit Court. That motion seeks documentation that supported the previous council’s decision to implement a three-phase property plan calling for the sale of four of six camps, including Trussville’s historic Camp Coleman.
“I think that our camps are saved,” said Karen Carroll, who took over as named petitioner in Edwards’ discovery motion when Edwards was elected to the Girl Scouts council. Carroll said she hopes Edwards will do away with the contentious plan that divided membership and led to more than a yearlong debate in and out of court.
Like others who opposed that original plan, Carroll hopes that doing away with the three-phase property plan will ease membership tension and allow the council to conduct research, including membership input, to determine the financial viability of camps.
In a February interview, Edwards addressed the GSNCA’s assertion that camp closures were intended to combat $1 million operating losses in 2011. “Well, I don’t disagree with that,” she said. “You can’t go on losing a million dollars a year. We would like to see how the camps lost a million dollars.” Edwards went on to say that if keeping camps open meant the demise of Girl Scout programming, she would support the sale of property.
Carroll echoes that. “If things turn out where we can’t save the camps, then that’s just the way it is,” she said. “From what we’ve heard from girls in our council is that they want to camp, but they don’t want to drive three or four hours after school on a Friday to get there, which is what would happen if we’d only saved the two camps [which weren’t part of the three-phase property divestment plan] — and there had been no guarantee we would have saved them either.
Senior scout Lindsey Waggoner, 14, is optimistic about recent changes in leadership and hopes members — young and old — will be heard. “The new leadership is one that places a high value on traditional Girl Scout activities, camping included. I’m hopeful that they will make an effort to get our camps up and running as soon as possible.”
As leader of the Coleman Girls, a troop that has dedicated much of its energy to the preservation of their home camp, April Ellis is eager to find out the changes implemented by the new board president. “I am thrilled to hear that Sarah has been elected as our board president,” Ellis said. “I believe that this is another positive step towards eliminating the rift that had formed between the board and the members of GSNCA and that we are one step closer to reopening our beloved camps.”
Like other scouts, longtime volunteer and Board Director Aaron Tews hopes that new leadership will ease the tension for local scouts. “I think with Sarah as president and with the CEO change, we will be making decisions based on the girls and camps, all camps — not just Coleman. We want to make scouting fun again for girls, adults and staff,” he said.
This is Edwards’ second stint as board president for local scouts. She led a council in 1993 prior to the merger of councils that created the so-called mega-council, which consists of a 36-county region with 20,000 members.
“It is my understanding that under her leadership previously, the council had one of its most successful capital campaigns, which is certainly something we need,” Waggoner said, referring to a 1993 capital campaign that raised more than $3 million dollars under Edwards’ leadership.
In the February interview, Edwards said she was put in the position of ceasing programming or selling camp property in 1993. Instead, she said, she opted to run the capital campaign. Certain members of the council have disputed this point, as outlined in a letter to membership in May prior to board elections.
Many of those in favor of the three-phase property plan have stepped down from their positions on the board. Edwards addressed that in her letter, writing, “Each of our previous board members brought invaluable expertise and a passion for Girl Scouts that positioned the organization for future growth, and we thank them. It is my goal as the new president, as it is with my fellow board members, to utilize my more than 40 years of experience in Girl Scouts to work in a collaborative spirit with our incredible girls, volunteers and community partners.”
“I’m hoping that local Girl Scouting will take a turn towards being led more by the membership,” young Waggoner said. “What direction the membership will take us, I do not know; however, as long as the girls are kept at the heart of the council, I’m confident that we will be moving in the right direction.”