Haiti is Here

I open the door, and see a young girl. Thinking she’s probably selling something, I open the screen door (you can’t see through it from the outside), and say “Hi, hon, what can I do for you?”

“Is Suzy here?” she inquires. Oh. My seven year old actually has a visitor! Not the best timing, but…

“Hi, Fabiana!” exclaims Suzy from behind me.

“Can Suzy come to my sister’s birthday party?” asks Fabiana. “I asked her yesterday. We’ll walk her home when it’s over.”

I peer out at the two teenagers who accompanied Fabiana to our house. “You’ll walk with them? “ I ask. They nod.

My husband has met Fabiana’s grandfather before; he probably heard about the party, but forgot to say anything.

“Okay, but I think I’ll walk with you,” I reply. I try to be a good mom. I’ll go check the place out and meet the adults myself, although I have a bad cold and I really don’t want to be out.

I bundle our toddler into the stroller, and everyone gets their shoes on. We decide that five-year old Beth can go to the party too.

Fabiana’s house is about two blocks directly behind ours, although we do have to walk out and around, making it probably 6 blocks to walk in total. Halfway there, we’re met by young family members on bikes, joking and laughing with the teenagers. I realize that they’re actually speaking in another language part of the time.

“What language do you speak?” I ask the older girl.

“Creole,” she replies. “From ‘Aiti. Off the coast of Cuba.”

“Oh, I’ve never heard Creole before,” I answer.

We arrive at the house, walking down a long driveway. Kids are swooping up and down the driveway on bikes. Others are running around in the yard. The garage door is open, and under a bright light men huddle around a card table playing dominoes. The girls run on in with Fabiana, and I poke my head into the kitchen to introduce myself, but I’m not sure who to talk to – there are so many people here!

An older woman turns from the stove to greet me, and I introduce myself. She doesn’t seem to speak much English, but manages my name after a couple of tries. She appears to be the matriarch of this clan.

Another woman invites me to stay. “Thanks, but I have to go home,” I say regretfully. I’d love to stay, but I’m feeling pretty lousy still.

“You want a taste of something then?” she asks. There are gigantic dishes of food completely covering the kitchen counter, and weighing down the dining room table. They’re still cooking, too!

“Okay, sure, thanks.” I say. I do enjoy trying different kinds of food, and I wouldn’t want to offend her anyway.

She starts filling a plate. I’ve just eaten, but I figure it would be rude to protest. When the plate is full, she turns and asks if I want to try a certain dish. I try saying, “Oh, that’s OK, that’s enough.”

“No, no,” she says. “Try a taste.” She holds out a forkful of some type of vegetable salad with a red tint. I grasp a bite with my fingers and try it. It is, in fact delicious, and tastes like a mixture of potato salad and beets, with some seasoning I don’t recognize.

My hostess continues filling the plate with more things I don’t recognize, then finally stops. The matriarch is presiding over the deep fryer, and pulls out something that resembles a pierogi, placing it on a small plate with something that looks like coleslaw (but isn’t). Now I’ve got one plate stacked about six inches high, plus a salad plate, to take with me. Good grief! That’s hospitality. A good, big taste to take home. I feel bad about not staying now, but they’ve gone and fixed the plate for me, and no one else is eating yet, so I take our toddler on home.

Wow! I’m intrigued. We have a Haitian family, possibly a Haitian community, right in our neighborhood. What a great opportunity to experience another culture! And yet, am I being condescending in saying that? I hope not. I truly do enjoy being with people from other cultures, and I definitely don’t look down on them as being inferior.

Well, I look forward to getting to know this family. Suzy and Fabiana seem to be becoming good friends, and they’re very close by. I wasn’t able to stick around tonight, but I definitely would make the effort next time, and maybe we can invite them over here, too.

Camp Arrowhead

Just putting the word out there — Camp Arrowhead, near Stevenson, Washington is being sold. Here’s the scoop:

Arrowhead update – from the meeting 9/24

[WARNING — REALLY LONG]

Sigh.

I’m really tired and sad right now, and I think I’m coming down with something, too. It’s difficult to put all of this on paper.

Some people have already posted what they heard and what their impressions are, but I thought I’d post my notes and a few other facts I have.

First of all, Cynthia Hamilton (CEO) and Christine Core (Board Chair) did attend the meeting to explain the reasons for selling Camp Arrowhead, and the reasons for not consulting with volunteers and members about it sooner.

This may not be in a coherent order, but here are my notes:

First, they explained the process of communicating this decision:
1. Announced to staff. Staff asked to keep information confidential until the letter went out to adult members.
2. Held a meeting for VISTA team members and council delegates and announced the decision to them. The letter to the membership was supposed to arrive the next day. That didn’t happen.
3. A letter was sent (through a mailing house) to adult member households. It was supposed to arrive on Tuesday the18th, but most people didn’t get it until the 24th.

