AS A BOY SCOUT, Jim Ganley’s only real high-adventure experiences came on a couple of backpacking trips he helped lead as a camp staffer. He really caught the high-adventure bug during college, when he and his friends got into backpacking as a low-cost alternative to skiing and other expensive sports.
After college, Ganley returned to his old troop as a volunteer but had a hard time convincing other adults to embrace high adventure. He eventually gave up and launched Venturing Crew 1, chartered to VFW Post 905. A dozen years later, the crew’s high-energy program attracts members from communities up to an hour’s drive away. Some members come home from college to participate in activities, and a few charter members have signed on as associate Advisors.
Where do your members come from? A lot of the boys in the crew were Scouts or are also Scouts. Over the years, we’ve drawn some Girl Scouts in, we’ve drawn some sisters of Scouts in, and we’ve drawn a few boys in who weren’t Scouts. We’re independent of any other unit, although we do try to play nicely with others.
How do kids hear about the crew? Mostly by word of mouth. We recruit from among the camp staff as well; a lot of the kids in the crew are also on the camp staff, so we have that network we can draw from. For our last open house, I ran a Facebook ad targeted at Gardner and the surrounding towns, and we got two walk-ins off the street. For the first time trying that method, we seemed to get a pretty good response.
Some crews suffer when key members leave for college. How do you handle that? It’s a challenge. One of the conversations we have with the kids every year is that we have to keep bringing in new kids if we want to keep this going. We’ve been successful at that. If we get three or four new kids a year, then I’m happy.
The crew holds only one meeting a month. Why? When we started, we decided that one meeting a month was about the limit of what was manageable for this age group. They’ve all got jobs, many of them are playing sports or doing band, most of them are AP students and things like that. They’ve got a lot of demands on their time.
What does your outdoor program look like? Most months we do a weekend activity: backpacking, kayaking, the occasional bike trip, some rock climbing. Those are usually Friday to Sunday, although some months it might just be a day. Every other year or so we do a larger trip.
What have those trips included? We’ve been to Philmont. A couple of times we’ve done a weeklong bike trip. One year we chartered a sailing schooner and did four days of sailing in the Gulf of Maine, which was great. For the summer of 2016, we’re working on a tour of national parks in the Southwest: the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion and that area.
Trips like that can get expensive. How do you handle fundraising? We’ve had mixed luck with fundraising, although for the 2016 trip, we’re pushing the fundraising a little harder. A lot of our kids have part-time jobs, so they’re paying for stuff from their earnings. In some cases, they’ve told us, “I can earn more money working than I can selling popcorn or doing another fundraiser.”
Do you rely much on outside consultants and outfitters? Not often. I have a tremendous group of adults. One of our Advisors is an outdoor-education professor, so he brings a lot of that kind of stuff to the table. Several of us have worked in various positions at camp. I’m a COPE director and a climbing director; I’ve been to camp school for those kinds of things. One of the other Advisors is a very serious kayaking enthusiast. Between him and his family, they have about 15 kayaks that they make available whenever we want them.
What’s the secret to success in Venturing? When I talk to people about this, the one thing I tell them is that you have to let the kids run the show. I think it’s at least as much of a shock for people coming out of a Boy Scout troop into a Venturing crew as it is for a Cub Scout parent going into Boy Scouting, in terms of the level of “hands-off-ness” of the adults.
Do issues arise because Venturing is coed? In my experience, it’s not that big a deal. We’ve never had a problem. If you’ve never had to deal with it before, I understand where you could be nervous, but it’s easier than you think it is.
It sounds like your kids know how to behave. They do. We have what we call rule No. 1 in the crew. Rule No. 1 is, “Don’t give me an excuse to make more rules.” They’re all on the edge of adulthood; they know how to behave. I think Venturing is the opportunity to give them the freedom to act like adults in a controlled, safe environment. You let them make decisions, and sometimes that means they make bad decisions. Sometimes that means they fail and fall on their face. But it’s a safe environment, and we can make it into a learning experience when that happens.
Fact Sheet: Jim Ganley
Years as a Scout Volunteer: 23
Current City: Gardner, Mass.
Current Positions: Advisor, Venturing Crew 1; assistant Scoutmaster, Troop 4; council executive board member
Day Job: Web developer, Database Publishing Systems Inc.
Proudest Moment in Scouting: His Eagle Scout court of honor, where he received his Eagle badge from his grandfather, a former Scoutmaster. “It was a very emotional time for him. I was proud to have been able to make him proud.”
Favorite Camp: Camp Wanocksett near Dublin, N.H. “It’s not the biggest camp in the world, it’s not the best camp in the world, but I think the staff that works there really gets it. They bend over backwards to make sure kids have a good experience.”
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