Sunday, October 12, 2014

Summer Camp at Blackhawk – The Preparation

As I mentioned earlier, when I was called to be Scoutmaster I was also informed that the boys were to have a troop sponsored summer camp and not to attend a council sponsored camp. There is a great difference between these two types of camps – at least from the Scoutmaster’s point of view.

At a council camp, the council is responsible for the merit badge classes, activities and other items designed to occupy the boy’s time. The busier the boys were the less trouble they would get into. Well, that’s the theory. They get into enough trouble even when their schedule is full. Twelve to thirteen year-old boys are the epitome of chaos.

With a troop sponsored camp, the entire burden of the camp rests upon the shoulders of the Scoutmaster. Well, I should say the Scoutmaster and the troop committee. But the troop committee rarely exists and when it does exist, it rarely contributes in any way to the troop.

In the LDS world, people are called to serve on the troop committee. The committee is supposed to be comprised of men and women who have a vested interest in scouting. They are to offload from the Scoutmaster all the details it takes to run a troop so the Scoutmaster can focus his full attention to the boys. This is a great system, when it works. I have never seen it work.

It mostly fails in the LDS world because those who have the capacity, desire, and drive to make such a calling truly work are called to other positions in the ward. If someone is passionate about something and is willing to truly invest in it, do you want that person as a member of a small committee or do you want that person serving in and Elder Quorum, Relief Society, or somewhere else where that sort of conviction can do the most good? Well, the answer is obvious.

As a result, the LDS troop committee is typically filled with members who are not self-motivated and are not heavy contributors to the cause. Such was the case when I was in charge of our troop summer camp. The ward leadership simply handed the task to me and wished me luck. I didn’t even know who was on the troop committee.

But I did know that there were three key people I could turn to so that I could avert a disaster. They were Burt Conrad, Dave Freeman, and Orrin Nelson. I developed a deep trust and great friendship with each of these people from our time working on and executing this Scout camp.

The first act of planning a successful summer camp was to determine where to go. As I was completely new to the area, I had no idea where to host this camp. I was leaning towards the Holiday Inn, but that was outside our budget.

Burt mentioned that there was a great campsite in the Payson canyons called Blackhawk. It was less than an hour away, it had ready access to a city in the event of an emergency (and with boys this age there is always an emergency), and it had running water and bathrooms. Running water and bathrooms was an essential part of my camping needs.

Orrin was likewise familiar with this site, so I agreed that this would be our primary choice for a camp. I also arranged to meet Burt up at the site a few days later so I could become familiar with it and this could help me determine what we will be doing while at camp. On a Monday evening Karen and I packed up all our kids in our van and we followed the Conrad’s to make an assessment of the campsite.

They were right. This was a perfect site for a small troop. Yes, I was still quite apprehensive about doing this summer camp. But now that we had a great site, at site I had been to, I started believing this summer camp thing could actually work. But the site was just to beginning. Now we had to determine what to do while at the site.

When I met with the boys at our next Scout meeting, I explained that we had a place to go and then I asked them what they wanted to do there. Well, that was a mistake. You never let young boys brainstorm without providing them ample guidance. So after listening to their mostly unreasonable ideas, I decided to start the conversation over.

I asked the boys to tell me what merit badges they had. Then we looked at the list of merit badges they wanted and from this, we decided to focus on five merit badges that each of them had interest in. Not only interest, but these merit badges would help then advance towards Eagle. After much effort and a lot of coaxing from Burt Conrad, who was now my Assistant Scoutmaster, we decided to pursue: Wilderness Survival, Pioneering, Camping, Cooking, and Environmental Science.

Now that we had an idea what we wanted to accomplish at summer camp, I also had a built-in agenda on what to do each week at scout meetings. At a council camp you have the resources to complete almost all merit badges they offer in the time you are at camp. With a troop summer camp, I didn’t have those resources. Burt and I decided to make summer camp the end of the merit badge rather than the beginning.

So, for the next few months we dedicated each scout meetings to learning about and passing off as many of the requirements for the selected merit badges as possible. Each week we would have a ward member come and help us fulfill specific merit badge requirements. One of the best activities was when Dave Freeman came and taught us how to lash.

Lashing is using ropes and poles to build structures – this is the key skill required in the Pioneering merit badge. The boys really enjoyed working with Dave and Burt in learning how to lash. Now, remember, Burt was the Scoutmaster before I was called but was unable to capture the imagination of the boys. But in his role as assistant, he excelled.

I remembered how Dad created games that helped solidify newly learned skills in the minds of his Scouts. Following Dad’s example, I created a series of competitions to increase the boy’s confidence in lashing. It was a great success. When we would use the cultural hall to test our lashing skills, many of the older boys, who have long since lost their enthusiasm for scouting, joined in our games and had a great time. Now I was helping to foster a relationship between to older and younger boys in the ward.

It was then that I learned the mastery Dad had with the boys. It wasn’t so much scouting skills they desired. They simply wanted to have fun, compete, and feel part of community. When you can combine fun and competition with learning, you have the goose that laid the golden egg. As a result of these weekly games with my small troop and the older boys, I was starting to get to know more of the youth in our ward. This would become extremely important in a few years.

By the time we were ready to leave for scout camp, we were one or two requirements away from completing each of the five merit badges. The boys were excited. My assistants were excited. The parents were excited. I was apprehensive.

I hated camping. I hated hiking. I hated campfires.

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