Helen Bergmann & Rebecca Bergmann Jaros,
Mother and Daughter
I was a Girl Scout Troop Leader for 12 years, from 1982 through 1994. During that time, I observed many girls grow and mature, becoming self-confident young women, building character within themselves, and contributing positively to society. Camp experiences, and particularly at Crowell-Hilaka, played a large part in their overall progress toward becoming the women they are today.
Our first experience at Crowell-Hilaka was as a Brownie Troop. The girls were 7 and 8 years old. We went to a Saturday all-day adventure that included hikes, wide games, a picnic lunch, and interacting with other troops from the greater Cleveland area. They loved it, it was the highlight of the year. And they wanted to go back again.
So, we did. Twice the following year, once in the Fall and once in the Spring. We got to experience hiking, exploring, making crafts, cooking lunch over an open fire, and so much more. These girls were ready to do more than just a day. They wanted to spend a weekend!
Their first weekend campout at Crowell-Hilaka was in the Spring of their first year as Juniors. We did a lot of preparation. My greatest concern was that some of the girls might be homesick if they had never been away from home overnight before. The weekend went very well. Two girls were a little afraid when we turned the lights out. But they were with their friends, they had encouragement and support, and they woke up to another day of fun. These girls, along with their friends who encouraged them, grew a little bit that weekend from the experience. One more step toward becoming self-confident young women.
During the next four years, we became a “camping troop”, meaning that our focus was on outdoor adventures. While we still worked on badges, sold cookies, went on field trips and performed community service, we looked forward to planning and attending Girl Scout Camp twice a year.
As Senior Girl Scouts, the girls now wanted to spread their wings and adventure farther from Ohio. Thanks to the positive experiences at Crowell-Hilaka, we now planned camping trips out of state, and even out of the country. Every year we planned one major week-long camping trip in addition to two or three at local Girl Scout Camps. We went to Camps Lejner and Margaret Bates, just to stay in different cabins or to hike in different locales. But Crowell-Hilaka was like “home base” to the girls. This is where they first camped, this is where they were most comfortable.
We eventually stayed at just about every campsite within the Crowell-Hilaka footprint. We stayed in an historic homes or heated cabin during the winter. We stayed in platform tents or Adirondacks in the Fall and Spring. And as Senior Scouts, we had our own ground tents, which we gladly pitched in the open fields. Every camping weekend had a theme. We often concentrated on one or two badges. Sometimes we did a craft or project associated with a service we were performing in the community. Sometimes we just had fun, like cross-country skiing and show-shoeing. But I found that no matter what we had planned, it was more effective and enjoyable because we didn’t have the distractions of telephones, television or other electronic devices.
Our Service Unit had a group campout every other year. It was always at Crowell-Hilaka because of the number of girls and leaders who would attend. One year, three of the girls in our troop wanted to do their Gold Award project at the service unit campout. They coordinated all the crafts, activities, evening programs and group meals for the whole weekend. Our group reserved the entire camp that year, and the campout was a huge success. These three girls learned a lot about planning, organizing, leadership, and working with others. The girls who attended the campout ranged in age from about 7 to 15. They learned about having fun in the outdoors, some new recipes, the significance of the Gold Award, and new respect for older Girl Scouts. The influence these girls had in just those three days was immeasurable.
Some of the girls also attended Resident Camp in the summers. The sessions always filled early. They had so many choices, including weeks of horseback riding, water and boating, arts and crafts, music and theater, outdoor cooking and exploring, and sometimes a sampling of everything you might want to do. But the girls didn’t just have fun. This was more than a vacation. They learned to take responsibility for their horses, or their watercraft, or whatever their specialty was. And they learned to take care of themselves.
One of the most important experiences for these girls, and one I didn’t even realize at the time, was their interaction with girls from all over north-east Ohio. They shared a tent with, ate their meals with, and worked on projects with girls of different ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, languages, and developmental abilities. This was a growth experience for all the girls who attended resident camp. And it prepared them to be more accepting of people whom they might perceive as “different” from themselves when they go to college, enter the workforce, or move and travel around the country or the world.
In all, I feel like our camping experiences in general, and our time spent at Crowell-Hilaka specifically, was life changing for all the girls in my Girl Scout Troop. I watched and marveled at how much these girls matured and developed during their formative years, and how much better able they were to meet challenges as they grew to adulthood. Camping absolutely made a difference in the lives of the girls in our Girl Scout troop.