Then, they discussed the reasoning and the process of coming to a decision. Christine presented most of the information.

Discussion between the Board and the property committee about what to do with Arrowhead has been going on for the past three years

One year ago, the Board and property committee met and said “yes, we’re keeping it, let’s bring it up to snuff.” $1 million of the current capital campaign was dedicated to fixing Arrowhead.

Then, when they started talking to contractors and engineers, they were told that $1 million was not enough (Christine says they laughed at one million).

$850,000 to $1 million would be required just to fix the water system (approximately double the original estimate of $450,000). The original 1968 water system was apparently installed by volunteers who did not do it correctly, and it loses a lot of water rather than getting all of it to where it’s needed.

A road or roads need to be fixed – primarily the main road into camp. Also, in order to repair the water system, the road would be torn up to get to the pipes.

The swimming pool needs major repair or replacement – the county won’t give it a permit at this point.

And I got the impression that there was some general disrepair and lack of maintenance.

It would take about $3 million to bring Arrowhead up to the minimum needed to be in operation. That doesn’t include any program improvements (which I thought was a strange statement, but apparently the council wants to add high adventure options for girls because this is what they want).

Okay. So, we all want to know why we can’t just raise the money, get people to donate time and/or materials, etc.

According to Christine, even if the Board had the money, they don’t want to put it into Arrowhead. They think the place is too far gone, for one thing – hasn’t been maintained properly. But they’re also insisting (and Cynthia was the most vocal about this part) that landslides are a huge issue. They don’t want to put money into the site because of the potential for landslides. I and others pointed out that the Collins Point slide affects only the old camp (east of Home Lake), and that Arrowhead buildings were specifically built where they are because the land is stable. Cynthia and Christine feel that there’s no guarantee that that will continue to be the case.

I asked Christine whether there was any evidence that the Arrowhead portion of the property has moved at all in the past 60 years. She said “no.”

Cynthia also pointed out several times that all of the land on the north side of the Columbia River is sliding south.

This is somewhat true. There is a geological layer, far below the surface, called the Eagle Creek Formation. The layers on top of the Eagle Creek Formation apparently are slipping. This is true for a HUGE area of the north side of the gorge, though. The sliding is happening in geological time, not visibly before our very eyes. Again, I’ve seen no evidence that the Arrowhead property has moved.

Christine said that they had talked with a geotechnical engineer about this. She had asked him whether he could guarantee that the land wouldn’t slide. He said no (duh. No intelligent person can guarantee that).

They’re also concerned about the houses on Rock Creek in Stevenson that literally slid off a cliff. They’re afraid that that could happen at Arrowhead. We pointed out that this was miles away, and that the Arrowhead buildings are not on any kind of creek bank.

The Board and Cynthia are obviously convinced that Arrowhead is so unsafe that we shouldn’t even bother repairing it. They claimed that our “sister councils” with whom we will be merging in 2008 agree with this decision, and that they wouldn’t want to put any money into the property either. They also claimed that the Gates Foundation, which is putting money into the Girl Scouts capital campaign, actually specified that none of the money was to go to Camp Arrowhead (implying that no one wants to put money into it).

The board sees this as the best decision for risk management, for the safety of the girls, and for the council’s finances. According to Christine, even if the money were there, they wouldn’t put money into the property.

The camp’s lack of ACA accreditation was also discussed. According to Christine, this is a big reason why the number of campers each summer has been down – because it hasn’t been accredited since 2001. Cynthia and Christine did not know why the camp failed its accreditation, but Cynthia said that she would get the information and send it to us.

The condition of Home Lake is also an issue (if you’ve got the letter, you’ve seen that). Supposedly, because the water level is down, it is unsafe and program activities centered on Home Lake can no longer take place.

Several people pointed out that there are other places for canoeing, and that Home Lake is still valuable for nature study.

Cynthia also mentione that the trails were in disrepair and unusable, which several recent staff members strongly disputed (mentioning that they do need annual clearing and maintenance to be usable).

The number of girls using the camp is also a factor. According to the Board, less than five percent of the membership uses the camp, and that’s not enough. According to Cynthia, other councils do have better numbers. This number does not, however, seem to include weekend usage by troops, groups, and neighborhoods.

Cynthia was asked what, if anything, had been done to increase the number of campers. ACA accreditation was again referred to as a reason why enrollment is down. Also, Cynthia and Christine stated that girls want more high adventure activities, which Arrowhead hasn’t been able to provide (or the Council hasn’t been willing to facilitate at Arrowhead).

