The secret of their success: Venturing crew focuses solely on conservation

Crew 3111's river walk project involves the collection and testing of water from the Minnesota River. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Valley Izaak Walton League/Crew 3111

All Venturing crews focus on building adventure, whether it’s backpacking, whitewater rafting, an epic bike trek or all of the above.

For Venturing Crew 3111 in Minneapolis, however, the adventure is conservation.

“We’ve defined our adventure as saving the world,” says Advisor Joseph Barisonzi.

If you think conservation can’t be an adventure, then wait until you hear about Crew 3111. At least once a month, the group leads a conservation-related project at which around 60 or so members of their community show up, eager to help out.

Invasive species removal, trail restoration, water quality testing, studying the impact of fungi … all are part of Crew 3111’s programming. When they aren’t out working amongst the trees, soil and water, they’re meeting to plan their next project.

“We have identified a real need: to get involved in environmentalism in a practical, tangible way,” Barisonzi says. “Conservation is something that kids care about. It’s what gets them outside.”

Crew 3111 is young — after months of planning, it officially launched just over a year ago. The idea was born as Barisonzi was driving with his daughter to Scouts BSA summer camp.

“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have an environmental Venturing crew to help make Scouting more green?’ ” says Hannah Barisonzi, a Life Scout currently working on her Eagle Scout service project with volunteers from Crew 3111. “So that’s what we did.”

The Green Crew sponsors Scouts and Venturers working on their Eagle, Summit or Distinguished Conservation Service Award projects. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Valley Izaak Walton League/Crew 3111

A different kind of chartering partnership

Chartered organizations have been critical to the BSA’s success for more than a century. Whether it’s a place of a worship, a school or a community group that has the same interests as the BSA, the chartered organization relationship is the cornerstone of the Scouting program.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of that than Crew 3111.

“Our goal was to find a partner that needed us as much as we needed them, where our existence would be fulfilling their organizational mission and meeting critical goals,” says Joseph Barisonzi.

A major goal was to be non-political, like the BSA itself.

“We wanted our expression of environmentalism to be in line with the BSA’s,” he says. “We know there are groups out there that protest and go in front of the legislature and things like that, but that’s not what we’re here to do.”

“We’re here to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty,” says Griff Pugh, the crew’s vice president of programming.

Enter the Izaac Walton League of America (IWLA), a 100-year-old environmental organization that promotes natural resource protection and outdoor recreation — and already has a relationship with Scouting. The Barisonzis approached the local Minnesota Valley Chapter about sponsoring their Venturing crew.

After significant conversations with the Isaak Walton League of America’s national office and the Northern Star Council, the Minnesota Valley Chapter launched a youth program called the Green Crew — a community of conservationists and environmentalists that’s open to all members of the community, whether they’re involved in Scouting or not.

“The Green Crew is a new way for the League to do youth programming — not led by adults for youth, but led by youth for everyone,” says chapter president and crew committee chair Ted Suss. “The Green Crew promises a new generation of environmental leaders for the Izaak Walton League.”

The leaders of the Green Crew? That would be Crew 3111. It’s the Venturers who research the best scientific evidence for how to address environmental issues, plan and develop the projects, spread the word and recruit volunteers.

“The opportunity to develop our leadership skills and be able to work on something we are passionate about is a rare opportunity,” says crew president Camille Morton. “It’s also great because all of our projects have a huge emphasis on fun. Whether we are pulling invasive species or taking pictures of the local fungi, we are also listening to music and chatting with the other members.”

Crew 3111’s relationship with the Minnesota Valley Chapter of the Isaak Walton League has been so strong that Camille and vice president of administration Suryash Rawat were elected in August to serve on the Minnesota Valley Chapter’s board of directors.

Director of science Sophia Peterson (left) and chief science officer Grace Filkke staff the Green Crew booth at the Minnesota State Fair to help spread the word about their projects. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Valley Izaak Walton League/Crew 3111

Youth leaders for the whole community — not just other Scouts

The BSA produces leaders, and that’s exactly what Crew 3111 does by leading the Green Crew.

