The Journal Gazette
Thursday, July 16, 2020 1:00 am

Outbreak can't stop Scouts

Meetings, activities held online till Boys, Girls felt safe returning

John McKinney | For The Journal Gazette

For more than 100 years, the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Boy Scouts of America have been teaching children myriad practical skills and a message of individual and communal responsibility.

That hasn't changed in these strange and delicate times.

While some organizations scrambled to find ways to move forward after the pandemic required meetings and events to be canceled, the Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana-Michiana council had made sure it was ready.

“Well, our motto is 'Be prepared.' And so, the senior leadership team started asking ourselves – as we were watching the pandemic spread – 'What would happen if we have to go off site?'” CEO Sharon Pohly says. “So, we started developing a plan, never thinking we would really have to execute it.

“And one of the big questions was, 'How do we reach girls?' and 'How do we keep girls engaged during this time?' And so, the virtual programming kind of sprang out of that.”

Examples of that programming include creating miniature scavenger hunts, a virtual STEM camp at Purdue Fort Wayne and exploring pharmacy as a profession during a virtual Pharmacy Week with Manchester University.

Tammy Oakes, chief officer of fund development and marketing, says the area council is doing everything it can to help people.

As it turns out, those people are not only in Indiana.

The council gathered materials in the winter to prepare for a healthy cooking and eating program. Pohly and her team began creating cooking videos to share with their scouts through Facebook.

The first video was posted March 18. The council reaches a network of 5,000 members, but the new programming has had more than 15,000 views, which is unprecedented.

The council received a phone call from Orange County, California – “the O.C.!” Pohly beams – thanking them for having shared the content.

“They were really in the throes of dealing with issues around COVID-19, and they hadn't had the capacity to create programs,” Pohly says. “So, they were using ours.”

The Anthony Wayne Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, has also been taking advantage of technology during the pandemic.

John Gliot, Scout executive and CEO, says that after scouting programs stopped meeting face to face, it took about two weeks before groups began meeting virtually on platforms such as Zoom.

Some groups had virtual camping events where boys would camp in their own backyards or living rooms and meet together online.

One troop initiated a virtual community service project, where members went out to various parks and playgrounds on a Saturday afternoon to pick up litter – then they all shared photos.

“Some of our scouting programs have been beginning to meet again, practicing social distancing and mask wearing,” Gliot says. “Each of our individual packs and troops can make that decision in working with their adult leaders (and families) to decide when they want to (get together).”

Both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have used this hybrid format, with backyard virtual campouts and other activities, as many Scouts seem anxious to meet again in person.

Though socialization is a key component for children in developing the leadership skills they carry with them after leaving scouting programs, everyone seems to appreciate the increased virtual connectivity.

Pohly and Gliot foresee these virtual methods carrying on in some capacity.

Pohly envisions a Girl Scouts leader reaching out to a young member virtually, and saying, “Go out and look at this video because we're going to finish up 'X'-badge.” Then the Scout can prepare between in-person meetings.

“So, it's really expanded our capability to continue programming,” Pohly says.

While the Girl Scouts summer camp offered full refunds to all registrants, the organization did want to incorporate a physical activity aspect to their virtual approach. So, in addition to virtual badges, girls have been given the opportunity to earn “fun patches.” This entails, for example, going outside and doing 10 different outdoor exercises.

There is also a new patch that was developed in light of the coronavirus, encouraging girls to learn about the pandemic and appropriate safety precautions.

The Boy Scouts have carried on with their summer programming at Camp Chief Little Turtle in Pleasant Lake.

Safety has been the primary goal, and social distancing has been practiced with fewer attendees congregating at once.

Registration hasn't dropped, Gliot says.

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