Scouting at home: Boy Scout Troop 25 holds virtual meetings
BEMIDJI -- Click link, unmute mic, say hello.
This is the new order of operations for Boy Scout Troop 25 each Monday night. The troop held their fourth virtual meeting via Zoom on April 13, with around 30 people participating in the call.
“There is so much uncertainty out there with everything going on right now,” Boy Scout District Director Brad Olson said. “But even in the midst of everything going on we are still meeting, we’re still doing things, our kids are still getting together and getting things done.”
Scoutmaster Greg Roberts said their troop members hail from Bemidji and surrounding communities including Bagley, Tenstrike and Blackduck.
“We’re not allowed to do campouts anymore, but we can still meet, it's just a little different,” Roberts explained. “This allows us to do some of the scout programs that we would normally do -- even though it’s not as interactive as it would be -- it has been great, and so much better than doing nothing.”
Olson explained how with so many cooped up at home during the coronavirus pandemic, the meetings have been a great way for the scouts and their adult leaders to get some social interaction, and keep up with learning many of the same skills they typically would in person.
“One of the main things we try to do is to train youth to be leaders, and in order to do that we put the scouts in charge and have them lead,” Roberts said. “They help us plan meetings and events and help put a lot of things together.”
Life Scout Micah Bernard, 14, is a senior patrol leader for Troop 25, and was the guy in charge on Monday.
“It’s been a little bit weird,” Bernard said of the new meeting format. “But I think it’s also been a good opportunity because we’ve been able to plan some things that haven’t really been able to do in physical meetings. Even though it’s been a little bit different, I’ve kind of gotten used to it.”
Bernard explained that they have been doing many of the same things they would do during a typical meeting.
“We go over scout requirements, discuss how to earn different merit badges, do team building exercises,” he explained. “We’ve been playing games too, so far we’ve done hangman, we've done Pictionary and Cahoots.”
The troop meets each week all year long, and Olson explained it’s a great way for youth around the community to find things to do even in wintertime.
“Our organization is built on being outside and spending time outdoors,” Olson said. “So for people who are looking for something to do this might be a great opportunity for them, even if it’s later on down the road.”
The timing of the pandemic hasn’t put a major dent in their usual routine. At this time of the year they generally are doing a lot of indoor activities anyway, due to the colder weather. But soon they will begin prep for more outdoor related things.
One thing the troop has had to call off due to the stay-at-home order is their annual pancake breakfast fundraiser, and at this time they are unsure of when that will be able to be held.
“It’s all been an interesting transition,” said Brittany Inkel, chair for the troop training committee. “We do a weekly planning meeting to plan out our Zoom meetings now.”
She said the leaders are holding the planning meetings on Friday evenings to get things together for their Monday night troop meetings. Before the pandemic began, their in-person meetings were planned out primarily via email.
“I almost feel like this is easier somehow,” she added. “It’s kind of cool to have a scheduled time to come together and plan the next meeting this way.”
Around 6:45 p.m. the scouts started trickling into the meeting and the call became a buzz of activity as everyone said their hellos and worked out any technical difficulties.
Once the boys had chatted about what they had been up to, who had new haircuts, and how they were faring with, as one scout put it, “the world being canceled,” Bernard called the meeting to order.
To kick things off, he requested the troop join him in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which was followed by a slew of voices reciting in attempted unison -- as everyone ended up a little off thanks to internet lag.
This was then followed by the group reciting the Scout Oath: “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
Lastly, they all said the Scout Law together in choppy harmony: “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent."
Now the meeting was ready to begin. Once announcements were made and new business had been discussed, the scouts were then assigned to their respective breakout groups along with their adult leaders.
Inkel noted that during a typical in-person meeting they would all divide up into smaller groups, with Zoom allowing them to still operate in similar fashion by her assigning the troop members to five different breakout rooms within the call.
“It’s kind of fun, because I have to pre-assign them all beforehand,” Inkel said. “So when I get the signal from Micah that we are ready to break out into the rooms, I just open the rooms and the scouts all disappear into them, which is a really exciting part to me.”
She explained that on this particular evening two of the rooms were dedicated to helping some of the newer recruits work on scout rank requirements. This includes things like memorizing the oaths and explaining the four steps in the scout advancement process.
Two other rooms would be going over first-aid related topics such as how to handle burns, cuts, bleeding control, and other things they might encounter on campouts.
The last group was specifically for older scouts to discuss options for merit badges. Inkel said that even though a lot of times they pursue merit badges as a troop, there is also the opportunity for them to pursue them individually.
“Because of this online forum, it has actually opened up quite a few opportunities for us to connect with merit badge counselors across the country in addition to the ones here in our community,” Inkel said.
Her husband, Ehren, was on the call Monday evening as a counselor for topics such as geology, mining, aviation and orienteering.
Skills for life
Olson explained there are a total of 135 merit badges that scouts can earn. Though some are required -- citizenship in the community, first-aid and personal management -- there are also lots of other badges they can work toward based on personal interests.
“A lot of times merit badges tend to be gateways for some who realize it could be a possible career path or maybe a hobby for them,” Olson said. “So it’s kind of an exploratory type thing in most cases.”
He said the wide variety of options they have to pursue different badges can help motivate them to try things they maybe wouldn’t otherwise.
“It also sets them up to learn a lot of life skills,” Olson said. “Even from a peer standpoint, when we get to the meetings it’s the kids who are running it. There’s leadership positions as they go through their rank advancement where they can gain senior patrol or patrol leader, the program allows them to gain that confidence to talk to somebody and to lead a group.”
As so many are stuck at home and spending a lot of time on computers and phones, Olson is said he is glad they have been able to continue their work and teach the scouts skills he believes will last them a lifetime.
“It’s like a little family,” Olson said. “People get along and as new people come in they take them under their wing and help them along the trail of life, and that’s really fun to watch and be a part of.”