Community Access Unlimited Members Venture Into Boy Scouting

Members of Community Access Unlimited visit the Trailside Nature & Science Center in Watchung Reservation as part of their participation in the Venturing crew program of the Boy Scouts of America. (Photo courtesy of Community Access Unlimited)

Members of Community Access Unlimited visit the Trailside Nature & Science Center in Watchung Reservation as part of their participation in the Venturing crew program of the Boy Scouts of America. (Photo courtesy of Community Access Unlimited)

ELIZABETH – While National Boy Scout Day was earlier this month, on Feb. 8, the spirit of scouting can be seen year-round at Community Access Unlimited. This year about 30 CAU members with disabilities celebratedScouting Anniversary Week as members of the Boy Scouts of America Venturing program.

Venturing is a youth development program of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) open to both young men and women. The program is intended to provide positive experiences to help members mature and become responsible and caring adults, learning to make ethical choices, developing skills and advancing their knowledge, according to the BSA. Each Venturing crew, as each group is called, is a partnership between the crew members, their adult leaders and community organizations that establish the crew.

Recognizing the benefits of group membership and interaction, CAU worked with local BSA representatives to create a Venturing crew for its members who have developmental disabilities. While Venturing usually is limited to young people between the ages of 13 and 21, the CAU crew is open to any CAU member within its developmental disabilities program.

Since its launch in December 2010, the CAU crew has grown to about 30, who meet biweekly with two representatives of BSA’s Venturing program and CAU program staff and behaviorists. Recently the crew adopted the name the Cougar crew.

“We are encouraging our members to take more leadership roles. This gives them an opportunity to have ownership of a group,” said Kerin Monaco, a behaviorist at CAU involved with the program. “It gives them access to the social skills they otherwise wouldn’t have access to and it entails skill-building and resource-building activities.

“In addition, Venturing instills consistency and responsibility in the members. It enables them to learn what being part of a group or a team means and that they need to be consistent in their attendance and behavior. They look forward to coming to each meeting. “It’s also just a lot of fun.”

While the Cougars began their venturing with activities such as arts and crafts, the crew has since adopted more skill-building activities, according to Monaco. The group currently is working toward an award – the equivalent of a merit badge – in health, nutrition and fitness.

The effort ties into Michelle Obama’s MyPlate initiative, a guideline for defining healthier eating habits by focusing on the five food groups that are a building block to a healthy diet – fruits, vegetables, grain, protein and dairy. The CAU Venture crew members create their own plates using the guideline, according to Monaco.

“When our members learn about something at Venturing crew they’re more likely to take it home and apply it,” she said.

The Cougars also enjoy field trips, again designed to provide learning and development opportunities within a fun setting, according to Monaco. This fall the crew visited the Trailside Nature & Science Center in Watchung Reservation, where they picnicked, had a scavenger hunt and went on a learning hike.

“We could see a change in our members just from being outside in nature,” said Monaco, who noted the members did not smoke or use their cell phones, which they normally would do.

“I really liked going on the Trailside trip,” said CAU member Kim B. “I was in Girl Scouts in middle school. It’s different because we did more activities from books then.”

“We get to go on scavenger hunts, hiking and do arts and crafts,” said member Joyce C. “We learn about safety in the community and all about nature. And I like to hang out with the members. I was in Girl Scouts but it wasn’t the same. We learn more now.”

Grant Van Eck, district executive of The Patriot Path Council of the Boy Scouts of America, was a leader on the Trailside outing and was very impressed with how receptive the CAU crew members were to the messages of that day, such as leaving no trace of their visit and respecting nature.

“They had a great attitude,” he said. “For people who were out in the woods for the first time, they were really great.”

The Patriots Path Council provides the primary support for the CAU Venturing crew, according to Van Eck. This includes oversight, administration, volunteer training, special programs such as mentoring by traditional scouts and seasonal events, including the annual Fishery and SCOUT-O-REE, in which participants learn about Native American culture.

Van Eck said there is a natural match between the Boy Scouts mission and that of groups such as CAU. Therefore, the scouting program is not modified for crews like the Cougars.

“We stay true to our approach, teaching people life skills, character, duty to God, duty to country, duty to self, having self-esteem and being self-motivated,” he said.

“At CAU it is our mission is to enable people with disabilities to live full, rewarding, healthy and productive lives within the community,” Monaco said. “The Boy Scouts work to enable young people to build character and learn the responsibilities of citizenship while also developing personal fitness. In the Boy Scouts and the Venturing crew program, CAU has found an ideal community partner.”

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