Guiding tomorrow’s leaders at La Casita

Camp leaders at La Casita Girl Scout camp often tell the true story of Juliette Low, a woman who sold her string of pearls to help raise money for the Girl Scouts when funding was low. This story is meant to show the girls how sacrifice is sometimes necessary to save something they love. They say the pearly everlasting, a small white flower that blooms along the hillside, is a monument to her support of the Girl Scouts.

Maintaining core values and forging a connection with nature embodies La Casita and the community of girls that go there. Their traditions are passed down by the hands of Scouts who have returned to teach the generation below them.

Beverly Speak, a Girl Scout of 60 years, is a seasonal camp director and longtime volunteer at La Casita and continues to uphold and teach their beliefs. Both her daughter and her granddaughter are members of the Girl Scouts.

“[The Girl Scouts] made my life what it is,” she said. “We believe in what we do.”

Among the values Ms. Speak hopes to impart are independence, the ability to handle anything and everything and, above all, leadership. The girls have leaders that have been in their place to show them the bright future ahead of them. Five of the counselors this year received their gold award when they were in high schools, and have returned to help run the summer camps.

Beyond returning members, La Casita give opportunities for young girls to have other female role models and mentors throughout their city. For example, they hosted a bonfire where they invited women in leadership from the surrounding area to come and talk to the girls.

“The Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts are two different organizations,” Ms. Speak explains in response to the Boy Scouts’ new policy allowing girls to join, “having a girl-lead organization is important in today’s world. They get to learn in a safe and non-stereotyped environment. There is a place, and will always be a place, for women organizations”

In addition to their roots in tradition, the activities at La Casita also include more modern activities.

“The Girl Scouts have changed as the world has,” Ms. Speak says, “they learn computer and STEM and more traditional skills.”

She stresses the importance of their connection to nature at La Casita. With lesser access to nature than ever before, she believes it is essential to utilize the prime position of the camp to teach all about local flora and fauna. Nestled at the base of the foothills, the campers are given the perfect view of the San Gabriel Mountains and access to the Thompson Creek Trail.

Ms. Speak likes to give the girls a connection with nature so that they want to protect it. She does this by teaching the names of all the flowers that grow on the hills.

“I give kids a chance to make friends with nature,” she says, “and when you’re friends with something you know its name and then you want to protect it.”

The history of La Casita also helps forge a deep bond between the girls camping there now and the Girl Scouts that came before them.

The land on which the camp is situated was donated to the Girl Scouts by the Pitzer family in the 1940’s. The building that now sits there was built largely by the girls themselves using the clay from the mountains to form adobe bricks. Ms. Speak demonstrated how this was done using water from her canteen on one of their hikes. Each girl then made a miniature brick themselves, and promptly decided to form their work into a miniature version of the house that Girl Scouts built long before them.

Ms. Speak’s background as a teacher in child development at Chaffey College helps her contextualize why learning these skills at a young age is important.

“The kids don’t have the sense that they can’t do something,” she explains, “they will climb all the way up our high ropes course and jump right off, and we have adults that get up there and are just too scared.”

The layout of the camp allows for the Scouts to try a variety of new activities while they are young, from mountain hikes to birdwatching. The newest additions are a high ropes and low ropes course and an archery range.

The girls are given a chance to be adventurous and step out of their comfort zone in an environment where their friends and mentors support them to try new things.

Nothing better embodies the community created through La Casita than the overwhelming support for the property when retirement was being considered. Girl Scouts of all ages arrived to the ratification votes in 2015 and were able to convince the GSGLA (Girl Scouts of Greater LA) that La Casita is a valuable and historic site that should continue to be used.

With the sale of the land no longer on the table, it has become home to several day camps throughout the summer, which have been increasing in popularity every year.

The opportunities given to the Girl Scouts as kids will impact them far beyond their time as a Scout, as evidenced by Beverly Speak and her lifelong dedication to the organization and the abundance of Girl Scouts who have returned to help provide the same wonderful experience to the new members.

The skills and values learned while being a Scout are influential, and the memories of new friends and new experiences will last a lifetime.

—Eleanor Corbin


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