By Mac Gardner
Adult volunteers take a key step in becoming fully trained Boy Scout unit leaders by participating in council-level Leader Specific Training.
Frigid breezes cause Mathew Brandt to shiver, and he pulls his coat around his neck. Patches of an unexpected October snowfall crunch underfoot as he heads for the registration cabin.
Brandt is one of 38 leaders training to be better Boy Scout unit leaders. They're participating in Introduction to Outdoor Leader Skills, a Friday-to-Saturday course of Leader Specific Training being conducted by the California Inland Empire Council, headquartered in Redlands, Calif. Site for the training is Camp Emerson, in Idyllwild, a small community nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains about 45 miles southwest of Palm Springs.
Despite frigid conditions, trainees register, quickly pitch their tents, and then head for the camp lodge. Cooks Neil Rover and Nicolas Dennington are waiting to warm empty stomachs and cold fingers with hot pots of beef stew.
More trainees arrive, many sharing smiles and hearty handshakes with others in the group. Eight are women, most with a background in Cub Scouting. The men have varied experience, including Varsity Scouting.
'Things have changed...'
Patrols are organized with a mixed membership from throughout the council.
"Mixing them up gets the guys and gals out of their comfort zones," explains Tracy Crittendon-Youden, event adviser and district director from the council professional staff. "They have already met in two sessions at the council office and have picked up new ideas from pals."
Matt Brandt is typical. He is an Eagle Scout, in a Scouting family, and has two sons. Professionally, he is a firefighter, but his "business" card proudly announces that he is a den leader with Pack 444, chartered to Airwater International in Riverside. He will soon become assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 444.
Hearing of Brandt's previous Scouting experience, a buddy asks, "Matt, why do you need more training?"
"I know things have changed since I was a boydifferent programs, titles, and insignia," Brandt replies. "I want to catch up with the new stuff."
When stomachs are filled, course chairman Mike Donaldson raises his right hand in the Scout sign and officially opens the program.
Although Donaldson is currently Cubmaster of Pack 703, of The Grove Community Church in Riverside, he is an experienced Scouter familiar with the program. His staff includes many other knowledgeable Scouters who have spent six months planning the course. During the two days, most of them direct or assist in teaching more than one Scout skill.
After Donaldson's introduction, Paula Boothe takes center stage. Boothe is a veteran camper and has served as program director for the council's Cub Scout camp.
She ably covers Leave No Trace principles, emphasizing "Pack it in, pack it out" and respect for others. She ends her pitch with "Leave no tracein camp, in the community, in school, in your troop."
"And in my home!" comes an enthusiastic voice from way in the back of the hall. It's an optimistic yell because Heather Kurowski, its initiator, has an 11-year-old son. She is also a new assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 357, of Jess Ranch Community Church in Apple Valley.
As the session ends, trainees head for their tents, facing a cold night's sleep. On Saturday morning, things don't warm up much, as a local radio weatherman reports a low of 29 degrees in the Idyllwild area.
One woman trainee is asked how she slept. "Just fine," she replies. "I came preparedwe believe in the Boy Scout Motto."
The sun finding its way through the clouds does promise some welcome warmth later in the day.
After breakfast in the dining hall, everybody heads for the meadow where skill stations are set up. Chairman Mike Donaldson assigns each patrol a starting spot, and the groups rotate from station to station.
Instructor Judy Graeber is demonstrating fire starting and safety at her station when she briefly turns away to greet a visitor. Turning back, she discovers her listeners taking turns warming cold hands on her gas stove.
"Hey, we're supposed to be resourceful," explains Aaron Rhoades, new assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 15, of Redlands First Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Throughout her presentation on woods toolsaxes, saws, and knivesCynthia Blessum stresses safety. The Scouters pay attention and survive their hands-on practice sessions without cuts or scrapes.
In backpacking, the trainees wonder why presenter Rick Pohlers is carrying such a huge pack. He pats his big bag and says, "If I'm going to pack it very far, I want to eat good!"
Pohlers explains that he has spent 30 years in search-and-rescue work. He has needed a big pack on occasion, he says, like when he "tested his young body" by climbing Mount McKinley in Alaska in 1978. "The trip took almost a month, and that was over snow and ice on crampons."
But "that's backpacking in the extreme," he adds. "You must put your packing challenges on a boy's level. As he gains experience, you can raise the bar."
After taking some short hikes, the trainees attend lively sessions on first aid, map and compass, ropes, cooking, and plant and animal identification.
Sue Clemente holds her nature-study session in the nature lodge. Although indoors, her area is now probably the coldest place in camp, as the sun has made outdoor temperatures almost tolerable.
Cooking instruction by Pat (Peaches) Rogers and Wally Clemente is followed by the trainees preparing their own lunches, wrapped in aluminum foil and baked over hot coals.
Time for reflection
As stations close, the campers reflect about the weekend. Hector Rivera, a middle-school administrator in his first year as Scoutmaster of Troop 304, of the United Methodist Church Men's Club in Murrieta, is impressed with the instructors' knowledge.
"Training was the first thing I needed and looked for when I became a unit leader," he says. "And, wow, this gang [of trainers] is wonderful!"
"This is the first Scout training I've had since I was a boy," says Aaron Rhoades. "The best thing about this is that we're getting knowledge now, ahead of time, that we're going to use down the line."
"Besides skills, in this training I've learned where I can get help when I need it," Heather Kurowski acknowledges with a smile. "I've also found that leaders have to be good managers."
Tim Purvis, a Scouter with Troop 304, admits he had entered the course with some skepticism.
"With my backgroundbeing a Scout and then five years as a Cub Scout leader and one year as an assistant ScoutmasterI admit that I did not think I would gain leadership skills beyond what I already had. But I was wrong. I learned a tremendous amount of information to share with our boys."
For Matt Brandt, the best part of the training "was finding that the basic values of Scouting have not changed. The whole weekend was a great review. The patrol system is still impressive, and, as a result, I see great joys ahead for our troop."
And that's the hope of any course director, staff member, and professional staffer. Trained leaders are confident and happy leadersthe kind of Scouters Leader Specific Training is designed to produce.
Mac Gardner, a retired professional Scouter and former Scouting magazine editor, lives in Eureka, Calif.
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