By Cathleen Ann Steg
On a Saturday night in mid-August at the East Carolina Council's Camp Bonner, the air hung thick over the Pamlico River, pressing the water into a smooth, shimmering silver sheet. Uphill from the calm waterfront, however, the camp bustled with energy. Council professional staff members were preparing to welcome more than 500 volunteer leaders to the annual information fair known as the Program Highlights Extravaganza.
On the lawn, Scouters set up displays under covered pavilions to protect them from an approaching thunderstorm. In the dining hall, they hung bunting and Garfield Round-Up banners and checked the final details for the evening's seafood buffet.
In many other BSA local councils, districts stage their own, smaller program-preview events. Why does the East Carolina Council prefer this all-in-one approach?
"We do it for quality," explained Hank Dierker, council vice president of program. "By offering one night during which all the material for all council and district programs is handed out, everyone gets the same core information, described by the folks who know."
"The Extravaganza is ground zero for almost everything we do as a council," added Jack Crawford, council director of field service. "All fliers, calendars, and a chairman for each event or activity have to be in place by the time the preview is held. This evening, unit leaders will come here knowing they can get whatever information they need to plan their whole year."
As word of its value and impact spread throughout the council, the Extravaganza has become increasingly popularand largerevery year. Holding it at scenic (and roomy) Camp Bonner, located southeast of Washington, N.C., has allowed room for expansion.
The camp offers other advantages as well. Prior to the 5 p.m. seafood dinner and 7 p.m. official program, new Scouters, particularly those in transition from Webelos Scouting to Boy Scouting, can wander the grounds and learn about the camp. (The council has found that units whose leaders get acquainted with Bonner in August are more likely to come back during the year to camp with their troop or pack.)
Organizers avoid last-minute worries and stress by preparing well in advance and adopting a positive attitude, said Hank Dierker.
"This is a fun thing, not a do or die, 'fall on your sword,' type of event," he said with a smile. "What we've learned over the past four or five years has made it work. Things are locked in; people have been working for weeks, if not months, so we're very prepared."
Each year, lessons learned from previous events are put into effect. At the 1999 Extravaganza, for example, the Farmville Cook Crew, a group of local men who offer their cooking skills to many area community groups, set up outside the dining hall. Experience had taught them that it was too cramped to both cook and serve food indoors to such a large crowd.
To make for a friendlier first visit to camp, Explorers greeted the Scouters at the parking lotlocated about a half mile from the dining hall. They handed those arriving a pamphlet outlining the evening's program and a map of the campground. Timing of events had been tightened as well, under event chairman Mike LaBar, to ensure that the formal portion of the evening moved smoothly.
Whether the attending Scouters were first-time volunteers or seasoned leaders, they all had high expectations as they arrived in late afternoon. New Cub Scout leaders could view a pinewood derby track in action; volunteers with older Scouts could learn about Camp Bonner's newly certified Pamlico Sea Base program; and everyone could enjoy a taste of traditional Dutch-oven cooking while waiting for the fabulous fish dinner.
District displays, such as the patch and neckerchief slide collection of Croatan Trails District commissioner Darryl K. James, helped give new leaders a sense of the traditionand the funof Scouting. His "thumb tacks," each carved in the shape of a thumb; ice cream-bar neckerchief slides; and beautifully carved Scout staves inspired volunteers to include woodworking with the program ideas they took back to their units.
This visual display of Scouting lore was invaluable to Ann Edwards, new den leader with Pack 671 in the Wilson District. When asked what she hoped to learn at this kickoff, Edwards answered, "Just everything!" Scrutinizing displays eagerly, she continued: "I just bought this Cub Scout leader shirt I'm wearing. There is no leader newer than me."
Scouter William Gee of Pack 718, Rocky Mount, N.C., expressed a view held by many experienced leaders when he said that the best thing about the Extravaganza was the chance to exchange ideas with other volunteers. "Learning from others helps me improve our own pack," he said. "That's true whether the ideas are about getting more parent participation or 'transitioning' the boys up to Boy Scouts."
Everyone appreciated the unit packets, loaded with information on topics ranging from training opportunities, to camping events, to the annual Halloween "Spook-O-Ree."
The most-wanted handouts, however, were the prized council and district calendars. And to Mike LaBar, the interest in those calendars was key.
No matter what else happens all evening, said LaBar, "this program preview is a success. The people are here with their units, talking about all this information while they eat. They're already planning for a great year."
