At Soupy Island this weekend, there was a party going on.
Girl Scouts from West Deptford, Woodbury, National Park and Westville headed down Red Bank Avenue to turn the old playground into a birthday party, as the Hessian Woods Girl Scouts celebrated their 25th annual Camporee.
“Camporee is an annual event, and 25 years is something to celebrate,” said Dawn Christman, chairwoman of this year’s Camporee committee. “The girls look forward to this all year long. For some of them, it’s their only chance to experience camp.”
Giving girls the opportunity to experience camp in a local setting was one of the reasons Camporee was created. According to founder and former Girl Scout leader April Maska, “I put together Camporee because I believed that moms would camp if it was close to home.”
When she put together the first area Camporee program in 1986, the closest Girl Scout camp was Camp Sacajawea, at the far end of Gloucester County in Newfield.
So Maska, a first-grade teacher at Oakview School, developed, planned and led the first local Camporee at Red Bank Battlefield. “We silk-screened our own shirts and kept it free for all participants,” she recalled.
Each year, Camporee has a theme. That first year, it was “Emergency Services.”
“We had representatives from a fire company, a police force, EMTs and other emergency helpers,” Maska said, adding, “We even had Smokey the Bear.
This year’s theme, naturally, was “Happy 25th Birthday Camporee,” and everyone was ready to celebrate. The party kicked off Friday night with pizza, campfire songs and that Girl Scout staple, s’mores, before lights-out.
Saturday was all about stations. Girls and their parents, all in pink party T-shirts, rotated between five stations with birthday-themes, including “Get the Party Started,” a game station featuring a giant parachute and “Leavening,” where the girls learned the science behind the making of a birthday cake.
In the “Denim Diaries” station the scouts designed and created their own journal, and pictures were the order of the day in the “Capture the Memories” station. After their pictures were taken, the girls wrote a letter to their future selves to be placed in a personal time capsule to be read at a later date. One Brownie addressed a letter to her 16-year-old self, while across the table another wrote to herself upon graduation. "To me, after my death," wrote a third, to her friends' amusement.
Girls learned the art of decorating a cupcake in the “Cupcake Wars” station. After liberal application of rosettes, jimmies and gummy bears, cupcakes decorated during this stop were used in each troop’s display, which was judged later in the day. Ribbons were awarded to winners in each age category.
After stations was “free time”–well, as defined by Girl Scouts. The campers kept busy with a scavenger hunt, knot tying demonstration, campsite decorating and “swaps”–little pins designed by each troop commemorating the birthday theme and traded with members of other troops. On Saturday, girls swapped cupcakes pins for party hats, cotton candy for miniature flashlights.
Of course, Girl Scout events are always first class, and this one had the first class catering appropriate for a milestone birthday. The Boy Scouts of West Deptford Troop 9, led by Scout Master Rich Clauser, cooked all the meals and helped out with the stations and games.
“We can’t say enough good things about our Boy Scouts,” Christman says. “They help make all this possible.”
Saturday’s festivities ended with the presentation of skits followed by a dance. Maska sat on a picnic table and watched as Brownies signed “Happy Birthday, Camporee” and Juniors danced to Katy Perry's “Firework.”
“Twenty-five years ago, I had an idea,” Maska said. “And now, 25 years later, it’s absolutely incredible to see what they’ve done.”