Our Journey to Excellence in the Varsity & Venturing Programs
We recently held a court of honor for our Scout, Varsity, and Venturing groups from our LDS Church sponsored Boy Scout unit. It was a very big event because we were giving out some awards that had never been achieved in our unit plus there was a lot of excitement over the sheer number of awards that had been earned. In reflecting back on where our program had come from in the past four years, I thought I should share some of the insights we gained along the road. I don’t want to say that we have the “perfect” group yet, but we’ve made so much progress that is amazing.
In 2006 I became part of a new Bishopric where I was called as the 2nd Counselor and given responsibility as the Chartered Organization Representative for our unit. Well, I had never even heard of that term before and my only involvement in scouting as an adult had been to be an advisor in the Priest’s quorum for a year and I went on a couple of camp outs with my son when he was a scout. While a Priest’s advisor we ran an activity program, but we had no concept of Venturing.
Shortly after being called, we changed most of the Young Men’s organization. Our scout master had been serving for a long time and we thought it was time to bring in somebody new. We called a man who had a desire to serve the boys. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very organized and our overall program suffered as a result. Personally, I realized I needed to get trained on what I was to do so I could be a positive influence on the program.
The first step to getting trained was Wood Badge. I signed up to attend a course in 2007. I really had no idea what to expect. I had one person in our Stake who was excited when he heard I was signed up, but I knew nobody who had ever gone to Wood Badge. The course Director was Bry Davis and my troop guide was Michelle Christensen. These two have played a role throughout this story. I had a wonderful experience at Wood Badge and came back to our Ward full of excitement and some ideas of how to get things moving in the right direction. Our Bishop, Derek Christensen, was very supportive and allowed me to do what I thought was necessary. I set out to train each of the groups on what their program should look like. I spent time with our Scouts, Varsity, and Venturing groups giving them instruction on what their program should look like. After I completed the training, I thought the leaders would take the programs and make them great. I settled in to concentrate on the Scout troop at that point.
In the Spring of 2008 we joined together with one of the other Wards in our building to plan a week long scout camp. We wanted to do something that was different because the other Ward had some poor experiences at the regular camp the previous year. So we set out to do our own camp, complete with earning merit badges and having fun. This turned out to be a lot of work, but it was the beginning of turning our program around. All the boys who attended earned between 8 and 10 merit badges (with some follow up after the camp) and we were well on our way. We did recognize that we needed to make a change though. Our Scout Master was not in a profession where he could devote a full week for our camp. He did participate as much as possible, but we realized it was just too much to ask of him and the other leaders when he couldn’t be there the full time. So we called a new assistant Scout Master who we knew could devote the full week when needed.
That assistant Scout Master was Mr. Thorup. We didn’t even know when we called him that he had extensive scouting background and he wondered why we hadn’t been taking advantage of him. He worked closely with our Scout Master and the program really started taking off. At this time we also had a large group of 12 year old boys coming into the program. That’s why we knew we had to get a good leader to get this group (about 12 boys) to have a positive experience.
It’s important that I mention Mr. Thorup in this story. He has an infectious love of scouting. I see this as a critical ingredient for a successful program. I think it will be rare to find someone as dedicated as Mr. Thorup, but when you do find one, you are in for a real treat. I’ve met other scouting leaders like Mr. Thorup in the past few years. In each example, I have seen a scouting program that runs well and the boys are excited to be part of the program
With the tandem of Mr. Thorup and the Scout Master our program began to flourish. The boys were having fun with lots of camps and they were earning merit badges and rank advancements. Most of that group of boys have earned their Eagle rank and at least half of them have named Mr. Thorup as their Mentor, quite an honor. After about a year and half we released the Scout Master and Mr. Thorup the Scout Master and brought in a new assistant, Mr. Allen.
For the next year and half, Mr. Thorup and Mr. Allen ran a program that was simply fun for the boys. Now we had a new challenge on our hands. We had created such a great scout program that when the boys advanced to the Varsity program it was a big letdown because the program wasn’t working as well. We would hear from the boys that their needs weren’t being fulfilled. We had good men that were in the program, but beyond the initial training I had given them in 2007 – 2008, they hadn’t done anything more to improve the program. In fact, you could say they weren’t executing the program at all. The same thing was also happening with our Venturing crew.
