Toasting with S’mores—Online
For Girl Scouts in Santa Monica, California, the annual Samoree camping weekend is the highlight of the spring calendar.
Each year for the last 11 years, several hundred girls have gathered in late March at Malibu Creek State Park. The older girls plan events from Friday to Monday, and highlights include backpacking, wilderness skills, and bridging ceremonies around a bonfire.
But this year, early in March, the coronavirus spread to the United States, public gatherings were canceled for the foreseeable future, and campgrounds closed. The annual camping weekend wasn’t just rescheduled, it was called off altogether.
“This is where memories are made forever,” says Girl Scout alum Lisette Gold, service unit manager for Santa Monica Bay.
“A lot of tears were shed—including by Susan, I think!—when it was cancelled. We knew we wouldn’t be able to reschedule it,” Lisette explains. Susan Stahl, another Girl Scout alum, is the service unit’s outdoor leadership council director, who coordinates the camping weekend with the older girl members.
Both Susan’s and Lisette’s daughters were Girl Scouts as well. Now alums, they are so passionate about the program they’ve stayed involved in the service unit. They were disappointed to hear that the current high school seniors wouldn’t have a proper send-off, a tradition in past years.
But then Lisette had a conference call for work using Zoom.
“I had never used Zoom before, but my coworker was able to do a whole presentation virtually, and I could see my whole team in little squares on the screen,” she explains.
It gave her an idea.
“I called Susan and we decided to do a virtual campfire sing-along over Zoom. Before we hung up, Susan said ‘I’m on it.’”
And on it she was.
Because Samoree is an educational experience, Susan made a video on how to put up a tent and shared it so the girls could learn how to do it on their own. She also shared the songbook the older girls had originally prepared for the Samoree campfire and encouraged the musicians in the group to pick up their guitars.
“I told the girls that any siblings that did an overnight campout—indoors or outdoors—would get a Samoree patch,” explains Susan.
That weekend, 70 girls attended the virtual campfire on Zoom.
“Every girl spent the whole day setting up their tents in their backyard or their living room. They had books, and lunch and dinner in there. Some even strung up lights, and many of them invited their siblings in,” laughs Lisette. “Two girls had campfires and made s’mores.” (Not in the tent, of course!)
Logistical considerations were different for this campout. “Zoom was originally optimized to prevent people from talking over each other, so I know we had to handle the sound carefully,” Susan says.
“I was on Zoom control so I could mute and unmute people, which is key with 70 participants,” Lisette explains. “When someone would play their guitar, I would mute everyone else, and then I would unmute so everyone could applaud. ‘Mute all’ really was the secret.”
For the duration of the event, everyone was riveted to their screens.
“For me, it was the first really positive, uplifting thing that had happened in the coronavirus crisis,” she says. “I was so overwhelmed and touched by the girls and the families who had set up tents on balconies, in backyards, and in living rooms. The amount of family involvement that was necessary to make that happen was so encouraging.”
Lisette was also touched by the experience.
She reflects on the happy end to a tough week. “I think they were just happy to connect since they had been in quarantine. To see all the girls singing in their tents was amazing. For an hour, they all got to be together.”
Photo, above: Elizabeth Ferrera (Troop 71765)