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Scouts, American Heritage Girls get a chance to gather and explore in Laurel

Gretchen Magno, a leader in American Heritage Girls Troop MD1208, helps member Eva Grace Sullivan work on fire safety and fire building during the group's Twilight Camp in July.
Gretchen Magno, a leader in American Heritage Girls Troop MD1208, helps member Eva Grace Sullivan work on fire safety and fire building during the group's Twilight Camp in July. (HANDOUT)

Scouts pledge to be trustworthy, obedient and thrifty. The American Heritage Girls promise to be resourceful and respectful. Members of both groups put those virtues into practice recently when they hosted outdoor camps that allowed young people to gather in person in a fun but safe manner.

Scouts BSA Troop 1250, chartered by St. Mary of the Mills Church, hosted a daytime camp for 15 Scouts July 20-24 that featured work on merit badges including pioneering, soil and water conservation, and fire building.

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The daytime camp, which ran from 12:30 to 5 p.m. daily on St. Mary’s property, was organized in two months after the troop’s plan to send Scouts to a traditional summer overnight camp was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. That disappointment, coupled with the months of isolation the normally active members experienced in the spring, compelled leaders to find a way to gather the boys safely outdoors.

“We pretty quickly realized this was having an impact on our boys,” said Scoutmaster and Old Town resident Brian Pieslak. “They were pretty bummed. We thought, ‘Is there anything we can do to run a program ourselves?’ ”

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A total of 15 Scouts ages 10 to 15 years old participated in the camp, along with a handful of adult leaders. The Scouts were divided into three groups of five boys to limit potential exposure and rotated among stations. The camp also included a mask requirement, distancing measures and temperature screenings.

“I really have to commend the Scouts,” Pieslak said. “They knew the severity of the situation and the possible repercussions. Everyone played by the rules and the whole week went without a hitch.”

The troop, which meets every Wednesday evening, plans to alternate between in-person and virtual meetings in the fall. The group usually goes camping once a month, though camping plans are on hold. Boys in grades five through 12 interested in Scouts BSA can learn more by going to scouting.org. Type ZIP code 20707 into the search box to bring up Troop 1250′s information.

American Heritage Girls Troop MD1208, also chartered by St. Mary of the Mills Church, hosted a Twilight Camp for members the week following the Scout camp, from July 27 to 31. The troop, led by coordinator and Old Town resident Suma Penrose, serves girls in kindergarten through high school and this summer celebrated its 10th anniversary.

The Twilight Camp, which as its name suggests was held in the evening, was created by one of the troop’s longtime leaders, Gretchen Magno. The idea for such a gathering had been on her mind for several years, but, with a focus on overnight camp in past summers, it never happened.

“This year, with everything else shut down, the desire to give the girls an opportunity to gather just worked out,” Magno said.

The American Heritage Girls camp followed similar health protocols as the Scout camp, including meeting exclusively outdoors with masks. Each night’s activities were focused on certain age groups so that no one group was too large. The girls took hikes along the Patuxent River, practiced orienteering and pacing, worked on fire safety and building, played field games, learned about potable water and roasted marshmallows. A total of 30 girls attended and 15 adults (including me) assisted at the camp throughout the week.

“Any opportunity to get the kids outside is fantastic,” Magno said. “It’s even more important now since everyone is stuck with a screen for schooling purposes.”

The American Heritage Girls troop gathers during the academic year twice a month on Sundays, with the units of older girls in high school sometimes meeting more often. The troop will alternate between outdoor and virtual meetings. Interested girls and their families may contact membership Director Carolyn Fisher at carolynmd1208@verizon.net.

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