Consolidation keeps WNY Girl Scouts on track

June 27, 2013 Updated Jun 27, 2013 at 9:21 AM EDT

By Tracey Drury, Buffalo Business First Reporter

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Consolidation keeps WNY Girl Scouts on track

June 27, 2013 Updated Jun 27, 2013 at 9:21 AM EDT

In the wake of national media stories about the struggles taking place nationally with the Girl Scouts of America, local leaders say the Western New York council is doing just fine.

An Associated Press story published this week highlighted declining membership numbers, financial struggles and an ideological shift in programming.

Councils are struggling, but membership and finances are mostly steady here in Western New York, says Cindy Odom, CEO at the Girl Scouts of WNY.

"Some of my colleague councils are struggling. We're not having those problems now," she said.

The AP story highlighted a series of council mergers in recent years that have shrunk the number of local councils from 312 to 112; declines in donations; a major deficit in the national organization's pension fund; as well as the decision by councils to sell camp properties in the face of fiscal woes.

That realignment of councils affected local operations too, resulting in a 2006 merger of four councils covering nine counties in the Buffalo-Rochester region. That process resulted in the "divestment" of four camp properties. The 175-acre Zoar Valley Camp in Cattaraugus County sold in 2011 for $200,000. Three other camps were sold in 2012: Camp Sky High, a 14-acre site in Orchard Park, sold for $250,000; Camp Pinewood, a 780-acre property in Dansville; and the 90-acre Camp Oak Orchard in Medina, which sold for $200,000 apiece.

Odom said those sales, as well as the sale of Buffalo offices on Jewett Parkway and subsequent move to leased space in Depew, were more strategic in nature.

"Our decision to sell the camps was more strategic than it was knee-jerk," she said. "That was really great foresight of the board and the committee."

The organization has changed with the times, which doesn't make everyone happy, but Odom said the merger and the property sales help the organization remain financially stable for the long term.

Though membership and volunteer numbers declined in those years following the merger, they have now begun to rebound, with registration numbers beginning to climb.

Total membership this year was 20,101 for girl members and just under 9,000 for adult member and volunteers, compared to 21,000 girls and 9,600 adults at the time of the merger. Financially, the agency had a deficit of about $1.5 million after the merger, while this year Odom expects to break even with a budget of about $6 million and 74 full- and part-time staff. She points to Six Sigma in helping create effiencies in the organization, with 15 members having gone through training. The agency's COO is a black belt in Six Sigma and Odom herself holds a green belt.

"We took a lot of hard hits when we first merged, and we made a lot of tough decisions, but right now our council is doing extremely well as compared with some of our colleagues because of the decisions that were made back then," she said.

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