FOCUS: Young women take matters into their own hands

Discover, connect and take action. That’s the framework for leadership as taught to young girls and women across the nation who join Girl Scouts.

Discovering who they are and what they care about, connecting with others, and taking action to make their community a better place are values the Girl Scouts of Claremont are displaying in their own backyard.

Girl Power comes in all shapes and sizes, as evidenced by our local scouts who—with their leaders—have taken action against their own organization in an effort to save their beloved La Casita, a Girl Scout property put on the chopping block last summer by the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles (GSGLA).

In its mission to align properties in a “fiscally responsible manner,” the GSGLA assembled a Property Strategic Taskforce to determine the cost-effectiveness and affordability, accessibility to members, capacity for utilization and basic infrastructure needs of program centers throughout the region, with plans to retire and sell-off those properties that didn’t meet the criteria.

In July 2014, La Casita was placed on the retirement list with a ratification vote scheduled in October. It was a move that didn’t sit well with the local gals who utilize the historic adobe structure that has served the Girl Scouts of the community for nearly 70 years.

“We discovered there was an injustice taking place. We’ve made the connections with the city, the alumni, with all these people involved, and now the girls are trying to take action,” said Yvonne Murphy, leader of Troop 964.

Spearheading the efforts to change the minds of the Taskforce are current and former troop leaders Leah Key Ketter, Catherine Cordes, Yvonne Murphy, Tina Mann, Kristen Fass, Georgeann Spivack and Claremont Service Unit Manager Melanie Barbee. Each of these seven women is the mother of a Girl Scout and hell-bent on securing La Casita for the enjoyment of Girl Scouts of Claremont and the surrounding areas.

GSGLA “inherited” the property through a merger of legacy councils in 2008, which included Claremont’s Spanish Trails Council and left the organization with many properties in certain geographical areas and none in others. Built in 1947 on land donated by Lee Pitzer, La Casita was born when the Girl Scouts of Claremont rallied together to fund and build a local headquarters.

“It’s a redistribution of the wealth,” said Ms. Spivack. “In this case, it’s a historical property and they barked up the wrong tree.”

Given the Taskforce’s recommendation, scouts and scout leaders were in agreement: a call to action was necessary.

“We just decided we needed to make some noise and we got together a couple of times to try to figure out how we could do that,” says Troop 5364 leader Ms. Mann. “We all bring different things to the table and just brainstormed about what needed to be done and started chipping away at it.”

The first of those steps would be a letter-writing campaign. Claremont Girl Scouts of all ages—from Daisies to registered alumni—wrote letters, pleading with the GSGLA Council and Board Members to reconsider their decision to retire La Casita.

“Don’t think of La Casita as four walls on a hill,” wrote UC Berkeley sophomore and registered Girl Scout Allison Spivack. “Think of it as a space where girls can come together in a unique place, where they can become closer to nature and each other. Think of it as a valuable learning tool to teach young girls to be courageous and strong, responsible for what they say and do, and to make the world a better place.” 

The Girl Scouts and their leaders then brought their fight to Claremont’s City Council in September 2014, seeking the city leaders’ assistance in preserving the property for past, present and future Girl Scouts of Claremont. Over a dozen impassioned Girl Scouts, and a few Boy Scouts, stepped forward to the podium during public comment to share their La Casita experiences, while roughly 40 others cheered them on. 

“I was very proud of them,” says Ms. Barbee. “I’m impressed by how many girls came out…college girls home for a break, retired leaders from the ‘50s and ‘60s that still have the love and respect for the land. They made signs and spoke so eloquently, standing by what they believed in. Without them, we wouldn’t have gotten the support of the council and our seven leaders wouldn’t have been so motivated if they hadn’t had that devotion.”

On October 14, 2014, city council responded by adopting a resolution supporting the preservation of the La Casita property. The girls were beginning to realize that their voice was making a difference.

“It’s so special that the grown-ups are listening to us,” said 9-year-old Sky Wall of Troop 1314.

“There are so many memories at La Casita. It’s an amazing place and we need to stand up for what we love. The grown-ups are helping us do that,” added 8-year-old Grace Whitney, also of Troop 1314.

Following the resolution, the GSGLA pushed the October ratification date on the properties, and several of the city council members met with the local Girl Scout leaders at La Casita to walk the property. While there, the council offered suggestions to the leaders on how to move forward in their quest for preservation. The women went on to acquire letters of support from Sustainable Claremont, Claremont Wilderness Conservancy, Paula Pitzer, Assemblyman Chris Holden and Congresswoman Judy Chu as well numerous past and present Girl Scouts.

Those letters, in addition to the Claremont City Council’s Resolution, were hand-delivered to the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles headquarters earlier this month. The packet included a strategic plan, crafted by the Claremont service unit, with ideas on how to increase the utilization and profitability of Las Casita.

“We reminded the board that La Casita’s low usage data isn’t a reflection of the property’s appeal,” said Ms. Spivack. “It’s due to a combination of managerial factors on GSGLA’s part, such as a drastic reduction in program activities held there and lack of marketing of the property to surrounding units.”

The girls’ tenacity and determination paid off.

On January 7, the GSGLA board held a meeting and La Casita was removed from the “retire” category and placed in a newly-created “review” category. Sale or transfer of the La Casita property will be reevaluated to determine if there are feasible opportunities for funding or to better outline future use of the site.

While the property has been removed from the retire category, La Casita isn’t out of the woods just yet.

A ratification vote by the registered Girl Scout membership (ages 14-plus) will be held Saturday, April 18 at the GSGLA Annual Meeting and Volunteer Recognition Ceremony in the City of Industry. Unfortunately, online voting isn’t an option. Registered members must vote in person.

“We all have to vote at that meeting. Our votes matter, although the GSGLA will have the final say based on the financials,” says Ms. Cordes. “You must be a registered Girl Scout over the age of 14. Our girls can’t vote, which is frustrating because they’re the ones using it…it’s a place for them.”

The hope is that La Casita will remain a Girl Scout property and that these girls, who raised their voices and have fought so hard to preserve it, will continue to enjoy it for generations to come.

“The Girl Scouts raised the money, they brought the adobe bricks to build it,” says Ms. Barbee. “The Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles should consider La Casita a monument, not a burden.”

Regardless of the outcome, the Girl Scouts of Claremont have exhibited tremendous leadership skills and the tenacity that epitomizes what girl power is all about. There’s got to be a badge for that!

—Angela Bailey


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