When they plan their next conservation project, they aren’t just planning it for themselves. They’re planning it for their entire community.

“The Green Crew is a vital organization for the community because the foundation of the organization is based around student voice and passion,” says crew secretary Ingrid Koehler. “The Green Crew is welcoming to people at any point of their development and is supportive of any effort made by the individuals in their community.”

Suryash Rawat, the crew’s vice president of administration, estimates that of the nearly 800 youth who have participated in Green Crew service projects, less than 20% were registered Scouts.

Members of the National Honor Society that need service hours? The Green Crew can help with that. Parents who want to teach their kids the value of protecting the environment? The Green Crew can help with that, too.

“I first heard about the Green Crew by asking about environmental-focused volunteering opportunities at my school,” says Grace Flikke, the crew’s chief science officer. “I signed up because I wanted to do environmental work that would make a meaningful difference and I wanted to learn more about the environment and what positively and negatively impacts it.”

The Green Crew’s youth-led project teams prioritize science-based strategies, which often requires them to bring in subject-matter experts. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Valley Izaak Walton League/Crew 3111

An environmental resource for schools and Scouts

As part of their goal of serving the broader community, the Green Crew has worked closely with area schools.

“We have members from schools throughout the metropolitan area,” says crew treasurer Joshua Berger. “We have designed programming that can be used in the classroom for youth of all ages.”

Many Green Crew participants first worked on monthly projects through their schools.

“We have done Leave No Trace educational events at schools, and we have had fourth-grade classes come to our site for one-day ‘water camps,’ ” Griff says.

The Green Crew can also help Scouts BSA members who need service hours for advancement. In fact, in a short amount of time, Crew 3111 has proved to be a valuable resource for Scouts and Scouters in the Northern Star Council.

If a Scouts BSA member is looking for Eagle Scout service project ideas, Crew 3111 can help them out. If a Scout or Venturer is interested in earning the BSA’s Distinguished Conservation Award (DCSA), Crew 3111 can help with that, too.

“The IWLA chapter can serve as the beneficiary, and Crew 3111 can provide a skilled, trained support team,” says Nicolette Johnson, the crew’s vice president of advancement, who earned Venturing’s Summit Rank by leading a trail restoration project with the Green Crew in April.

Crew 3111 also offers training in outdoor ethics and Leave No Trace. Joseph Barisonzi is a member of the council’s conservation committee and a DSCA advisor, while Eagle Scout Dilshan Rajan, the crew’s director of BSA outreach, is a DCSA winner whose job is to coordinate the crew’s sponsorship and support.

Hannah, now serving as the crew’s vice president of training, says the crew’s certified Leave No Trace trainers have provided outdoor ethics training to 1,150 youth since April, which includes Scout units, camp staff, schools, local clubs and other community members.

This week, several Green Crew members with prior Scouting experience are presenting at the BSA National Outdoor Ethics & Conservation Conference, led by Hannah, Nicolette and Dilshan, and joined by associate Advisor of BSA outreach Tom Ries and associate Advisor of administration Jessica Hahn. Both Ries and Hahn are former leaders of Scouts BSA units who joined the Green Crew to continue their own Scouting journey after their youth aged out.

Early evidence suggests they’re meeting a need among the youth in their community.

“The Green Crew model is working,” says Camille, who estimates that more than 2,300 hours of conservation service has been conducted in the crew’s first 10 months.

“The youth and adults who get involved in 3111 want to make a difference in the environmental health of the planet,” says Joseph Barisonzi. “We are environmentalists who really want to do something.”

Of course, Scouting is supposed to be fun, too, and this is never lost on the leaders of Crew 3111.

“Every adventure,” says Hannah, “ends in ice cream.”

The Green Crew’s first big project was the restoration of a .6-mile trail weaving through the dry-mesic oak forest on the Isaak Walton League property. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Valley Izaak Walton League/Crew 3111

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We’re always on the lookout for Scouting success stories. Know any units or leaders who have gone above and beyond expectations? Email us and let us know! We might feature them in our next “secret of their success” story.

About Aaron Derr 466 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.