Camp PMI, which is led by Program Director Justin Toney (pictured below), serves Webelos Scouts, who are in 4th and 5th grades. The preparedness of Justin and the PMI staff helped make sure that campers were safe during the derecho storm that passed over Goshen Scout Reservation in late June. Justin and his staff ensured campers were safe from the danger of fall trees, lightning, debris from 80 mph winds, and forest fire. But what is really remarkable about this account is the way the Scouts and staff approached this very serious situation: with a sense of adventure and high spirits. Doing what needs to be done--even in dangerous situations--is part of the culture of Scouting and the account below shows the way camp staff, most of whom are teenage Scouts themselves, imparted this culture on the young campers of Camp PMI, many of whom were on their first longterm campout. Below is the account of this summer's derecho storm, written by Program Director Justin Toney:
We were prepared for bad weather, being no strangers to storms, but when the campfires began to burn sideways over the heads of the campers, the PMI staff acted swiftly and deliberately. I headed the crew that formed a bucket line to extinguish the wind-fueled fires while our commissioners took the bulk of the staff and all of the campers to shelter. In a moment of adventure, I remained by the lake shore after our camp director ordered the other staff away from a forming funnel cloud. I would like to express sincere awe for the wind front that pressed down on the lake like a falling bubble and sent me rolling and running away from falling trees after I'd made sure the fires were all out.
With the other competent members of my camp administration already assembling a work crew to clear the roads, I took up my roll at the front of the dining hall building as the last of the frightened campers shuffled in. In the dark, I had asked leaders and scouts one at a time to point their flashlights on me so that I could be seen and heard. As we had practiced in the fire drill earlier that week, I called for signs up and began checking pack rosters. The routine of this procedure has an important calming effect during emergencies; I matched it with a confident, cheerful smile and some remarks about the bravery that the boys demonstrated.
My fellow PMI staff gathered pitchers of waters and cups for the cub scouts and leaders while I called out the roll. I proceeded to direct the continuation of our normally 50-minute campfire for the following two and a half hours. Among the heroes of the night were Dan Leichtling who sang himself hoarse in almost every song, Tim Laxton who organized sandwiches and water for over two hundred people with no electricity (and even made accommodations for allergies) and Steven West who-- in addition to acting as our first aider-- provided unique comfort to a boy with autism.
As the night ran on, the energy and enthusiasm of the staff did not wane. I organized guided ventures to the camp sights where we could still hear trees falling. In staff groups of five or more, they first determined if the route was safe, and then retrieved packs' sleeping equipment. In this way I was able also to collect damage reports. Some packs had already torn down their campsites in anticipation of leaving that evening; these scouts would sleep on the staff's pillows and blankets.
The logistics of keeping track of each individual (staff and camper) while also organizing songs/skits/cheers on the fly and overseeing the delicate diplomacy of the bathroom line kept me well occupied. Despite this, I took time to meet with leaders one at a time to keep all informed and to enforce our lock down. When the sleeping bags began to arrive, I ended the "campfire" with a scoutmaster's minute on enduring trials and gratitude. We helped to move tables quietly to the side, turning our dining hall into a small refugee camp.
I remained at the front of the room at that first post I had taken up when the crowd in the dark was nothing but nervous noise, and whispered updates to leaders and staff who tiptoed through the silence. It was an incredible experience for which I will be forever grateful; to have succeeded so thoroughly throughout this trial is a badge of honor PMI staff will wear forever. I can truly say that we have acted in keeping with our motto: Pride, Style and Dedication.
The following morning, as the boys woke up I overheard their excited talk. "It wasn't so bad." " It was actually really fun." "Wait till my mom hears about this!" It harkened back to those first encouraging words I'd said to them before resuming the campfire what seemed like days ago. "You are going to have an awesome story to tell," I told them. And we certainly do.
(Pictures above show the way downed trees fell through various tents on Goshen Scout Reservation.)