According to official BSA accounts, the importance of retaining older youth was discussed at the very first National Executive Board meeting.
More than a century later, the passion for Sea Scouts, Exploring and Venturing has not waned. If anything, it’s gotten stronger, based on recent feedback I’ve received.
“Our mission, as with all the programs of the BSA, is to instill the values of the Scout Oath and Law in the youth of America,” writes Chris Ford, an Advisor for both Venturing Crew 627 and the Venturing and Sea Scout Officer Association in the Greater St. Louis Area Council. “Those values are presented and delivered to different age groups by different programs, which have different methods appropriate to their age group.”
The BSA’s Venturing program is relatively young — it was officially created by the Executive Board in 1998 — but it actually has its roots in Exploring.
In 1935, the BSA created a Senior Scout division for boys 15 and older. It included the Sea Scouts, Air Scouts, Explorer Scouts, Rover Scouts and a few others. It was from the Exploring program that the current version of Venturing was born.
What is Venturing?
Venturing is a youth-led program that focuses on building adventures with your friends.
It uses the ALPS model: adventure, leadership, personal development and service. Because of its focus on older boys and girls (Venturers can join at age 14 and stay in the program until they turn 21), it’s equally great for older Scouts BSA members who are looking for a new challenge and for youth who have never been involved in Scouting at all.
The logic is sound and applies today as much as it did decades ago: A 17-year-old is going to be interested in different activities than a 12-year-old newcomer to Scouts BSA, just like a 12-year-old Scouts BSA member is interested in different activities than a 7-year-old Tiger.
So, how exactly does Venturing attempt to appeal to older kids?
“Venturing is a more adult-like program,” writes Ford. “The advancement program recognizes that maturity and more closely mimics adult life. The crew is governed by a president and vice presidents, who follow by-laws they have developed by themselves. The youth decide their mission and program focus and decide how the unit they are leading is governed.”
How is Venturing different from Scouts BSA?
There’s a reason why Cub Scouts have Cubmasters, Scouts BSA units have Scoutmasters, and Venturing crews have what they call Advisors.
“Adults are Advisors and subject matter experts, not the leaders,” writes Ford.
Like Scouts BSA, rank advancement is part of the Venturing program. All Venturers should earn the Venturing rank soon after formally joining the program, then proceed by earning the Discovery rank and Pathfinder rank. Finally, Venturers can earn the Summit rank, in which a young person formally serves as a mentor to other Venturers in his or her crew.
“Each rank has requirements in adventure, leadership, personal growth and service,” writes Ford. “The training required for advancement includes goal setting and time management, project management and mentoring … very useful business skills.”
Unlike Scouts BSA, Venturing has no official uniform that all members must wear. Instead, uniforms are approved by each individual crew. A crew may choose to design or purchase a Venturing T-shirt, polo shirt or any number of other options.
Do you have to be in Scouts BSA to join a Venturing crew? What if you have never been a Scout at any level?
Venturers can continue to earn merit badges and work toward the rank of Eagle in a Scouts BSA unit. Scouts BSA members who have finished First Class in a troop can continue to work toward Eagle as a Venturer. Or a Venturer can pursue all that Venturing has to offer without being in a Scouts BSA unit at all.
Either option is great.
It doesn’t matter if the youth was never even a Scout at all – they can still join Venturing.
“We should be recruiting hard at the high school level to draw in those kids we missed, or lost, when they were younger,” writes Ford. “We can get a second chance at achieving the BSA’s mission.”
Because Venturers are often skilled leaders who are knowledgable of many things related to the outdoors, they make excellent guest trainers for younger Scouts BSA members.
Ultimately, writes Ford and many others, it’s important that we all keep our eyes on the organization’s ultimate goal: to help develop the leaders of tomorrow.
“I believe it should be as normal for a Scoutmaster to encourage an older Scout who is losing interest in the troop to join an older Scout program as it is for a Webelos den leader to encourage crossing over into a Scout troop,” writes Ford. “Keep the focus on the mission.”