Photo courtesy of BSA Troop 139 | Assistant Scoutmaster Mike Brown assists a Scout with rank advancement.
by ANDREW HELTSLEY, guest writer
OAK RIDGE - When stay-at-home orders were issued last March, schools sent children home to learn and youth activities across the board were cancelled. When it soon became apparent this situation would be around for a while, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) leaders across the country immediately began creating opportunities for young men and women in scouting, including those right here in Oak Ridge.
"We are truly blessed at Oak Ridge United Methodist Church (ORUMC) to have such a strong base of volunteers and parents making scouting opportunities available to the young men and women of Oak Ridge," said Andy Lambert, the church's senior pastor.
As COVID dramatically changed how we go about our daily lives, scouting volunteers worked tirelessly to maintain a connection and some sense of normalcy for youth participants.
"Within just a few weeks of initial stay-at-home orders, we moved quickly to virtual meetings. Our leadership team worked to create games, tutorials and contests to keep the boys engaged and actively working together," said Tom Needham, Scoutmaster of Troop 139. "Scouting is normally complementary to sports, but we found ourselves to be one of the few extracurricular activities providing continuous involvement during the pandemic."
Moving online was not without complication. Scouting consists of a variety of hands-on activities, team exercises and skills training, so leaders had to get creative.
"Throughout the summer our leadership team provided a variety of opportunities to our ladies, from meetings and merit badge classes to participation in a virtual campout organized by BSA national," Christy Kirksey, Scoutmaster of Troop 465, said. "When we had to cancel a spring fundraiser, the troop quickly pivoted to selling frozen gourmet meals to give parents a break from cooking."
When resuming in-person meetings became a possibility, BSA leaders lived up to their motto, "Be prepared."
"We prepared a thorough mitigation plan to allow a safe return to in-person activities that limited exposure," described Clay Johnson, Cubmaster of Pack 130, whose leaders prepared to return in fall with smaller group sizes, flexible meeting times and different locations for various age groups. "Each leader determined the best way to serve his or her den with a quality scouting experience. After all, scouting has been meeting safely outdoors - and in small groups - for over 110 years."
But no efforts by scouting volunteers would have been successful without the engagement of the young men and women in scouting.
"I think what impressed me the most was how adamant the girls in Pack 465 were to continue scouting well into the summer. Coronavirus did nothing to slow their hunger to learn and grow together in the scouting program," said Andrew Heltsley, Cubmaster of Pack 465. "Scouting in Oak Ridge is alive and well thanks to the dedication of the volunteers and youth. Both were determined to go the extra mile to keep these programs active."
Interested in scouting?
Scouts BSA is open to all boys and girls ages 5-17. To connect to the appropriate unit for your child, email one of the pack or troop leaders listed below, call ORUMC at (336) 643-4690 or visit scouting.org. Also, please join us Nov. 7 from 1 to 3 p.m. for our Pumpkin Chuckin' event, when you'll have a chance to launch your leftover Halloween pumpkins with a trebuchet, play games, do crafts and learn a little more about scouting. The event is located in the rear parking lot of ORUMC, 2424 Oak Ridge Road.
BSA contacts at ORUMC:
Tom Needham, Scoutmaster for BSA Troop 139 (young men 11 to 17 years old), which meets Mondays at 7 p.m. email@example.com or (336) 420-5098.
Clay Johnson, Scoutmaster for BSA Pack 130 (boys 5 to 10 years old), which meets at various times by age. firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 889-4506
Christy Kirksey, Scoutmaster for BSA Troop 465 (young ladies 11 to 17 years old), which meets Mondays at 7 p.m. ChristyKirksey.BSA465@troopmaster.email or (336) 314-1578
Andrew Heltsley, Cubmaster for BSA Pack 465 (girls 5 to 10 years old), which meets Sundays at 6 p.m. email@example.com or (336) 250-2247