Finances and practicalities:

The camp is scheduled to be auctioned in November. The reserve price is $2.4 million, which means that if no one is willing to bid at least that much, the property won’t be sold (actually, looking at the auction terms on http://www.rmnw-auctions.com/, if the reserve price isn’t met, the seller can still sell to the highest bidder if they want to).

Usage of the property is fairly limited, because it is part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. It can’t be clear-cut, or turned into condos. It could be run as a camp…but if it’s so unsafe, who would want to?

The camp is being sold as-is. The water system problems are being fully disclosed.

The council has no plans as yet to purchase another property. Proceeds from the sale will be put into the Council’s reserves, with the intention of using the money for another resident camp (but with no guarantee that this will happen). Proceeds from the sale will not go toward Council operating costs.

When the council merger/realignment is complete in 2008, then the new Board of Directors will be able to look at creating a new resident camp. The merging councils are aware that this needs to happen, since Portland is a huge population center with many girls wanting to go to camp (except not enough of them are using Arrowhead).

The Board and Council have considered the possibility of turning Camp Mountaindale into a resident camp, but there are no definite plans at this time – it’s just an idea.

Everyone in the meeting stressed that we would have liked to know about this issue ahead of time, and that we felt the membership should have been consulted, even if the Board does have to make the final decision. We pointed out that what they did doesn’t really fit with the democratic process which GSUSA expects councils to use. Cynthia said that they felt people would have been more angry if their input had been solicited and then they decided to sell the camp anyway. The Board apparently saw this as the only choice, so they didn’t want to bother asking for input they weren’t going to use. People in the meeting stressed that they hoped this wouldn’t happen again; that people would prefer to know and have the opportunity to comment, regardless of what the final decision might be.

What’s next?

Cynthia and Christine asked for volunteers to help plan an Arrowhead retirement party, and also suggested that interested parties might want to apply for a position on the new property committee when the time comes.

Part of the group in attendance stayed behind after Cynthia and Christine left to discuss options. The consensus was that since the sale is happening so soon (and the board would have to vote on 10/18 to reverse the decision), we should just wait to see whether the property sells (we have some doubt as to whether anyone would buy it for $2.4 million). If it doesn’t sell, then we can possibly work on options for keeping and rebuilding the camp.

The last five people at the meeting (we couldn’t stop talking) agreed to begin the process of planning a retirement party. We’re waiting on confirmation of the date(s) we’d like to hold the party (hopefully over a weekend at Arrowhead).

I (Kathleen) am also still investigating a bit – I’m not convinced about these geotechnical issues that seem to be the major reason why the Board doesn’t want to put money into camp. I’m in contact with a former PSU student who did a survey at Arrowhead this past summer, and hope to get more information. I’m also awaiting the information about ACA accreditation, as that’s something I’m intimately familiar with.

The Board next meets on October 18. If you want to send a letter or email, I encourage you to do so before then. You can reach Christine Core at the council’s general e-mail box, girlscouts@juliette.org.

I can’t think of anything else. I’m definitely grieving, and I’m sure many of you are as well.

Thank you to everyone who attended the meeting, and to those who offered their support, although they couldn’t come. It’s good not to be alone.

Indonesian Earthquake

I woke up this morning to reports of the 8.2 magnitude earthquake in Indonesia today. All of the reports I heard stressed that there had only been one small tsunami, and that there didn’t seem to be risk of any more. Here in Oregon, they also stressed that the Oregon Coast was not considered at risk for a tsunami from this earthquake (the Oregon Coast is considered a tsunami zone).

My first reaction was a mild disgust at the fact that the media considered tsunami danger to be the most important part of the news, rather than any damages, deaths, or injuries that might have occurred as a direct result of the quake. After all, 8.2 is a major quake, and the epicenter was on land. Also, Indonesia’s suffered a great deal from earthquakes, major and minor, since the big tsunami of 2004. So, what about the people? How are they doing?

Well, after checking it out a bit, this doesn’t seem to be the kind of quake with thousands dead (thank goodness). The AP is currently reporting ten dead, with a hundred or so injured. I’m sure it will go up, but that’s much better than it could be. So, I guess I can understand why the media isn’t as concerned. Still, I’m sure the Indonesian people need our prayers and whatever assistance we can offer.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is often one of the first agencies to be on the ground helping in a disaster situation. Their website is http://www.gbgm-umc.org/umcor; that’s where my disaster relief contributions usually go.

Welcome!

I’ve established this as a place to post things I write that I feel like making public, other than the articles I sell for cash!  They’ll likely be religious or spiritual in nature…or maybe not.  If you’ve found this page, you’ll just have to wait and see.