In the Fall of 2010 we as a Bishopric attended the LDS BSA relationship meeting. During that meeting we were all impressed by the guidance of Charles Dahlquist to have a quality Varsity and Venturing program. We came out of that meeting with a firm desire to see what we could do to improve our programs. Under the guidance of Bishop Christensen we examined our young men program from top to bottom. We decided we needed to have leaders who would run the scouting program, not just an activity program. As a result we called new leaders and kept some. We made sure that when we called the new leaders in the Varsity and Venturing program that they knew they were being called to lead the young men in a scouting program. We also encouraged each of them to attend Wood Badge as part of their training.
That was the start of our new Varsity and Venturing programs. The leaders were committed to learning what the program features were and working with the boys to execute the program. It didn’t change overnight. In fact, there were many frustrating times because we still couldn’t get the boys to be involved. This was especially true of the Venturing crew. We had always said it was because the boys were so busy with sports, school, work, and other activities. Nonetheless, we persevered and kept working the programs. We also learned that we could dual register the boys for both Varsity and Venturing. The purpose of doing this was to help the boys earn more awards. Many of the requirements overlap and what we have learned is that the boys love the recognition.
Well, our Varsity program began to flourish under the new leadership. They were working the program as it was designed and the boys were having fun. In early 2011 the new Bishopric (yes we were released and they called me to be the Committee Chair) moved Mr. Allen up to the Varsity team. Now we had two great scouting leaders in the Varsity team. We also made one other change in our scout troop about that time. Our numbers were getting smaller and so we combined with 2 other Wards that meet in our building to form a larger scout troop.
During the summer of 2011 we had our youth participate in lots of activities. In the Spring they went on a camp to Moab, UT where they earned the Utah Park Award. They later when on a pioneer trek where they earned the Pioneer Trails award. Finally, our big event was a 50 mile hike to the Wind River mountains in Wyoming. We had all three age groups participating in this camp.
The 50 miler was a very difficult experience. We were hiking at an average of 10,500 feet and many from the group struggled. However, it was a great experience because everyone pulled together and helped each other. At the end of the experience everyone was tired and ready to go home. A week later, almost everybody was talking about where we would go the next year to do it again.
This brings me back to court of honor that we just held. It was the culmination of getting the right leaders into the program and following the Varsity and Venturing programs. We were so excited about what had happened over the past few months that we wanted to show others what we had accomplished. We invited President-elect, Bry Davis to the ceremony as well as Maggie Newbold, Pony Express District Chair. We also had other special guests, including 2 Bishops and members of the military, who helped present some awards.
To give you a quick snapshot of the success of the program now, let me share some statistics on number of awards presented. This list does not include everything, but you get the picture.
· # of boys receiving awards - 29
· # of merit badges earned – 147
· # of Scout Rank Advancements – 10
· # of Eagle Palms – 4
· # of Varsity Denali Awards – 6
· # of Youth Varsity Activity Pins – 62
· # of Venturing Bronze Awards (includes both Outdoors and Religious Life) – 24
· # of Ranger Awards – 5
In summary, what changed to take this program from one of the worst in our Stake to the model of our Stake, and probably the District:
· Leaders that want to run the program because they realize the impact it will have on the boys (love of the boys)
· Training. Wood Badge was a huge catalyst for our group. We now have at least one Wood Badge trained leader in each group
· Inspired leadership. It all starts at the top. The Bishopric has to be bought into the program of running scouts, varsity, and venturing programs. It can’t be just scouting.
The results is that as the boys progress from scouts to varsity and varsity to venturing, they are looking forward to the next adventure. They now realize that they can have fun and while doing it, they are earning awards and staying close to the gospel. What we continue to pray for and work toward is that we are preparing better missionaries and we aren’t losing the boys. We are keeping them engaged longer than in the past, so we are hopeful.
I have to thank those who have played a significant role in this. Bry Davis and Michelle Christensen for helping me to understand the scouting program through Wood Badge. Mr. Thorup for having a passion for scouting that is unsurpassed. Mr. Allen for catching the fever and taking it to the Varsity team, along with Marcel Davidson, who is the ultimate outdoorsman. Bishop Derek Christensen for catching the vision and being willing to make changes to support that vision. Bishop Steve Peterson for figuring out how to pay for all of those awards. Finally, all the boys who we have grown so close to over these past years. They are great and their families are too.