The following blog is dedicated to all of the hard work that has gone into forming a new sensory friendly pack here in Vancouver, Washington. If you belong to a sensory friendly pack or troop or unit, please let us know and we would love to share your story as well.
“Three weeks in December! The formation of a Sensory Friendly Pack.”
As many of you may know, my wife Karen and I are owners of Count Your Beans. Our business has sold collectible dolls and bears online in various venues including our website, eBay and Amazon for the past 13 years. We also founded a non-profit 501(c)(3) public charity, Autism Empowerment this past June. At some point one of our goals is to work on projects for Autism Empowerment on a full time basis in 2012 but in the meantime, bills still need to be paid and being in online retail, the Christmas season in the busiest time for us. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the craziest time and it is not uncommon to spend 12 - 14 hours per day on the business and still feel like we’re in catch-up mode.
Scouting takes kind of a backseat during this time of year. Since Justin doesn’t really like the cold, we tend to skip the November and December camping. There were only two troop meetings including the December Court of Honor and there was also a service project, Scouting for Food (an event that both Ryan and Justin took part in this year). The main thing scouting related that I was working on was the support I was giving via the Autism and Scouting website page on Autism Empowerment and support from e-mail and Autism and Scouting on Facebook.
Here is what happened the last three weeks of December and the birth of a Sensory Friendly Cub Scout Unit.
Wednesday, December 7th - I received an e-mail from Brian Blachly, our District Executive asking if I was going to be at the Roundtable (not the pizza place) the following evening. Round table is a monthly gathering of leaders within the district (including Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venture Scouts) to further training and is a place to network with other leaders and exchange ideas.
Brian knows about my passion for the scouting program and knows my passion to bring the scouting program to scouts who are on the Autism Spectrum as well as with other special needs. Brian also came out to support me when I gave a presentation the the Autism Society of Southwest Washington early in 2011. So I figured he wanted to talk to me about doing some further training or something like that. I checked in with Karen to see if we had anything going on that night and she said she would watch the boys.
Thursday, December 8th - I was able to meet up with him and he explained that he was meeting the next day with a parent who was looking for a Cub Scout Pack for her son that had a greater understanding of sensory processing issues and how to work with children on the Autism Spectrum. He had conversations with her and put forth the idea of starting the first Sensory Friendly Cub Scout Pack in Vancouver, WA with her as the Cubmaster. He asked me to come on board as a Unit Commissioner to support the new unit and to come to the meeting the next day with the Cubmaster to be. He also said that he had already set up a Join Night for the group for the following Thursday. Not really knowing what a Unit Commissioner was I asked him what a Unit Commissioner does along with some other questions.
He told me that a Unit Commissioner typically helps three or four units but in this case I would be a Unit Commissioner with only one focus and that would be this new Pack. My role would be as counselor, teacher (about the program), advisor, liaison between unit and district, liaison between unit and Boy Scout units and unit QA (quality assurance). I have to say that I was very honored but I was already very involved with Justin’s Boy Scout Troop (Troop 462) and I told him so but I would need to talk this over with Karen before I added anymore scouting related commitments, especially at our very busy time with Count Your Beans. When I got home, I told Karen about the offer and the new unit and she thought that it was an interesting concept. A lunch meeting the next day was in order just to talk about the concepts.
Friday, December 9th - I arrived a few minutes early and talked with Brian and then Deanna Pehrson arrived. I came to find out this was the same person I had e-mail correspondence with trying to find a Pack for her son and she also attended my class on Autism and Sensory Processing needs in Scouting a month and a half earlier at the Cascade Pacific Counsel’s Excellence and Training Conference.
We talked about the idea of starting a new unit that had at its core, the concept of being a place where scouts could experience the full scouting program in a sensory friendly setting. It would be a place where parents did not feel they needed to explain themselves or say “I’m sorry” for untraditional actions of their scouts and where other parents would be more accepting and understanding of those who had special needs. Extra care would be given to training of the adult leaders in order to provide an extra level of training for the leadership. In addition, the use of more visual aids such as timers, schedules and access to a sensory break room would be just some of the differences.