I truly believe having a uniquely girl experience, away from the distractions of everyday life, with your friends both old and new, is important in any girl’s social development. Seven of the girls who were part of the troop over the years earned the Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. Four of the girls spent a year studying abroad in high school, two of them became nurses and served in the Military, one works for the State Department at a U.S. Embassy in Eastern Europe. They are teachers and social workers, mothers and Girl Scout leaders! The girls I mentored and watched grow over the years travel and live all over the world. And they have influenced untold numbers of people.
- Helen Bergmann March 2017
When Helen Bergmann, my mom and Girl Scout Leader, asked me to think of a few ways that Camp Crowell-Hilaka has played a role in the social development of young women, I thought to myself, where to I begin? I loved that place! I started to make a list of a few times and experiences that came to mind from my summers at camp. But, as this list started growing, I began to think of more times. Then more experiences, and more of the stories that I wanted to share.
My first experience at Girl Scout Camp did not start out fun for me. I was scared, full of anxiety, and really only wanted to go home. I remember begging my camp counselors to let me call home just one time, but they never did. Instead, they continued to encourage me to join in on the fun, would tell me of the cool activities we had coming up, like tie dying, swimming, hikes, night walks, or dancing, and always knew how to get me distracted. By the end of my first week, I had friends, and we exchanged phone numbers and mailing addresses to keep in touch over the school year. I talked my parent’s ears off and sang every single new song I learned that week to them in the car. I kept in touch with those friends over the year, and some of us made a point of registering for the same camp the following summer.
My following summers only got better. I felt the anxiety of leaving home to go away for the week diminishing. One of the summer camp programs that stands out to me is the Scuba Swim and Sail Camp. We were learning how to sail a Sunfish Sail Boat. One of the lessons we had was how to tip the boat over, and then flip it back upright. I remember tipping the boat with my partner on our count, swimming around, and flipping it back up right, then helping her back into the boat, in less than 15 seconds. Our instructor, from a few yards away in her boat, yelled to me…“Amazing job, Becky! That was really impressive! Way to keep control.” I secretly beamed with pride for the rest of the day. Looking back, this was the beginning of the leadership roles that I would look for and enjoy being in.
One of the other summer camps I enjoyed was horse camp. I looked forward to this camp the most. Every year I was able to progress up to the next level of horse skill camp, and most of my friends from the previous summer would also be there. I got to know the camp counselors who took care of the horses, and there was a trust that developed among all of us. Of course, this made our hikes, singing, setting up the dining hall, dancing, and evening activities all the more fun!! We were responsible for feeding and taking care of our horses in the morning, and managing the tack room and putting saddles and bridles on the horses. At the end of our week, we would all put on a show for our families, to demonstrate the new skills we had learned and the fun that we had. This was always the best time, and I’ll never forget the look my parents had when they would watch our shows. They were always so proud, I could tell by their smiles and laughter, especially when we would put on silly plays on our horses.
When I was at horse camp, my last summer, we were the oldest campers there at the camp. There were activities that we would do that involved the younger campers too. And I started to remember how scared I was when I was their age. So, when we sang songs with them, played lemme sticks, or helped them at the art cabin, I always to be friends with the girl who seemed lost or scared. Girl Scout Camp was a good place to learn leadership skills like this. I learned how to spot the kid(s) who were having a tough time, scared, or who needed a few minutes of praise and attention. It came in handy when teaching in the inner city.
I spent so many summers at Camp Crowell-Hilaka. I truly feel that it was these camps that taught me how to manage the anxiety of meeting new people, new places, and big changes. I learned leadership skills, how to take charge, responsibility, and how to accept challenges with an open mind and positive attitude. Camp Hilaka prepared me for the high adventure camps that I would go to down the road. I would end up helping to lead a group of girls in the mountains of New Mexico, read maps and scout out safe places to camp while canoeing in Canada, and take over a white water rafting boat when there was no guide to take the spot.
Camp Hilaka also prepared me for the life that I would choose. I went away to college, started teaching in an urban district, continued on to get a master’s degree, and started a family. I’m a stronger woman and leader because of the social development from Camp Hilaka.
- Rebecca Jaros (Bergmann) March 2017