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Girl Scouts in Harvard

The Mary Ann Beebe Center troop camp facility spans 295 acres near Harvard, and includes a protected wetlands area.

Girl Scouts are largely recognized for cookie sales that not only provide a sweet treat to families nationwide, but promote business and leadership skills among the girls, as well as help fund programming. What many may not know, however, is that Girls Scouts do so much more during the year to advance within the organization, and each new adventure and skill paves the way to a lifetime of leadership and service.

For many girls in McHenry County and surrounding counties, being a Girl Scout also means an opportunity to enjoy all that nature has to offer year-round at the Mary Ann Beebe Center, a troop camp facility that spans 295 acres near Harvard.

“It’s wonderful to have it so close,” said Cindy Kocol, director of communications for Girl Scouts–Sybaquay Council, which covers a seven-county jurisdiction, including all of McHenry County. “This facility offers a great opportunity for girls to participate in outdoor programming without having to travel so far.”

At the Mary Ann Beebe Center, girls have access to outdoor camping in adirondacks (three-sided wooden shelters with canvas fronts), covered wagons and yurts (octagonal-shaped wooden buildings). Additionally, girls can utilize the two-level activity center, day-use shelters and two-level barn. Activities available include indoor and outdoor cooking, an adventure walk course, archery, a sport court and hiking trails, as well as winter fun such as snowshoeing, sledding and cross-country skiing.

The camp also encompasses a protected wetlands area, which includes a “beautiful pond where many troops go to learn more about these diverse ecosystems,” Kocol said.

In addition, the suspension bridge on the property holds particular significance during “bridging” ceremonies where Girl Scouts “bridge” from one program level to the next. “The girls cross this bridge to symbolize this journey,” she adds.

Not surprisingly, the summer is a busy time at the Mary Ann Beebe Center, with several day and twilight camps. “Summer camps typically include a theme like ‘Geocaching,’ ‘Going Green,’ ‘Girl Scout Idol,’ ‘Treasure Hunt’ or ‘International Camp.’”

Kocol admits the existence of the Mary Ann Beebe Center has made a huge impact on local Girl Scouts’ lives. “Our outdoor program activities are very popular,” she said. “The Movin’ on Up program workshop held each year at the Mary Ann Beebe Center helps girls fulfill some of the requirements necessary for bridging from Girl Scout Juniors to Girl Scout Cadettes.”

An Evolving Site
Sybaquay Council purchased the Mary Ann Beebe Center property in Harvard in 1973 — at that time, it was named Shabbona Hills and served primarily as a rustic outdoor camping experience for girls.

In the late 1970s, the activity center was built and girls began to use it in the winter months for indoor overnights and troop events.

In 1990, the site was officially renamed the Mary Ann Beebe Center to honor Beebe’s many years of service as executive director of the council (see sidebar for more). Girl Scouts–Sybaquay Council is headquartered in Elgin and serves more than 9,775 girl members and 2,225 adult members in more than 50 communities throughout McHenry County and parts of Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Lake, La Salle and Kane counties.

The center has grown and expanded over the years. In the mid-to late-’90s, the center added the yurts. Other modifications include the addition of a sports courts and adventure walk course, as well as activity center improvements, including American Disability Act accessibility alterations. Building Character

Membership numbers have been flat in recent years, according to Kocol, but the council continues to recruit members and volunteers, and promote interest through schools, churches, libraries and other venues. “We want to let people know what Girl Scouts can do for girls,” she said, namely, building “girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.

“Girl Scouts helps girls develop their leadership potential by engaging in activities that enable them to discover their values, skills and the world around them; connect with others in a multicultural environment; and take action to make a difference in the world,” she added.

