Youth groups teaching valuable skills

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Building friendships, outdoor education and learning new skills top the list of reasons Okotoks youth are part of a century-old tradition.

Scouts and Girl Guides, founded in 1907 and 1910 respectively, are honoured during the third week of each February, which coincides with World Thinking Day celebrations.

World Thinking Day celebrates the joint birthday of Lord Robert Baden-Powell, who created both organizations, and his wife Lady Olave Baden-Powell, who were both born on Feb. 22. Scout and Girl Guides across the world come together to honour their founders each year. This year marks their 160th birthdays.

Michelle Reid, who has been a Girl Guide leader (Guider) for four years, said it’s a fun annual celebration, weather-permitting.

“We do what we call a Torchlight Parade, so we meet at Sheep River Park with glow sticks and flashlights, and then we walk to Elks Hall,” said Reid. “Then we just sing songs around a fake campfire and celebrate their birthday, and there’s usually skits, and everybody talks about what it means to them.”

This year the parade will take place on Feb. 21, she said.

It’s a great reason to get together as Scouts and Girl Guides to have fun and meet new people, she said.

Meeting new people is often one of the highlights of belonging to the Guides, she said. Her two daughters – ages 12 and 10, who have each been part of the organization since they started in Sparks at six years old, have been introduced to friends they otherwise wouldn’t have met because they attend different schools, she said.

Girl Guides do a lot of community service, she said, like food drives and participating in the Yellow Fish Road program, where yellow fish are painted on roads near storm grates as a reminder to keep toxins out of the wastewater system.

“It instills values and everything you want your children to have,” said Reid. “And it’s a lot of fun getting there.”

One of the favourite activities each year is camping, she said. Depending on weather and the leaders in each unit, girls might do an indoor camp at Camp Silverland in High River and Camp Chief Hector in Kananaskis, or even at Calgary’s Clearwater Tipi Park. Younger girls tend to have a sleepover with their moms, at places like the Calgary zoo, she said.

Older girls who are in Pathfinders and Rangers groups do more tent camping, she said, though the Brownies and Guides are still taught how to set up a tent, even if they don’t use them.

Reid’s eldest daughter, McKenzie, is now part of Pathfinders. She said she enjoys the camps and other more physical activities, like bouldering.

She also likes learning new things.

“I learned first aid last year with Girl Guides, and that was pretty neat,” said McKenzie. “And I’ve learned more about Canada and its history a little bit more.”

There’s also something to be said for the structure of the program, she said. She likes having some independence, even with clear expectations and schedules when it comes to meetings and other activities, like crafts or group work.

“I like how we have a little bit of freedom in Pathfinders, but we’ve still got to be on task,” said McKenzie. “Like if we’re doing crafts we can choose which table we want to do first.”

Doing crafts isn’t for everyone though. For 13-year-old Miranda Grant, Girl Guides didn’t pack enough of an outdoor activity punch, and she opted to join her brother at the 1st Okotoks Scouts instead.

“People kept telling me about all the hikes and all the camps they did, and they just sounded really fun,” said Grant. “So I started in Girl Guides when I was nine, but then last year I switched over.”

She said the main difference is there aren’t any crafts at Scouts, and the group does a lot more camping than the Guides – up to seven or eight camps, including winter tenting. Otherwise, she said the two are pretty similar. It’s all about personal taste, she said.

“I really like all the outdoor adventures you get to do, whether it’s hikes, backcountry camping, group camping, all that outdoor stuff,” said Grant.

This year, the 1st Okotoks Scouts are embarking on an exciting camp adventure. The unit is attending the annual Scout Jamboree in Denmark, with a stopover in Iceland for some camping along the way.

Grant said she’s exited for the opportunity, and she’s working with her unit and her family to raise money for the trip, which will cost about $2,600 per person.

Nick Wiggins, 1st Okotoks Scouts section leader, said there are 41 Scouts heading to Denmark in July to meet up with about 40,000 other Scouts from around the world.

“It’s a 10-day jamboree to network, learn some new skills, and develop their Scouting skills,” said Wiggins.

He said the trip has been a year in the works. The unit tries to take the Scouts on a major excursion every two years, he said. The last one was the Canadian jamboree in Vancouver in 2015, he said.

“A big focus of scouting is about the outdoors and being active, so we teach boys and girls to learn about the outdoors so they can, as they grow up, enjoy the outdoors, whether that’s hiking, canoeing, climbing or camping,” said Wiggins.

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