Brian explained that he had already set up a join night that would be in seven days, showed us a stack of join night fliers that he had done and explained what was needed to start a new unit:
A Charter Organization
A Committee Chair
Two more adult leaders
Three Committee Members
Have at least 10 scouts
Have a place to meet
Secure seed funds to pay for pack expenses
Unit Commissioner to be assigned by the District Executive
Coming out of this first meeting, the Cubmaster was the only person in place. Later that day I joined and accepted the position as Unit Commissioner.
Sunday, December 11th - Deanna, Gary (Deanna’s husband), Karen and myself met to discuss and put together the ideas that came from the first meeting two days prior and how this new unit was going to be different and how to get the unit up and running in a timely manner.
The desire was to create a place where the scouts could have fun, grow and be themselves where in a fully accepting atmosphere with an effort to accommodate each sensory need or special need. As parents and caregivers need support too, the idea also came up to include a support group for parents. We came out of this meeting with a plan for the marketing of the new group throughout the next week in order to try to reach the requirements to charter the new unit. This was going to be a huge feat because this was only two weeks before Christmas, it was right before kids went on Winter Break from school and it was a time of year that I suspect most people have a focus on other things. It is a slow time in Scouting for those who are active. What would it be like recruiting during a period when it might not be ideal to make a sudden decision about a new activity for one’s son and family?
Monday, December 12th - Plans for the new pack were starting to take shape and things were starting to happen. I had secured scouts to help out at the first join night and started the process to get Den Chiefs for the new pack. Marketing was starting to kick into full gear with the many marketing efforts by Karen through Autism Empowerment, Deanna meeting with some contacts at the local ARC and myself contacting many autism and special needs groups in the Vancouver area. The pack number was also assigned, it was going to be Pack 2.
Wednesday, December 14th - The unit goals were developed as well as a mission statement. Welcome packets were put together and the first Committee Meeting was being set up. The first tentative Den Meetings were set for Thursday, January 5th.. The final details for the join night were being put into place.
Thursday, December 15th - Only seven days after the first meeting, Pack 2 had its first join night. With this short notice we had 6 families show up with a few others not being able to make the meeting. A potential number of scouts and leaders were identified. Pack 2 also received notice that they had a charter organization willing to commit.
Friday, December 16th - Things were starting to kick into high gear, Karen of Autism Empowerment joined the team as the Committee Chair and the website was created and was live. In addition to this, a location for the meetings was secured and generously donated but we needed to have a final walk through.
The week of Christmas, many of the details were being worked out and the families took a small breather in order to enjoy time with our families.
Monday, December 26th - The tour was taken of the River Rock Church and it was determined that the space would work great and the fact that the Church was donating the space fell right in line with the start-up budget. After the tour, the first official Committee Meeting took place and after three and half hours, many issues were determined on to better serve the in coming cubs.
Thursday, December 29th - Three weeks after that first conversation with our District Executive, the unit was close to being ready to be chartered.
There was a Parent Planning meeting where we met new potential scouts and their parents and received some completed applications. Another join night is planned for January 12th.
Cub Scout Pack 2 is so very close to be the first Sensory Friendly Cub Scout pack within the Cascade Pacific Council.
A Charter Organization Done
A Committee Chair Done
A Cubmaster Done
Two more adult leaders (Still in need)
Three Committee Members (have 5) Done
Advancement Chair Done
Marketing Chair Done
Committee Member Done
Committee Member Done
Have at least 10 scouts Just a few short
Have a place to meet Done
Seed Funding Done (thanks to Dr. Wolcott & Autism Empowerment)
Unit Commissioner Done
Friday, December 30th - We have our EIN Number, our meeting minutes and Deanna and Karen open up the Cub Scout Pack 2 bank account. We are on our way.
The Cubmaster has really done an incredible job putting together the program and we believe will be an outstanding leader. She has a service project already set and a field trip to deliver the completed service project by the middle of January. The plans are to offer a year round and full Cub Scouting Program (including hiking and camping) in a sensory friendly setting where Scouts Can Do Their Best
One of the goals for Autism and Scouting it to build a database of sensory friendly scouting groups throughout the country so that caregivers can go to a single place to find out if a unit is sensory friendly. We will be working on putting together a matrix that would be used to get your unit put on the list. Please look for that in the near future. In the meantime, if your unit would like to network, please e-mail me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org with your unit’s information, we would love to get into contact with you.
Wishing you all a very Happy Scouting Year filled with success after success. I will be blogging more in 2012 and have some ideas already in the pipeline.