Since 1916, Girl Scouts has awarded the leadership achievements of its oldest Girl Scouts. The award’s name has changed throughout the years, from the Golden Eagle of Merit to the Curved Bar and First Class Award — and finally dubbed the Girl Scout Gold Award in 1980. “This is the highest award in Girl Scouting and greatly demonstrates what a girl can learn from her time as a Girl Scout,” Kocol said. The award recognizes the leadership, effort and impact these girls — aged 14 to 18 — have had on their communities.”

The requirements include the completion of several interest projects, a variety of leadership experiences and career exploration, all culminating in a 60-hour service project in which a Girl Scout identifies a need within the community and works with partners and volunteers to fulfill it.

“For many of our girls, the leadership skills, organization skills, and sense of community and commitment that come from ‘going for the gold’ sets the foundation for a lifetime of active citizenship,” Kocol said.

One inspiring project in particular that comes to Kocol’s mind is that of two Huntley Girl Scouts who organized a 5K run/walk for Marengo area OutReach Enterprises (M.O.R.E.).

Through this event, which included 100 participants and 20 volunteers from the community, the girls collected 575 pounds of non-perishable items to donate to M.O.R.E.’s food pantry, which benefits the Marengo and Union area.

Easier to Join
With competition from other activities and programs girls have access to today, Girls Scouts is focused on making it easier to become a part of the organization, Kocol said. “We’re leaning toward flexible pathways to be part of the Girl Scouts, such as the Juliette designation and virtual Girl Scouting,” she said.

A “Juliette” is an individually registered Girl Scout who is not registered with a traditional troop. “This membership option allows a girl to participate in Girl Scouting despite a busy schedule or a lack of adult volunteers available in her area,” she said. “She can complete badge work and earn awards, attend council-sponsored events and camp sessions and participate in the Girl Scout cookie sale.”

Virtual Girl Scouting is another option that Girl Scouts of the USA is currently developing to connect Girl Scouts in a “virtual troop” via the Internet. With that in mind, Girl Scouts has recently joined forces with Microsoft to create LMK, a “fun, new interactive Web site regarding online safety that is targeted to girls ages 13 to 17,” Kocol said. “LMK — text-speak for ‘let me know’ — is a girl-led program which allows girls to share their concerns about online safety with ‘tech-perts’ on subjects like cyberbullying, predators and social networking.”

This year is particularly significant for the Sybaquay Council as it joins other councils across the nation that are realigning to form strong, high-capacity councils capable of delivering equal programming for girls. On October 1, 2009, Sybaquay Council (Elgin) will merge with three other councils, Green Hills (Freeport), Fox Valley (Sugar Grove) and Rock River Valley (Rockford), to form Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois. “This realignment is all part of the effort to update the organization and make it more relevant to girls with the new ‘Girl Scout Leadership Experience,’” Kocol said.

Mary Ann Beebe’s Spirit of Service Continues
Mary Ann Beebe was an important part of the Girl Scouts–Sybaquay Council from the time it formed in 1957 as a result of the fusion of a group of neighborhood associations and troop communities.

Originally from Missoula, Mont., Beebe first got involved in the Girl Scouts as a volunteer camp counselor in 1949 and remained active in that position through 1951. She began her employment with Girl Scouts–Elgin/Dundee Council in 1956, and joined the then newly formed Sybaquay Council in 1957.

In 1960, Beebe became Sybaquay Council’s executive director until her retirement in 1990. She was the first to receive a Thanks badge, a national adult Girl Scout award that recognizes outstanding service by a volunteer. The Thanks badge is the highest honor a Girl Scout volunteer can earn. To date, 60 volunteers have earned the Thanks badge in Sybaquay Council.

Formerly known as Shabbona Hills, the Mary Ann Beebe Center property in Harvard was purchased by Sybaquay Council in 1973. In 1990, the facility was officially renamed the Mary Ann Beebe Center to honor her 30-plus years of service.

In 2007, the council’s semicentennial, Beebe was honored at the adult recognition ceremony, where she delivered “a very moving speech,” said Cindy Kocol, director of communications for the council. “Many of the adults who attended remembered her fondly.”


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