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Scouting rides a different course

Becky Gehling, Of the Intelligencer January 14, 2003

Co-ed opportunities now offered.

"Scouting's best kept secret" is out. Venturing, a high adventure co-ed scouting program, is taking Madison County by storm.

This youth development program gives boys and girls ages 14-20 the opportunity to acquire leadership skills while having fun experiencing different areas of adventure.

Under the Boy Scouts of America, each venturing crew abides by the general rules of the Boy Scouts, while maintaining group independence.

"It's activities, it's fun, it's adventure, and they can do what they want," said Boy Scouts of America District Executive Bob Smejkal.

Through the Venturing program youth have the opportunity to experience ultimate camping, white water rafting, canoeing, hiking, fishing and skiing, to name a few.

The program currently has four leadership treks in Charlotte, N.C., Fairbanks, Alaska, Syracuse, N.Y., and Fort Worth, Texas, and three high adventure camps in New Mexico, the Florida Keys, and the Minnesota/Canada border.

Aside from extreme activities, youth can gain leadership skills, personal values, character building and social skills.

"There's so many opportunities to get kids involved in a quality program, and Venturing is one of them," said Smejkal.

Though any group can charter a Venturing crew, Smejkal said the fastest growing sector is youth ministry. Religious youth groups are supplementing their weekly meetings with Venturing to maintain excitement within their group.

Religious affiliated Venturing groups are available for nearly any religion including Baha'i, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Meher Baba among others.

"Our goal is not to take over, but to augment their existing program," said Smejkal. "There is no faith that we don't have a religious program for."

Elva Tucker, Advisor of Venturing Crew 80 in Highland, founded her group in 1980 when her daughter wanted to duel register their Girl Scout Troop in a high adventure program. It was then called "Exploring," which later took on a career-oriented identity.

Tucker has remained the advisor for the group, which is now an all girls Venturing Crew that currently has 12 active members.

The group elects leaders and functions independently with only guidance from the advisor.

"We try to let them do as much as they can," said Tucker.

Crew 80 has participated in a variety of high adventure explorations each summer including a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, last year. The girls snorkeled, rode horses swimming through a river and visited an Avocado ranch.

This year, the group is planning a trip to Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy where they will stay at various Scout camps including the International Scout Center on the Switzerland/Italy border in the Alps.

"The idea is that you meet people from all over the world," said Tucker, who has taken groups to this location four times. "It's an awesome place."

Venturing Crew 80 also serves its surrounding communities through volunteer work at the Women's Crisis Center in Belleville, a food pantry in Highland, and regular visits to a nearby nursing home.

While Edwardsville does not currently have a Venturing Program, Smejkal is hoping to start one soon.

"It's a great program," said Smejkal. "I'm very excited about getting area high school students involved.

For more information on the Venturing Program, or to start your own post contact Smejkal at 618-259-2145 or

©Copyright 2003, Edwardsville Intelligencer (IL, USA)

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