Rhode Island Spotlight: Teaching Boys Leadership at Yawgoog

yawgoog1At first glance it looks like many other summer camps with lots of waterfront activities and places for kids to just enjoy nature. Camp Yawgoog has all of that, but anyone who passes through the gates of the 1,800-acre Boy Scout Camp quickly realizes there is a common thread and theme to everything that goes on here: Tradition.

“Tradition is a big, big word here, and that’s what really gives us the heart of our camp and the love and devotion to our camp,’’ said Dan Friel, who began coming to Yawgoog as a 10-year-old scout. Now, 17 years later, he is the assistant reservation director of a camp that in 2015 is celebrating its 100th anniversary, making it the second-oldest scout camp in the country.

The camp is located in the southwest corner of Rhode Island adjacent to the Connecticut border, and this year a total of 6,300 scouts from 12 states came to Yawgoog, for eight one-week sessions. In fact, 65% of those who attended in 2015 came from out of state, in large part because of Yawgoog’s regional and national reputation.

yawgoog2“The draw is our program,” Friel said. “It’s our facilities here, it’s the beautiful, beautiful geography of Yawgoog. And I’ve travelled to different camps all over the East Coast, and they’re beautiful camps, but Yawgoog is one in a million. You just can’t get anywhere like Yawgoog.’’

So much so that many troops book the same campsite in the same section of camp for the same date every year. The staff at Yawgoog has it down to a science, with more than three dozen merit badges offered on any given week. And while the waterfront with its 160 acre-pond plays a central role to many activities, it goes way beyond that.

There is an archery range, a rifle and shotgun range, and a zip line, installed about 15 years ago.

John Mosby became the CEO of the Narragansett Council of the Boy Scouts three years ago, arriving here from the Midwest. He says he is impressed with the spirit and tradition he sees at Yawgoog.

“When you’re in the dining hall and you hear those young men doing their troop chants, and they’re involved in their singing and songs, it’s just phenomenal. And the customer service that our staff has developed over the years is second to none,’’ Mosby said.

yawgoog3And in a time where cell phones and computers dominate many young people’s time and attention, Clark says Yawgoog helps make the scouts forget those things for the week they are there.

That was certainly true for Daniel Orban, a 12-year-old who was spending his first week at Yawgoog. He said he liked leaving the technology at home.

“It’s actually really fun. It’s really good because I get to explore more things than if I was on a phone just sitting in my tent,’’ he said.

Yawgoog gives many scouts the opportunity to earn merit badges they might not be able to get back home, and that often results  in rank advancement for those coming here.

“Our troop accomplishes more rank advancements during our week at Yawgoog than anytime throughout the years,’’ said Paul Jarry, who brought 46 scouts from nearby Troop 1 in Richmond this summer to camp. “You’re interacting one-on-one with the boys throughout the whole week. There’s just so much more opportunity to advance.’’

yawgoog4Friel says the stability of the program is what keeps many coming back. “We don’t change much around here at Yawgoog,” he said. “The songs are still the songs that you sang and the parents sang that their kids are now coming and singing and the dads are singing with their kids because they know the same songs. The traditions are still the same, the programming is pretty much the same. Sure, we add and develop new programs as they come, such as robotics this year, which is brand new. But all in all, Yawgoog is very much the same.”

And Mosby said Yawgoog and the Boy Scouts teaches leadership.

“I think the tradition of what we do and developing young men to be leaders I’ve appreciated more as an adult than even when I was a young kid in scouting. Watching my own two boys come into the program, being an adult leader myself, you watch them come from that young Webelo Scout who can barely tie his own shoes, to all of the sudden being a leader among their peers.’’

If you want to see the video version of this story go to www.RhodeIslandSpotlight.org. If you know of a person or organization who you think deserves the Spotlight, send an email to jim@RhodeIslandSpotlight.org.

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