By Dan Dinkin
“Be Prepared” is the scouting motto. It guides youth and adult leadership training in teaching us to “have a Plan B.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a reality not seen by the Boy Scouts of America, or World Scouting, since their early days and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919. The vast majority of states in the U.S. and most countries around the world have invoked some form of stay-at-home directive and/or social distancing requirement. All voluntary group activities — including scouting — have stopped under these restrictions. Youth stopped holding their weekly meetings and camping trips. However, if there is anyone who has been taught to find a way to persevere in these global tough times, it will be a scout.
The scouts of 2020 have something that the scouts of 1918 did not — the internet. Using online tools, the youth were able to keep in touch with each other, and adult leaders were able to work with them to get virtual meetings and merit badge classes up and running.
One thing was missing — the ability to go camping.
As scoutmaster of Troop 97, a troop sponsored by Temple Oheb Shalom in Pikesville, my scouts were conducting meetings but they were missing out on the key feature of
scouting. They needed to find a way to go camping — without getting together. But then I started thinking …
As committee chair of the Arrowhead District, I wanted to provide the same opportunity to everyone in the district. Our annual Camporee had been scheduled for April 24-26 and was postponed to November.
Those dates seemed like a perfect time for the virtual event. But then I thought …
If we were going to do a virtual event for the district, there was no reason it could not be extended to the entire Baltimore Area Council. And, if it could be extended to the council, why not the whole world?
Scouts and their families have been sitting in their homes for two months with few outlets for activity or positivity. We wanted to create an event as close to a Camporee as possible. We did not want attendees attached to the computer screen all weekend just watching videos that we posted. We wanted them go outside and participate.
Working with the other leaders of the district, we quickly assembled a team of people that had the skill sets we needed to support the social media or create or acquire the content that we would need. We created a Facebook group page. Several intro videos showing attendees that this was going to be more than just a Facebook Live presentation were prepared. While many virtual events simply ask the participant to sit in front of the computer and watch videos and streams, The Great Virtual Camporee required that the “campers” actually get up and do something. Set up a tent and sleep in it. Start a campfire and cook on it. Go for a hike. And post pictures while doing it.
The intro videos were cross-shared to council, national, and international Facebook groups to raise interest. An Instagram group was also created(@Camporee2020) to keep the interest of older scouts who do not use Facebook.
A schedule of events was posted. We decided that we would not do any live
broadcasts. The time zones across the country, and around the world, were too disparate and the risks of technology failure were too high.
Opening videos for each activity were created. At the appropriate time in Baltimore, the video related to that activity was posted to Facebook.
Participants would then post comments showing their own actions related to that activity — in their own time zone.
This method also had the advantage of allowing religious units (such as Orthodox Jewish troops) to participate at a later date rather than having to log on during Shabbat.
Scouts were also asked to create their own content. We provided an opening ceremony but asked the scouts to post their own openings and greetings — one such greeting came from an Israeli scout who had been a madricha in Baltimore until the pandemic hit. We provided campfire programs and asked the scouts to post their own skits and songs.
On Sunday morning, we held an interfaith service to recognize the 12th point of the Scout Law (“A scout is reverent”). Clergy and scouts of many faiths provided videos, greeting the attendees and offering a prayer. One such video was provided by Rabbi Ariel Platt, director of education and engagement at Beth Israel Congregation in Owings Mills, home of Cub Scout Pack 971. Another was provided by Rabbi Art Vernon from Congregation Shaaray Shalom of West Hempstead, New York, who serves as the national chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.
Just under 3,000 registrants had subscribed when the zero-cost event started. By the time the event was over, there were more than 3,500. It is believed that entire units were active behind many of the registrants — so the actual participation is believed to be 10,000 or more. At least 403 distinct units participated in the U.S., including some Lone Scouts and Girl Scouts. Outside of the U.S., countries from every continent were represented – including Antarctica. Given that a NASA astronaut (Col. Mike Fossum) also participated, we are claiming that the event was solar system-wide.
Over the course of the weekend, there were over 43,000 posts, likes, and comments from over 3,300 unique members of the group. People are still asking to join the group. As of this writing, there are 3,760 members. We fervently hope that a Camporee like this will never be needed again. But, if it is, we will be prepared.
Dan Dinkin is Scoutmaster of Boy Scouts Troop 97 and Committee Chair of the Arrowhead District of the Baltimore Area Council.