Guest blog: What Camping Means to Me

In June, the new members of the Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital Board of Directors gathered at Camp Crowell for their first board meeting retreat. The board was fortunate to have a little help from the super volunteers from Ashgrove Adventure Camp, including Emily Johnson, who reflected on the importance of camping in her life. Emily’s full remarks are below. 

My name is Emily Johnson, but around here I’m better known as Rascal. I am so excited and honored to have the chance to speak to you today, especially here at Camp Crowell, the site of many of my fondest Girl Scouting memories.

For two wonderful weeks every summer, we start the day with the Ashgrove Adventure camp song. I won’t offend your ears by singing it, but it starts like this: “Camping days here at Ashgrove, are a lot of fun,” and they are. But they are so much more than that. Ashgrove is a family, a safe place to learn and grow, full of strong female role models and a wide, ever-present support network.

I’ve been coming to Ashgrove since 1994, so I’ve had the opportunity to see it as a camper, aide, and adult. Most of my leadership experience has been with Cadette Girl Scouts, so I really like to focus on growing leadership skills and confidence in girls, just like my leaders did when I was that age. When I was a camper and a camp aide, I had many wonderful role models as leaders. As I lead now, I keep their actions in mind and try to emulate them in my interactions with the young women that will hopefully be in my position one day. I’m going to talk about the three tenets of the Girl Scout mission, Courage, Confidence, and Character, as they relate to my experiences at Ashgrove Adventure.

A few years ago we were put in a tough spot when my co-leader for the Cadette Girl Scouts had to drop out of camp just a few weeks before we were set to start. Core Staff got right to work to find a solution, and decided to promote my camp aide, Roo, a graduating high school senior, to leader. Despite finals, graduation, and the short turn around before camp, Roo had the courage and self-assuredness to step up and become a fantastic co-leader. I guided her through new situations, like money management and contacting the campers, but she hardly needed my support. Like me, Roo grew up attending Ashgrove, and her many years at camp helped her seamlessly transition from camp aide to adult leader a year earlier than she expected.

One of my favorite things at camp and throughout Girl Scouting is the concept of challenge by choice. The campers are always encouraged to try new things, like shooting an arrow or riding the zip line. Seeing a camper step outside of her comfort zone and exhibit a new level of self-confidence, especially at such an awkward age, is one of the most rewarding experiences I can have as a leader. As a Girl Scout, camp was always where I was able to build my confidence the most; it was a safe, open haven for a very shy, awkward girl. I’m still a super awkward person, but at least I’m not shy anymore!

A hallmark of good leadership is the ability to compromise, and my goodness do we get a lot of opportunities to practice that skill at camp, both with other leaders and with the campers. Especially with older campers, I look for every opportunity to allow them to make decisions, whether it’s about what the tent assignments will be on the overnight or what we’ll make for our cookout. This inevitably leads to a lot of… discussion between the girls. There have been many years where our tent assignments get changed at the last minute thanks to a “bug-infested” tent or a scared camper. When I pull the girls aside to explain the situation, I am always so impressed by their willingness to help their troop mate.  It might have been a small gesture but it was as if I could see their character grow right before my eyes.  The role models provided and lessons learned through Girl Scouting help build the next generation of compassionate young women with excellent character.

I credit Ashgrove Adventure and Girl Scouting with most of my successes in life. I have become a capable leader thanks to my role models at Ashgrove, and the challenges and compromises I have had to work through have made me a confident young woman always willing to take risks and try new things. A few years ago, one of my campers got sick and had to go home early on the last day. While I was sitting with her waiting for her dad to come pick her up, I asked her what her favorite part of camp had been. She deflected a bit, then finally told me I was her favorite part of camp. That moment is far and away my best camp memory, because it showed that all my work and growth as a Girl Scout and leader has paid off. Camps and camping are so very important to the Girl Scout mission because they provide an immersive environment for girls to grow skills that are applicable not only in the Girl Scouting world, but in life.  Camping days here at Ashgrove really are a lot of fun, to the point that we sometimes forget how much we grow and learn during those two short weeks of camp.