WESTFIELD-“Scouting is alive and well in Western Massachusetts,” according to officials at the Western Massachusetts Council of Boy Scouts of America.
“We just adapted to follow the restrictions needed to keep families safe during the pandemic,” noted Cheryl Izyk, vice president of membership.
While traditional camporees and summer camp became virtual this year, Izyk said packs and troops continued to meet through the Zoom platform, as well as Google Meet and the Microsoft Teams video systems.
“Scouts have discovered they can continue to earn merit badges, camp, learn, and stay part of their cub scout pack or troop,” said Izyk.
Fall registration is underway to join a pack or troop with programming offered for youth from kindergarten to 21 years-old. Additionally, leadership opportunities are available for parents.
In past years as schools open in September, in-person registration would be hosted by scout groups for families to join. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, registration is now online through www.BeAScout.org with program descriptions.
“Most unit activities will take place outside or virtually,” said Izyk. “Scouting is dedicated to providing opportunities for kids and families to get outside, be active, and stay safe while also participating in classic events with health, safety, and compliance with health regulations strictly complied with. Like schools, many units are using a hybrid approach.”
While the pandemic sidelined several popular programs this year, volunteers have been working on maintenance projects and preparing for larger Moses Scout Reservation projects when scouts can once again return to the grounds.
“During the pandemic volunteers have focused on exterior staining and some interior painting has been started where social distancing and good air flow are possible,” said Philip Brodeur, vice president, communications. “Metal roofing continued to be installed on the smaller buildings, and recently, the cabin at the Challenge Course had its shingles stripped, decking repaired, and metal roofing installed.”
Brodeur added that tree work was completed during the summer to remove diseased trees and to prepare for new underground water lines and road improvements. Additional maintenance repairs included door and window replacements.
“The greatest impacts from the pandemic have been our Scouts not meeting in person, attracting new families, and, of course, the financial consequences of canceling fundraisers and loss of income from operations,” said Brodeur.
Brodeur noted that other scouting councils “opened their virtual doors to scouts” which enabled local youth to attend classes presented by experts across the country in merit badges not often earned.
“Our in-person use of the Moses Scout Reservation had to be suspended but the camp is slowly opening up,” said Brodeur. “We will restart in person our monthly Woronoco Heights Outdoor Adventure (WHOA) program on Oct. 17.”
Brodeur added that the WHOA program is limited to 35 people and has a special restart price of $10 per person. For more information and to register for the Oct. 17 event, visit https://www.wmascouting.org/WHOA.
One of the troops that also recently helped to spruce up the campground was Girl Troop 124, led by Scoutmaster Jodie Gaugh. The girls painted the interior of one of the cabins.
Madeline Bresnahan, 11, was among the girls who pitched in and joined the painting party.
“I joined scouts because it looked like a ton of fun,” said Bresnahan, adding, “I just wanted to go camping and get more badges.”
Bresnahan’s brother was already in scouts so she had an opportunity to attend events with him.
“At the time all of my friends were scouts, and when I had the chance to join cub scouts as a girl, I was very excited,” said Bresnahan. “It gave me something to do that was fun and eventful. I love talking to other people and gaining friendships.”
Bresnahan also encourages other girls to join the scouting program.
“Other girls should join Troop 124 because I just joined this group and I’ve already learned tons of new things,” said Bresnahan, noting her favorite programs range from archery, slingshots, hiking and the hatchet toss, to learning “fun songs” and gaining new skills.
“This year we have so many fun things planned,” said Bresnahan. “It would just be great if more girls can join so we can all have fun together.”
Gaugh has been active in the scouting program for more than seven years and “believes in the program.”
“The more involved I got, the more I saw what an amazing program this is,” said Gaugh. “It is so well designed and teaches youth so many amazing life skills that they don’t even realize they are developing.”
Gaugh added programs for scouts center on solving problems, developing confidence, and learning leadership traits.
“I’ve seen the difference it makes as scouts grow, mature and become more independent,” said Gaugh. “They are so much more prepared for adulthood. They will be successful and do great things. They will be responsible citizens, great leaders, helpful and kind individuals.”
Melanie McNamara, cubmaster for Pack 820 at Southampton Road School, shared a similar sentiment.
“I believe that scouting provides (now) all children with an opportunity to learn skills and values that will help them to be successful throughout their lives,” said McNamara, noting she took on the role of cubmaster to ensure the pack “continued its journey of what I believe is instilling core values and preparing our youth to be able to deal with anything that comes their way later in life all while continuing to involve the entire family, not just the scout.”
McNamara’s son, Spencer, 10, relishes his time with the troop.
“I especially enjoy camping with my family and friends because we get to whittle, cook on a fire, play games outside and sleep in a tent,” he said.
Tony Crossetti, 9, and Eugene Crossetti, 7, are also members of Pack 820 and shared their thoughts.
“I most enjoy all the adventures we go on,” said Tony Crossetti.
“I like all of the adventures like fishing and camping,” said Eugene Crossetti.
Jillian Gaugh, 7, also of Pack 820, has been a scout for three years, starting as a “Lion” and is now a “Wolf.”
“I like the fun activities like the Bear Carnival and Pinewood Derby,” said Jillian Gaugh. “I can’t wait to go on my virtual campout!”
Twins Aiden and Ethan Kerkhoff, 8, also enjoy Pack 820 activities, noting they enjoy “camping, earning badges, learning new skills, being a part of a group and working together, and meeting new friends.”
Programming ranges from Cub Scouting, for ages kindergarten through Grade 5, to Scouts BSA for youth ages 11 to 18. Scouts BSA troops are either Boy Troops or Girl Troops and are not co-ed.
Another unique program is Venturing, the BSA’s co-ed scouting program for youth ages 14 to 21.
For McNamara and Gaugh, they encourage parents to consider scouting for their children.
“Scouting helps us to take time away from our busy lives and do something fun with our children all the while instilling some important values and skills they will need later in life,” said McNamara.
“The values that are taught in BSA are in line with what we teach our kids at home,” said Gaugh. “The Scout Oath and the Scout Law aren’t just words that we say. They’re the core values that I hope will be instilled in my children.”
Gaugh added that scouting is also “really, really, fun.”
“My kids have been on so many amazing adventures,” said Gaugh. “They’ve had experiences and opportunities they wouldn’t get anywhere else.”