'Where You Really Get to Do Scouting'

By Robert Peterson

A week at Yawgoog Scout Reservation for two troops demonstrates why summer camp is a key element in achieving the goals of a successful Scouting program.

For most Boy Scout troops a week at summer camp is the highlight of every program year. It's generally a fun time for everybody, but it's a lot more than that.

Take it from Craig Malesra, a 17-year-old Life Scout in Troop 6 of Cranston, R.I., last summer.

"Summer camp is where leadership develops," he said. "You don't learn leadership in a troop meeting hall. You learn it out in the woods where you have to work together to survive. There are no modern comforts or technology to take care of you. Mommy and Daddy aren't there. If a patrol doesn't have strong leadership, nothing gets done."

That's just one observation about the value of summer camp that reflects the findings of a survey of Scouts, adult leaders, and parents conducted for the BSA by Harris Interactive, a New York research and consulting firm, in the summer of 2000.

Harris surveyed boys and leaders in 106 camps in 89 local councils. Harris also got opinions from almost 5,300 parents about their perceptions of the value of summer camp for their sons. (See sidebar.)

Two troops in camp

Last August, Scouting magazine visited boys and leaders in two troops that participated in the Harris study while they were at Yawgoog Scout Reservation in Rhode Island's Narragansett Council.

Both troops are fixtures on the annual summer camp schedule at Yawgoog.

One is Troop 6 of St. Ann's Catholic Church in Cranston. Sixty-six of its 78 Scouts and several of its adult leaders were in camp, all wearing distinctive yellow baseball caps and red T-shirts emblazoned with large yellow 6's. Four other Troop 6 members were part of the camp's summer staff.

The other troop, 371 of Mahopac, N.Y., had six of its 17 Scouts in camp. (Other Troop 371 Scouts had spent a week at the Westchester-Putnam Council's Curtis S. Read Scout Reservation in New York's Adirondack Mountains.)

In addition to the benefits to individual Scouts, summer camp also plays a key role in the success of a troop's annual program, says Frank Ferraro, who became Troop 6's Scoutmaster in 1990. He sees summer camp as marking both an ending of the current program year and the beginning of the new one.

"Summer camp is the culmination of one year and the foundation for the next," he explained. "A successful summer camp caps off last year's program and sets us up for the next year."

Junior leaders

The troop elects its senior patrol leader and other junior leaders at camp. At the week's last big troop campfire on Friday night, most of Troop 6's 58 committee members would be on hand to hear the announcement of the troop leadership for the coming year.

To follow up on the successful summer camp experience, Scoutmaster Ferraro said he scheduled training sessions for the troop's new boy leaders early in September, before the first troop meeting of the new program year.

The large number of registered adult leaders helps Ferraro focus on training junior leaders, an essential task for a successful boy-led troop.

"All assistant Scoutmasters and committee members have specific responsibilities, which allows me to spend more time training my junior leaders and not worrying about little things that many other Scoutmasters end up doing themselves," Ferraro said.

"I explain to our adult leaders that a key part of my job is to train junior leaders and [that] by [their] doing an effective job in their areas of responsibility, they are supporting me in that effort."

A week at summer camp "is when you really get to do Scouting," Ferraro emphasized. "Here, we get to practice what we have preached all year. And there are no interruptions or outside influences."

First-year Scouts

Troop committee chairman John Kostrzewa noted how important summer camp is for integrating new Scouts into the troop.

"The first-year Scouts have been in the troop just two or three months. They may have been on one camping trip, and they are just forming patrols," he explained. "This is the week when they live together, eat together, work on advancement together, and start to learn to work together—a life lesson we all need."

Assistant Scoutmaster Frank Carnevale, a former troop committee chairman, said he was not surprised that the Harris Interactive report on Yawgoog's Scouts in 2000 was favorable. "The results were what I expected," he said. "The survey confirmed the effective way we run the program."

"The best thing the survey did was tell us we were going in the right direction with the programs we offer here," camp director Tom Sisson added. Yawgoog's approval rating from Scouts was 82 percent, compared with the survey's national average of 78 percent.

Troop 6 leaders, as well as Dave Ames, Scoutmaster of Mahopac's Troop 371, said they agreed with the survey's conclusion that summer camp is such a valuable experience because its environment and activities incorporate all of the elements of healthy youth development. In particular, they cited from their own observations the fact that many parents found their sons were much more responsible and mature after a week at camp.

"Every once in a while, a parent comes up to me and asks, 'What did you do to my kid?'" Ames said. "They'll say: 'He now offers to help with the dishes, and he cleans his room. I don't even have to yell at him!'"

Making friends

Scouts echoed the Harris survey's finding that friendships often blossom among Scouts during a week at summer camp.

"When you come to a Scout camp, located in the woods away from everything else, you quickly find that you have to depend on each other—and that's where friendships start," observed Craig Malesra, who served as senior patrol leader for Troop 6 at camp last summer.

"I have two or three 'best friends' in school, but most of my friendships are in my Scout troop. And when it comes to making friends, it has taken me two or three years at school to make as many friends as I did in one week at Yawgoog."

Malesra's counterpart in Troop 371, junior assistant Scoutmaster Anthony Taylor, 17, added that camp requires boys to learn leadership. "It gives you a sense of responsibility and can help you all through life by giving you leadership skills," he said.

It was clear that these Scouts and Scouters agreed fully with the Harris study's major conclusion that summer camp is more than just a place to have fun.

It is also an opportunity for boys to participate in physically and intellectually challenging activities, be introduced to new and rewarding experiences, and experience supportive and caring relationships with other youth and adults.

Contributing editor Robert Peterson lives in Ramsey, N.J.

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