The impact of the Extravaganza can mean a successful year for the council, noted Jack Crawford, because "a lot of the things we schedule will take care of themselves. We've 'sold' the activities, so people know about them. We can get 90 percent of the units signed up for popcorn, which is a major source of their financial support. We've helped the new Scout parent, who may not have known anything about what's available, and we've placed our most experienced Scouters up front, the people best qualified to explain what we have to offer."
These knowledgeable speakers had an average of three minutes each "up front" after dinner to describe their programs. LaBar's tight scheduling and the humor of Glen Daughtridge, master of ceremonies, assured audience attentiveness. The audience listened to capsule descriptions of classic programs such as Cub Scout day camp, fall Boy Scout camporees, district pow wow, and popcorn sales.
An example of the quality of the presentations was a speech by a Boy Scout, Phillip Entzminger of Troop 340. Senior instructor for Camp Bonner's next councilwide junior leader training (JLT) conference, Entzminger vividly described his experience at his first JLT course: "At first I thought I was too cool to participate," he confessed. But once he began to join in, "I cooked up some tasty corned beef hash and did lashings until I was sore in the wrist. I graduated from JLT with honor and had the time of my life."
Following the individual program presentations, Scout Executive Harry Bynum (who is now an area director, Southern Region), turned the spotlight on the audience. "You represent about 8 to 10 percent of the registered volunteers in our council," he told them. "Because of people like you, we have a great program. If you get this program to the boys, we've really succeeded."
Mike LaBar sent the volunteers home with one final bit of encouragement: "You can, you will, and you do make the difference."
Cathleen Ann Steg, a Scouting contributing editor, lives in Fairfax, Va.
New Programs Share the Spotlight
The spotlight at the East Carolina Council's Program Highlights Extravaganza shines on Scouting's classic programs. But equally important for new Scouters is the focus on new or lesser-known features, such as:
Why add Model U.N. posts to the types of Explorer posts the council already has in its Learning for Life program? "[DFS] Jack Crawford was involved in Model U.N. as a youth," explained Scott, "and he convinced me that this is a great way to promote world citizenship."
"The leadership training is great, too," noted high school student Shelley LaBar of Explorer Post 140, daughter of event chairman Mike LaBar. In her Extravaganza presentation, she encouraged leaders with older teens in their units to sign up for the spring Project COPE program, a challenging weekend at camp designed for Explorers and other older youth members.
"The weather was horrible that week," added Megan's father, Moratock District executive Pat Curley (who is currently DE, White Oak River District). "But the program was such a hit that we're starting two new Venturing crews from the core group that came to that camp."
"We get guys who come from the mountains who've never seen the sea," said camp director Ray Hayden. "But by the end of their week here, they've kayaked with sea turtles and dolphins."
Hayden's boundless enthusiasm for the newly expanded camp was contagious. "It's kind of exciting," he told Scouters visiting his display table, "knowing you're on the ground floor of something that could be phenomenal."
A Resilient Region Responds to Challenge
A month after the East Carolina Council's August program preview, Hurricane Floyd caused widespread flood damage throughout the area. For the resilient coastal Carolinians, it was just the latest of many recent challenges.
In 1995, a fire destroyed the Camp Bonner dining hall, but a donation by area philanthropists, brothers Nick and Mayo Boddie, resulted in the new air-conditioned Boddie Dining Hall.
Hurricane damage in 1996 and a scheduled Order of the Arrow section conclave led to more camp improvements. A swimming pool and modern bathhouse were added, and OA members spent countless weekends building new shelters and an amphitheater-style campfire circle overlooking the waterfront.
"If it needed doing, Arrowmen have done it over the last few years," said Travis Worrell, Croatan Lodge chief. Work varied from filling potholes in the roads to building log cabins, from clearing out downed trees to creating a new arbor for OA performances of Native American dances.
"It's a nice feeling to know that, if you walk along any campsite, cross over any bridge, walk on any trail, the odds are the OA helped to make it what it is," Worrell said.
Hurricane Floyd forces a new focus
Then came the near knockout punch from Hurricane Floyd.
"Everyone suffered in our council," said director of field service Jack Crawford, who was immediately immersed in coordinating relief efforts among Scout units. "All previously scheduled Order of the Arrow [induction] ordeals and fall district Scout camporees were immediately given a new focus: helping where we could in our communities."
Ironically, the devastation that the hurricane caused demonstrated a benefit of the council's single-preview approach versus the practice of holding district events at different times and locations.
"It's always good to get the information out to everyone in advance," explained Crawford. "And it made more of a difference than ever this year, because we were hit so hard by Floyd in September, which is the traditional roundup month for new membership. With so many towns isolated by flooding, there's no way we could have gotten the word out about our program to all the districts, one at a time."
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