By Nettie Hunsaker Francis
A Utah council creates a dynamic week of individual learning and family bonding by staging youth and adult leadership courses along with programs for spouses and children.
"On your mark, get set, go!" shouts National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT) course senior patrol leader Caleb Gorringe. Four patrols of blindfolded Scouts unroll their tents and, talking back and forth furiously, try to quickly pitch a tent without the ability to see what they're doing.
Across a lake, several patrols of adult Scout leaders, participants in a Wood Badge for the 21st Century training course, also practice team-building skills by constructing and launching water rockets.
One or both scenes would not be uncommon at any council Scout camp. But a closer look reveals a meadow within sight of both courses where 7-year-old children, dubbed "Pioneers," are making butter in a jar. And up the hill at the camp archery range, 11-year-old boys, called "Trappers," are shooting arrows, while down at the waterfront, youth ages 12 through 14, the "Mountain Men" and "Mountain Women," are playing pirate games in rowboats.
Meanwhile, spouses of Wood Badge participantssome of them also a parent of a NYLT Scoutare quilting in the resource area, learning to cook with herbs at the handicraft pavilion, or out horseback riding.
Born at Philmont
The inaugural Family Training Camp, sponsored by the Trapper Trails Council, headquartered in Ogden, Utah, was held last July at the council's Camp Bartlett, located in southern Idaho. The weeklong event featured a Wood Badge course, two NYLT courses, and a family camp.
The idea was born two years earlier when the Trapper Trails Council's Key 3Scout Executive Rick Barnes, council president Reed Richards, and then-council commissioner Brent Christensenwere attending a course at the Philmont Training Center in New Mexico. One evening they were discussing the council's future Wood Badge courses.
"We were struggling to recruit participants and had already cut several Wood Badge courses from the council agenda," Richards remembered. "We realized it is a big commitment for fathers or mothers to leave their families for a week of training, and we decided to 'mirror' the program at the Philmont Training Center, where activities are provided for families and spouses while leaders are trained."
The result was a family-oriented approach, said Christensen. "Instead of leaving their families [in order] to be trained, Scout leaders would bring them along."
In planning the event, it helped that Scout Executive Rick Barnes had served as director of the Philmont Training Center from 2000 to 2001 and was familiar with the family camp concept. The inaugural council camp was scheduled for summer 2005, and promotion began in October 2004. Acceptance by local Scouters was immediate, and by the first week of November, the Wood Badge course was filled and had a waiting list.
Families began arriving at camp on the morning of Monday, July 4. While Wood Badge and NYLT participants began their programs, family members attended an orientation and then divided into age groups for a variety of activities.
While NYLT Scouts spent most of the week with their assigned patrols, Wood Badge participants were able to eat meals and camp with their families.
It was not unusual for families to have more than one member attending a training course. For example, while Mike Nybo from Kaysville, Utah, attended Wood Badge, his son, Jeffrey, 14, went to NYLT, and his wife, Cathie, and other children participated in family camp. On Monday night, everyone came together for an opening campfire.
"At the campfire, there was a skit about [Scouting's founder, Robert] Baden-Powell," Cathie Nybo said. "I had never heard his story before, and it gave me a new vision of Scouting [which will make it easier] for me to support my boys and husband in the program."
Each morning after breakfast, patrols of Wood Badge trainees gathered on "Gilwell Field" for the flag-raising ceremony. As the Scouters sang the rousing "Back to Gilwell" Wood Badge song, spouses and children observed from the meadow, absorbing the spirit of the moment while taking photographs for the family album.
Mitch Hansen, 7, had caught the Scouting spirit. "I'm going to do that someday," he commented as he watched his dad singing with the Fox Patrol. "I can't wait to be a Boy Scout!"
'Better than Disneyland!'
As Wood Badge participants began their daily training sessions, the children met with group leaders. For Daniel Nybo, 8, that meant the "Miner's 49ers" group, with activities that included swimming, crafts, and working on requirements for Cub Scout badges.
He obviously enjoyed the program, because during the week he said to his mother that "This is the best experience of my whole life!"
Daniel wasn't the only child having a great time. "Family camp is better than Disneyland," offered Maranda Garrett, 8, as she displayed a canvas backpack she had decorated in her "Settlers" group.
Often hard-to-please teenagers also appeared happy with their portion of the family camp program. A main reason was that, in addition to in-camp activities, they were able to participate in high adventure-type outings beyond the confines of Camp Bartlett, like overnight hikes and rafting on the nearby Bear River.
Wives and husbands in the "Spousekateers" group had a memorable schedule of daily field trips, including waterskiing, horseback riding, and tours of area historical sites. Those staying in camp took advantage of classes on topics such as cooking, parenting techniques, and scrapbooking.
'A new dynamic'
"One of our major concerns was whether families in camp would detract from the training courses," commented Jeff Bybee, council vice president for program. "But in fact, the opposite happened. Families in camp added an exciting new dynamic."
"Not only did the Wood Badge patrols bond together, but whole families became acquainted," added Wood Badge course director Dave Hall. "There was no hindrance to team development."
Thursday night's Wood Badge schedule called for participants to conduct a campfire. As their families watched, the participants performed skits and songs.
For the closing, as part of the Wood Badge curriculum to teach Scout advancement, staff members were inducted as Venturing instructors. A quiet tone pervaded as families and Wood Badge participants left the campfire bowl together and walked down an "honor trail." Along the way, 12 Wood Badge participants stood at the side of the trail holding flashlights to light the route back to the camp lodge.
"A Scout is trustworthy," said the first honor trail guide as families passed. "A Scout is loyal," said the second guide. "A Scout is helpful," declared a third, and so on down the path.
"This...experience...will stay with families for a long time," observed Richard Hyer, Wood Badge senior patrol leader.
On Friday night, Wood Badge and NYLT participants went on a patrol camping experience while families stayed in camp for an evening program.
The following morning, the training sessions ended. As Wood Badge and NYLT participants hugged each other in what were often tearful farewells, spouses and children also joined in the hugging and goodbyes.
After a week of being mostly with his fellow NYLT participants, Jeffrey Nybo was reunited with his family.
"When I told my dad about some of the leadership skills we had learned at NYLT, he told me that he had learned the same ones at Wood Badge. How cool!" he exclaimed.
"The greatest benefit to my family is yet to come," his father added. "I'll use what we have learned to build a family team."
"Before, boys [taking youth leader training] would go home at the end of the week and try to explain to their parents what they'd experienced," commented Jerry Bowden, NYLT Scoutmaster. "Now they can share [experiences] as an entire family."
Organizers declared the family training camp concept a success and announced plans for a future session. Several families with a parent participating in Wood Badge training said the other parent would attend the course next time; other families had members express a desire to serve on staff.
One major outcome of family training camp was apparent: Whether as staff, trainee, or family participant, almost everyone wanted to return.
A Wood Badge-trained Scouter, freelance writer Nettie Hunsaker Francis also serves as a committee member for Troop 64, chartered to the Las Vegas, Nev., 3rd Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
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