At the nonprofit Camp Carefree in North Carolina, children with chronic illnesses like cancer, epilepsy and spina bifida are given a free week of summer camp — seven days “where kids can just be kids,” to borrow the camp’s motto.
But three years ago, a favorite Camp Carefree activity — canoeing — had to be shelved. The camp didn’t have enough volunteers to help campers get in and out of the canoes.
That’s when the Venturers stepped in. Members of Crew 151 from Greensboro, N.C. (Old North State Council), spent a day at Camp Carefree as volunteers. They helped campers safely enter and exit the boats, made lasting friendships and pushed campers who use wheelchairs up a steep hill from the lake to the main area of camp.
Helping Camp Carefree resume its canoeing program is just one in a series of examples of Crew 151’s commitment to helping others and preparing young people for life.
“Being in this crew has allowed me the opportunity to have a second family of people who I can depend on and who will always be there for me,” says Venturer Marcus Davis. “It also gives me amazing opportunities to meet new people, expand my horizons and give back to my community.”
Forming the crew
Michael Matzinger and Evainna Ross co-founded Crew 151 in 2016. He’s president of the board at the crew’s chartered organization, The Sparrow’s Nest, a nonprofit dedicated to giving young Black men in Greensboro the opportunity to develop into servant leaders. And she’s the executive director of The Sparrow’s Nest.
”Scouting is for all young people — regardless of family economic situation or ethnicity,” Matzinger says. “That’s a great message to get out.”
The crew’s number was not selected at random. Matzinger says he read this Bryan on Scouting blog post about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time in Scouting. King was a registered member of Troop 151 in Atlanta, so Crew 151 seemed a natural choice.
Crew 151’s 30 Venturers keep busy all year long with a variety of activities, including:
- Service: The crew operates a food pantry, serves a local elementary school through the BSA Adopt-A-School program and cleaned up a low-income part of Greensboro after a storm.
- Education: The Venturers sharpen their public speaking skills through sessions with a local high school speech and debate team, meet monthly with a NASDAQ executive who teaches them about financial literacy, and participate in a crew book club.
- Mentorship: Each crew member has a mentor in a career field that matches one he would like to explore. Mentors include an Emmy Award winner, an engineer who works for SpaceX, a private investigator and more.
- Fundraising: To raise money for its activities, Crew 151 holds an annual fashion show where male members of the community model clothes. The Venturers host the program and read poetry at the popular event.
- Fun: Crew 151 travels (during non-pandemic times) to cities across the U.S., including Philadelphia, Atlanta and New Orleans. Closer to home, the Venturers love to play games, write and perform poetry, and attend sporting events.
In keeping with the program’s flexibility, Venturing has no official uniform. That means crew members may wear what they want.
In Crew 151, the Venturers voted to wear a T-shirt and hooded sweatshirt as their “activity uniform.” On the backs of each, the crew has printed the names of individuals and businesses that have supported them — a campaign they call “We Have Your Back.”
For their more formal uniform, the crew members opted to wear sharp-looking black suits. They earn pieces of the suit as they participate in the program — hence the crew’s other name: The Black Suit Initiative.
Matzinger says The Sparrow’s Nest chose to start a Venturing crew (rather than pursuing a different youth-serving organization) because “Scouting provides some strategic structure with a set of common principles — a mission, vision, aims and methods,” he says.
Beyond Scouting’s time-tested values, Scouting offers opportunities these young people couldn’t find anywhere else — like a weeklong ropes course program at Cherokee Scout Reservation. Scouting also offers insurance, provides top-notch training for adult leaders and mandates Youth Protection practices designed to keep young people safe.
BSA membership also allows the Venturers to partner with local Scout units — including Troop 600B, Troop 219G and Ship 3 — as they work together to bring about positive changes in the community.
In September 2020, members of Crew 151 volunteered at Alexandra Santiago’s Eagle Scout service project. While wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing, the Venturers helped Alex construct a “blessing box” that will house nonperishable food items for families in need. The box will be available around the clock for people struggling with food insecurity. Members of Crew 151 are responsible for managing this outdoor food pantry to ensure it remains fully stocked.
For Matzinger, acts of service like this one are just what our nation needs right now.
“They need Scouting, and Scouting needs them,” Matzinger says. “We need to bring our country together, and that can start with our youth.”
Matzinger isn’t the only adult who has noticed Scouting’s positive effects on these Venturers. Parents see it, too.
“My son was very shy and wouldn’t say much,” Paulette Bernard says of her son Deondre. “After being in the program, he has ignited like a wildfire. He’s taken on more leadership roles and people count on him.”
Leslie Bailey has seen something similar happen to her son, Isaiah Starke.
“I have watched him evolve,” she says. “This program has taught him the meaning of accountability and pushed him beyond his comfort zone. Isaiah has discovered that he is a leader.”