Updated June 2022: The entire BSA family was saddened to hear of Junell Nichols’ passing a month after this story was originally published. We hope the story serves as a tribute to her life and her dedication to Scouting.
Junell Nichols remembers what happened when she showed up for a Cub Scout weekend campout designed for dads and their sons back in the mid-1980s.
“They said, ‘You’re not a dad; we’re not set up for this,’ ” she remembers. “They turned me away at the door.”
Not one to give up easily, Nichols quickly went to work. She contacted her district executive, who was sympathetic to her plight: Nichols was a divorced mom.
She had a proposal: Lad-and-dad weekends were already common. Why not mom-and-me, too?
“I said, ‘There’s got to be more moms like me out there whose kids are not getting to experience this,’ ” she remembers.
The council agreed to try a mom-and-me event as what Nichols calls “an experiment.”
After extensive planning, more than 600 participants showed up. That’s when the council realized she was on to something.
The event quickly went from experiment to annual occurrence. Once a rarity, mom-and-Cub events are now common in councils throughout the country.
Starting with a bang
Nichols played a major role in planning the East Texas Area Council’s first Mom and Me Camporee more than 30 years ago. Due to its massive success, word spread quickly. The second one was covered in the November-December 1987 issue of Scouting magazine.
“We got lots of inquiries from people across the United States wanting to know how we did it,” she says. “All I had wanted was to have the Scouting experience with my son. Just the two of us.
“And so many moms said, ‘We never get this.’ ”
In the summer of 1988, Nichols attended a Cub Scout outdoor activities training session at Philmont Scout Ranch. When she arrived at the first session, she sat next to man named Jerry, who was a Cub Scout activities director from Detroit.
On Day Two, the man said to her, “I know who you are.”
“I said, ‘Well, I hope so. I’m the lady who sat next to you yesterday,’ ” Nichols recalls. “And he said, ‘No, you’re this woman.’ ”
He was holding his copy of the November-December 1987 issue of Scouting magazine.
“I want to know how you did this,” Jerry asked.
A longstanding tradition
Nichols coordinated the first handful of mom-and-me events before turning it over to other volunteers.
The tradition has continued. Over the years, activities have included hiking, rowing, archery, climbing walls, cooking and, of course, camping.
“When I visited the 20th one, my jaw was agape,” Nichols says. “I couldn’t believe this was still going on. And then it kept going even after that.”
After the first one, Nichols remembers doing a “care and share” talk with the moms in attendance. She asked them what they liked and what they didn’t like. The only complaints she got were about the bathrooms.
One woman told her, “I’m a grandmother, and I’m here because my daughter had surgery and couldn’t be here. Well, I’ve got news for her. She’s not going to be able to make it next year either, because I’m coming back and doing this again. I’ve never had so much fun.”
The weekend is now called the Junell Smith Nichols Mom & Me. It’s still held at G.W. Pirtle Scout Reservation in Gary City, Texas. You can read more about in the May 2022 issue of Scout Life magazine.
A lasting impact
Nichols is a retired nurse. When she wasn’t running mom-and-me weekends, she was serving as a nurse at other Scouting events in her area.
“Every person wants to make a difference for people,” she says. “I’ve met so many people who have been to that camp. I meet moms that went. I meet people who went when they were kids. To think that I made a difference … it makes your heart feel warm.
“But those moms are really the ones making a difference. Just by being there with their kids. They’re making a lifelong difference.”
And as for Jerry? He and Nichols stayed in touch. They wrote letters. They exchanged long-distance phone calls back when long-distance phone calls could get really expensive.
Eventually, he retired and moved to Texas, and he and Junell got married.
“Scouting gave me my husband,” says Junell. “And the rest is history.”
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