LIKE MANY FORMER Boy Scouts, Jeff Kay drifted away from Scouting until he had kids. When his older son was ready for Tiger Cubs, Kay returned, serving five years as an assistant den leader and another three years with his younger son’s den.
Then, in the summer of 2011, he embarked on a much bigger challenge — as did other members of St. Jude Catholic Church. Under the leadership of parishioner (and Eagle Scout) Tommy Baril, St. Jude simultaneously started a Cub Scout pack, a Boy Scout troop, a Venturing crew and an American Heritage Girls troop. Kay became the crew’s Advisor, and two years later he took the group on a trip to Northern Tier.
Starting four units at once is a big undertaking. How did you pull it off? We really just went down the list the BSA provides. It was basically weekly meetings, getting all the details sorted out, making sure we hit all the BSA’s requirements for leadership, training and all those things. We worked very closely with Eric Williamson, our district executive. Most of us who were Scouters in other units already knew Eric. It’s not like we were all going to a new location with all new people where we didn’t know whom to talk to. We just followed the plan, and it worked out very well.
How did you find leaders and members? We found an associate Advisor who had been a crew Advisor before, and I pulled a longtime friend from when my son was in Cub Scouts to be the committee chair. As for members, most everyone has joined as a result of word of mouth.
What did you do about money and equipment? The church gifted each unit with $300, and the Knights of Columbus gifted each unit with $150. As for equipment, everybody had their own gear or it was easy enough to share what other people had. So the crew invested in very high-quality backpacking tents with the money we had.
Who decided that? The Venturers. We fought very hard to make sure the crew stayed youth led. There was a lot of guided discussion where we as adults kind of led them to a logical conclusion. But at the end of the day, the decision was theirs.
How do kids fit crew activities into busy high school schedules? The only day everybody could get together was Sunday. We have one hour every two weeks when they get together for logistics stuff. We try to do one local campout or something like that one weekend a month. We also try to fit in evening activities — something like going rock climbing.
How did that Northern Tier trip come about? The troop was taking two crews, and there were still two or three open slots that week. We only had about seven youth who were interested in going, but we were also coming up on our recruiting event.
So you took the plunge? They chose to use their hard-earned money and place a deposit for two crews, knowing that they barely had enough to fill one crew. They didn’t want to have five or six kids join the crew and then not be able to go to Northern Tier. It gave them the drive to go out and recruit a little harder.
Did the gamble pay off? We took 10 youth and six adults.
Some Scouters are afraid of coed activities. Your take? I always advocate for coed crews. People say, “Boys don’t act the same around girls” or “They try to impress the girls.” That’s exactly the point. At this age, they need to get used to working with members of the opposite sex.
Have you had any issues with Venturers dating? When they wrote their bylaws in the first couple of weeks, they said there will be no dating in the crew. If you want to date, one person has to leave the crew. What they foresaw is six months down the road, when somebody breaks up with somebody and there’s a rift in the crew because people are going to take sides. They said, “We just won’t do that.”
You started the units at St. Jude to help young people practice their faith while growing in Scouting. Have your members pursued religious emblems? About three-fourths are doing the Pope Pius XII award. The really nice thing about it is that it helps the youth start determining their vocation in life — not only for a religious vocation, but in their career decisions as well.
What’s your advice for other Venturing leaders? Dare to fail. We put the Northern Tier trip together thinking, “Man, this is gonna be tough.” We had some doubts, but we took the risk anyway and were rewarded for it later.
Years as a Scout Leader: 13
Current City: Allen, Texas
Current Positions: Associate Advisor, Venturing Crew 131
Day Job: Self-employed corporate pilot
Favorite Camps: Sid Richardson Scout Ranch, northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. “When I was a Scout, we went there a lot. It holds a lot of sentimental value.”
Proudest Moment in Scouting: Watching his Venturers participate in an 1870s U.S. Cavalry re-enactment as part of Sid Richardson Scout Ranch’s Chisholm Trail Adventure. “Looking at those kids — all of them smiling, some of them sunburned, but everybody having such a good time — that makes it all worthwhile.”