Some thoughts on Venturing
We had a good discussion at the Venturing table at last night's Council Retention Convention. It echoed and elaborated on the discussion I had at Tuesday's Retention Convention on the other end of the Council. To put it bluntly, all of the Venturing leaders I know are singing the we-ain't-got-nobody blues right now, including me.
Now, Hoosier Trails Council has a fair number of Venturing Crews chartered, but many of them are really only extensions of Boy Scout Troops who register their older boys as Venturers, but who do not maintain actual, free-standing Crews with their own program. Truly, they have their reward, as The Man said; however, what they're doing is Boy Scouting in a forest green shirt, not Venturing. Venturing is its own program, with its own rewards and its own natural constituency. And its own difficulties, some of which are inherent in the nature of what it does.
Venturing Crews tend to be small. This is because Venturing as a program revolves around doing the Big Adventure, and most Big Adventures are only doable in small groups. Most wilderness areas restrict group size to eight or ten, maximum. You could, of course, send two crews on an adventure on parallel or intersecting courses, but then you have to recruit double the number of credentialed leaders, procure double the amount of first aid and technical gear, etc. You could also pull off two Big Adventures a year, but that's asking a lot from the volunteers who make things happen. So, most Crews will take eight to ten, maybe twelve persons on their Big Adventure. Assuming that a healthy Crew will take 75% of its active youth on any given Big Adventure, that means most Crews can't get much bigger than ten to twelve active participants. In effect, most Crews operate like a one-patrol Boy Scout Troop; this is just the nature of the beast.
That being the case, a typical Venturing Crew will be a small group with intense relationships formed by the adventures they have shared. Youth drop out of course, and new youth join, but the need to fit in with the existing relationships means that it's hard to add one new fourteen-year-old to an existing group of 17-19-year-olds. At least, it's iffy. So the typical dynamic is that every few years, Crews tend to "age out" all at once. Instead of always having a core of youth available and eager for the next adventure, suddenly you have most of your youth going away to college or working weekend jobs. And the Crew starts to struggle. Meetings fail to achieve a critical mass; they're not very fun and plans start to falter. It becomes harder to make the magic happen, and cancellations start to become common. This is where several of our leading Crews in the Council are right now.
In effect, you have to re-start your whole Crew every few years. We did this twice in my old Crew, before we finally had to let the program go. It really helps to have two to four new 14-15-year-olds join at once and start building the Crew around them. Venturing is like local church youth ministry in this regard. Every few years, the high school youth group will tend to falter, and adding new youth to the existing group becomes difficult. The solution is, you start a new high school group by starting a new junior high group, and letting it age in place, eventually taking the place of the former high school group.
We talked at our table last night about the lack of a "feeder" unit. Many Boy Scout Troops add a new patrol of Scouts almost every year from the boys who "cross over" from the Pack associated with their Troop. But Scouts don't "cross over" to Venturing. Boys can double-register, of course, but Venturing is not a successor program to Boy Scouting; it's a complementary program. For that matter, Venturing's natural constituency is a) girls, and b) boys who are not or who have not been Scouts. Where do you find them?
This led to a discussion of communities and charter partners. Since my Crew is congregationally-based, I naturally start looking for new Venturers among the youth attending my church. Other youth are welcome, of course, but you have to have a seed to grow the pearl you want to develop -- someone for others to coalesce around. Venturing needs to be set in a community that will support it. It can't just be the leader's baby (at age 62, I don't know many teens except through other relationships).