My Day at Camp: A first look at the Girl Scouts’ Parsons Leadership Center

RAK Calendar Editor Liz Petroff takes a selfie with the Girl Scouts at their new South Mountain day and overnight camp facility. Photos by Michelle-Renee Adams.

I love anything that is bright, shiny and new.

So being among the first to experience a camp at the Girl Scouts’ new Parsons Leadership Center was perfect.

Replacing the modest Camp Sombrero campsite on South Mountain, The Bob and Renee Parsons Leadership Center for Girls and Women is a 14.5-acre property with ample space for activities, including year-round day and overnight camps.

This project has been a vision for nearly a decade, and the bells and whistles of this modern, architectural Phoenix facility are beautiful. Desert views abound from the activity rooms and cabins. The main building features a kitchen with a large entertaining space. Other amenities include a swimming pool and sports field for campers (and counselors) to enjoy.

The camp options available at Parsons Leadership Center are impressive. Offering day camps and hybrid camps is extremely convenient and can help ease a camper (and her parents) into the idea of staying overnight in a cabin without being so far away from home. Hybrid camp includes a full week of day camp with overnight stays the final two nights.

Campers do a water experiment at the Girl Scouts Parsons Leadership Center.

You don’t even have to be a Girl Scout to participate! Camps are open to all girls. Registrations include a small Girl Scouts membership fee, and if campers decide to become a Girl Scout after the experience, finding the right troop is a snap).

I should disclose that the Girl Scouts organization is a little close to home. I serve as a leader for my daughter Lucy’s troop, which recently bridged from Daisies to a Brownies this summer. I never considered sending Lucy to Girl Scout camp, because I’ve always considered my 7-year-old to be on the younger side of the organization. But after spending a day as an actual Girl Scout rather than a leader, I can’t wait for Lucy to experience the same skills and self-confidence building I witnessed.

My Day at Camp began by joining a Brownie group (consisting of incoming second- and third-graders) and their counselors (nicknamed) “Terk” and “Velcro.”

Second- and third-grade campers created a mural from a photo of the Phoenix skyline during Calendar Editor Liz Petroff’s My Day at Camp.

First on our itinerary was an art explosion project in the STEM classroom. We broke down a beautiful photo of Phoenix’s skyline and recreated it into a beautiful mural. The counselor divided the photo into a grid that included 12 small squares. There were 13 girls in our group (ahem, thanks to me), so there were not enough squares to go around. The organization emphasizes girl-lead activities where adults step aside to allow children to problem-solve. It did not take this Brownie group long to decide to team up on a few of the squares and work together so nobody would be left out. The girls enjoyed seeing the different ways we colored the mountains and sunset and really took pride in seeing our masterpiece completed.

After our STEM project, it was time to stretch our legs and take a short nature hike. We walked up a small pathway that overlooked the entire camp and included a beautiful view of Phoenix that was very similar to the mural we had just created. We also stopped to smell and learn about the creosote (a desert shrub with a powerful scent after it rains). When we reached the top of the small cliff, Terk sang a short, silly song about socks! Campers knew just want to do while she sang: they drank water for the duration of her ditty. This was a routine performed throughout the day to make sure campers were staying hydrated in the desert heat.

Working up an appetite, we made our way back down the trail for snack time. While crunching away on a fresh apple (making sure to throw the core in the compost bins) another group of campers joined us and taught us some camp songs! Probably my favorite memory of the day was this: I could not stop laughing with the girls at their carefree attitudes as they sang and danced together! I was in the thick of a tradition being passed down to a different age group as the teenage counselors taught songs to Brownie and Daisy Girl Scouts.

Shortly after our impromptu singalong, it was time to gather for a Friendship Circle. Because it was mid-week in close quarters, our observant counselors noticed some of the girls needed a minor moral boost. Kitty, Parsons’ Camp Director, lead our group in several team exercises that reminded us how to listen and treat our friends.

Campers eat a healthy lunch and enjoy inspiring desert views from the beautiful architecture at the Parsons Leadership Center at the base of South Mountain.

Toward the end of our friendship circle, we got a little distracted when we started to smell some incredible food coming from the nearby kitchen. My group was on lunch duty, so it was our job to set the tables.

Like a well-oiled machine, each girl took a job passing out cups, water pitchers, napkins and silverware. The kitchen hall quickly filled with hungry campers heading to their assigned lunch tables. Once everyone was settled, each table was called back to the kitchen where we were served barbecue chicken sandwiches and potato salad, and could help ourselves to a beautiful salad bar. (There were also gluten-free and vegetarian meals for campers with diet restrictions).

Spreading my wings (because, truthfully, isn’t that what camp is all about!), I joined a table of fourth- and fifth-grade girls. I was reminded why the Girl Scouts encourages individual camp experiences for girls away from their troops, nudging them out of their comfort zones and helping them meet new people and make new friends.

After lunch, my group enjoyed “me time” to wind down and rest or to color, draw or read. I snuck over to the Girl Scout Store and did a little shopping! Then, I joined the girls for arts and crafts.

Feeling rested and energized, these girls were ready to get their hands on the project they had been waiting for all day … tie-dying! It was a messy, joyful, creative and chaotic production! Again, it was refreshing to watch the counselors step back and let the girls create their own shirts (of course they assisted when needed), knowing they would ultimately wear their works of art with confidence that they had designed and made them entirely on their own.

Pool time followed. As inviting as the water seemed, it was time for My Day at Camp to end. But before I left, I was awarded my camp nickname! (Only adult counselors get nicknames. Technically, I’m an adult, so it was allowed).

After answering a quick survey of my likes and dislikes and favorite hobbies and activities, I walked away from Parsons as “Pencil,” because the girls remembered why I was there … to write down and share what I learned and loved most about camp.

Girl Scouts camp: In addition to Parsons Leadership Center camps, Girl Scouts-Arizona Cactus-Pine offers summer camps at Camp Maripai (Prescott), Shadow Rim Ranch (Tonto National Forest) and Willow Springs Program Center (Prescott). The public is invited to visit the Parsons Leadership Center at 1611 E. Dobbins Road in Phoenix from 4-8 p.m. Tuesday, July 4 during a free open house.

Girl Scouts sing during circle time at Parsons Leadership Center at the base of South Mountain. The facility offers year-round day and overnight camps.

RELATED: Parsons Leadership Center hosts year-round day and overnight camps.