ScoutingJanuary-February 2002

An Odyssey Begins

By Suzanne Wilson

I A weekend council event planned, organized, and run by Venturers showcases the fun and skills available in the BSA's newest program for boys and girls age 14 through 20.

It was an April weekend packed with new experiences. Julle Payne, 15, who had never fired a shotgun, blasted seven of 10 clay pigeons, surprising her instructors and herself. "I thought I was going to miss them all," she said.

Tim Crownover, 15, discovered the excitement of rappelling. "Let me tell you," he said after descending the free side of the tower, "I backed up to that ledge, and I wasn't so sure I was going to go through with it. Once I felt the security of the rope, I wasn't afraid anymore."

Julle, a Senior Girl Scout, and Tim, a fire and rescue Explorer, were attending "Venturing 2001: The Odyssey Begins," in Missouri's Kansas City-based Heart of America Council. This showcase of Venturing fun and skills was open to youth of Venturing age, 14 through 20, with invitations extended to Venturing crews, Senior Girl Scout troops, Boy Scout troops, Explorer posts, church groups, and other youth organizations.

What's involved in rescuing a person from swift water? How do you plan a high adventure trip? Can you improvise first-aid treatment using ordinary items from your backpack? This was the place for answers.

For-and by-Venturers

The first-time event was designed for teenagers by teenagers, a key reason it was a success.

The concept, planning, and running of Venturing 2001 came from one main source, Crew 395, chartered to Pine Ridge Presbyterian Church, Kansas City, Mo. Their idea took shape as they talked while on the trails during a 13-day trek at Philmont Scout Ranch in summer 2000, says crew member Linda Keeney, 17. "We were trying to merge training, resources, and education with fun and make it all work out."

That fall, they approached the council, proposing a spring event for Venturing crews and other youth groups. With just six months' lead time, they were sure they could do it.

"We were already a team," says Linda. "We'd gone on camp-outs, had gone through Philmont together, knew each other's strengths and weaknesses, knew how to operate together‹how we could pull together."

The council said yes. In a brainstorming session, the Venturing crew came up with a theme. "Venturing 2001: The Odyssey Begins" was a take on the movie title "2001: A Space Odyssey." Everyone called the project "Odyssey" for short.

The idea of an odyssey, an adventurous journey or quest, was meaningful. It described the way their crew had struggled to get started, built membership, and become a team. It expressed their hope to see other crews grow through Venturing odysseys of their own.

Crew 395 was in for a new odyssey themselves, because they wanted to handle nearly everything. "That's what Venturing is about, having the youth do it," says Linda, who became the event director and whose experience became her Girl Scout Gold Award project.

Bill Donahue, crew associate Advisor, agrees. "We have to loosen the reins and let them do it."

"We couldn't have done it without the adults," Linda says. But although crew Advisor Paul Gloe, committee chairman Peter Maxwell, and Donahue stood ready to help with expertise and contacts, the Venturers insisted on running the show.

"We could have made some phone calls," says Peter Maxwell, "but they asked us to let them do [the telephoning]."

"The event was definitely that crew's idea, and the council was glad to help," says Curtis Barnhill, district Venturing coordinator. Heart of America Council offered to host the event at Camp Naish, and the council's sponsorship gave the Venturers credibility as they invited vendors and presenters to participate.

Creative fingerprints

The idea for Odyssey came just as the council was organizing a Teen Leaders Council. "We used this to jump-start the leaders council," says Barnhill, who serves as the group's adviser. "Organizers of the Odyssey event became officers, so both the council and the event got off the ground at the same time and reinforced each other."

Crew 395 put in hundreds of hours. They sent out mass mailings of fliers, e-mailed announcements to youth organizations, and produced hefty information-registration packets. Groups could download the packet and register at the crew's Web site, too. In the final three months, core staff met each Friday with Barnhill and Ross Pfannenstiel, council staff adviser for Venturing.

The crew's creative fingerprints were all over Odyssey, producing flexibility and innovation.

Camp one or two nights, or just attend on Saturday. Come to a concert of different musical styles Friday night. On Saturday, travel from one activity to another on your own schedule. Bring your own food, but if you want to, you can buy pizza and sub sandwiches from vendors at lunchtime on Saturday. Saturday night, no campfire, but we'll decorate the dining hall, have lots of food, bring in a disc jockey, have fun. A Sunday morning church service, and home you go.

"Tell me one camporee that uses movie theme music," Daniel Ayers, 18, Odyssey's assistant director, said rhetorically early Saturday morning. Campers had awakened to the theme from "Star Wars," played over the camp's public-address system.

Most organizers hadn't had much sleep Friday night, getting registration paperwork in order and completing other duties. "It's a challenge to do a first-time event," admitted David Meyer, 16, the event's deputy director of administration.

Not like visiting the mall

The camp's climbing tower and the shotgun and rifle ranges were popular stops. Girl Scout Jennifer Adams, 15, who already knew how to rappel, was drawn to the tower. "It's not something you can do every day, like going to the mall," she quipped.

Nine Venturers from Crew 2172, Topeka, Kan., split up into smaller groups to catch the activities that intrigued them. "The only session we've required is the first-aid session 'When Help Is Delayed,'" said Gregg Davis, a crew committee member.

The midway offered action at a portable climbing wall and a simulated swift-water rescue. History buffs could learn about the essentials carried in an 18th-century longhunter's haversack and spend time at a display of Civil War-era flags, weapons, and other artifacts. (For a listing of Odyssey activities, see the sidebar.)

Throughout the weekend, leaders of different groups were getting acquainted with Venturing.

"For a couple of years we've considered being a Venturing crew," said Janet D'Adamo, leader of Senior Girl Scout Troop 5591. "This is a good opportunity for us to see what Venturing is all about."

Positive results

A week after Odyssey, Crew 395 discussed the results. Feedback told them some people didn't have time to see everything. If the event were to be repeated, they would recommend assigning times for the range and the tower, so people wouldn't wait in lines when they could be exploring the midway.

On the plus side, they heard many positive comments, that they had put people in touch with each other and Venturing.

Crews planned joint outings. A youth ministries crew invited Venturing Crew 395 to be on staff for a September retreat for Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Camp Fire youth. New and prospective Venturing crew leaders, including representatives from a Boys & Girls Club, took daylong Venturing basic leader training during Odyssey.

Crew 395 achieved what it had set out to do. "We wanted it to be completely youth-run; that was one of our pride and joys," Linda Keeney said. "It was our program."

Scouting magazine contributing editor Suzanne Wilson lives in Joplin, Mo. [For more details on the 2001 Odyssey and updates for 2002, access For information on Venturing Crew 395, see]

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