When one thinks of the Boy Scouts of America, a common image that the organization’s name might conjure is groups of young people around the campfire roasting hot dogs and marshmallows while swapping ghost stories.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has led many in central Illinois to consider large gatherings such as festivals and summer camps unsafe. But the Peoria-based W.D. Boyce Council of the Boy Scouts of America offers an alternative to its summer day camp for Boy Scouts: Adventure Camp at Home.
"Summer camp is a fundamental method of the Scouting program and all Scouts are encouraged to attend at least one summer camp each year," said Erin Smith, Heartland District Executive for the Boy Scouts of America. "Summer camp offers outdoor fun and rewarding experiences and helps youth build confidence, character and team building skills. Cub Scouts typically attend day camps offered in a local location."
Adventure Camp at Home was developed to keep Cub Scouts and their families connected to scouting despite being unable to physically assemble for summer camps, Smith added. Cub Scouts were given the opportunity to purchase kits containing projects and activities that would enhance their skills while allowing them to work toward their next ranks. Kits contained age-based guide books with activity pages, woodworking projects, camp t-shirts and patches, knot-tying ropes, farm-themed cookbooks with recipes to try at home, plastic bag greenhouses, grass pasture growing kits, name tag craft kits, bobcat keychain kits, whistles, paracord bracelets and pool noodles to make pool noodle horses. In addition, the camp kits included rank-based activities such as steel wool for Webelos to make fire without matches and slime-making kits for Wolf Scouts. The W.D. Boyce Council also hosted online camp experiences July 6-10 and July 13-17.
"The camp was designed to be done at the individual’s own pace, so it could be flexible around family demands," said Smith. "However, the guidebook was written in a suggested one-week layout, just like a traditional summer camp would be. There are no ‘due dates’ to complete activities. Whenever the Scouts get finished, they turn in their requirement page to their Cubmaster and can get credit for what they did over the summer."
Jared James, 9, of Pekin, a Webelo, spent a busy week growing a cow pasture and honed his culinary skills baking a cobbler and cooking bacon and eggs in a paper bag. He also built a shadow box for merit and ranks badges, mastered several knots, learned about water purification and made a survival kit. His favorite activity was starting a fire without matches.
"Making a spark with flint and steel is fun," James said.
James’ mother, Jennifer, says Adventure Camp at Home is an inspired concept, not only because it provided Scouts with a chance to hone their skills and work toward promotions, but also because it took some of the pressure off parents.
"From a parent’s point of view, it’s difficult to find enough activities and organize them on a normal day," she said. "Gathering supplies and matching them to the badge work is time consuming. It also gave (Jared) back a little of his summer, was looking forward to day camp but it had to be canceled for safety.
"W.D. Boyce did a great job organizing and explaining the projects, also providing online support and activities to make it seem more like camp, (like the) opening ceremony and closing campfire. It certainly helped to fill up the day, and it was fun and educational."
Carol Janszen of Washington appreciated the camping-at-home experience because she was concerned that her grandchildren — Bear Scout Ben, 8, and Arrow of Light Scout Maryn, 10 — were growing increasingly restless as the pandemic has disrupted their normal lives. Janszen said both have thrown themselves energetically into their Adventure Camp activities, teaming up to prepare a completely homemade family meal that included cornbread accompanied by butter, followed by ice cream for dessert.
"My favorite part was making the ice cream," said Ben Janszen. "It tasted so yummy!"
Janszen added that she keeps a variety of crafting materials around her home, which came in handy when her Scouts created and decorated their name tags and noodle horses. In addition to joining forces to prepare a meal, Ben and Maryn made a cobbler. Maryn’s kit included two wood-working projects: a bird house and a belt-loop shadowbox.
"The camp) has given them so much to do," she said. "They love crafts, they love cooking and they’ve learned a lot from what (the activities). It was funny when they were cooking and saying ‘It smells so good, grandma. I’d never smelled it before’".
Smith estimated that the W.D. Boyce Council distributed about 400 Adventure Camp at Home kits. While that fell short of the Council’s goal of selling 500 kits, she considered this year’s camp a resounding success.
"From the online participation, all the comments and pictures we have been receiving, the Scouts and their families (have) really enjoyed the flexibility, the activities and the overall value this kit has added to their summer," Smith added.
The Scouts who completed all Adventure Camp at Home activities each earned three adventure loops and a Nova Award. In addition to the activities in their kits, participating Scouts were encouraged to perform a service project during their camp week, said Smith. Many of them picked up trash from local areas or wrote letters to members of the Armed Forces.