Of the many enduring traditions of the Boy Scouts of America, there is one that provides an opportunity for individual and collective reflection after a group excursion. It’s known as “Thorn and Roses.”
The “roses” highlight positive experiences and the “thorns” tell the negative. Both constitute constructive criticism, with an emphasis on improving the experience the next time around.
After their first true outdoor camping experience last month, the eight scouts of Germantown’s Troop 1719 had much to say.
The only rule, related Scoutmaster Ann Perrone, is to have one rose for every thorn.
“We don’t want the thorns to get ahead,” she said.
Following this qualifier was one question about the debriefing process.
“You said the weather doesn’t count?” asked one scout.
Last year, Perrone founded Boy Scout Troop 1719, which operates out of First United Methodist Church of Germantown.
Perrone, a teacher at Germantown Friends School, wanted to locate a scout troop in Germantown because, to her eye, Philadelphia has what she called a “low density” of scout troops, especially when compared to the plentiful scouting assets in the suburbs. All eight scouts call Northwest Philadelphia home.
“Philadelphia is really lacking,” she said. “The resources in the city are pretty thin.”
With a lack of scouting opportunities and a large amount of available youth for potential recruitment into the Boy Scouts, she decided to cast her efforts in Germantown.
Adding to the character of Troop 1719 is a specialty in quarterstaff drill, a non-aggressive drill in which the scouts manipulate poles in ornate and precise movements.
Perrone is hoping to train the scouts to become a performance-based team that will entertain at both community and scouting events, thus aiding in recruitment efforts and reinforcing her scouts’ morale.
“I want them to feel pride in being Boy Scouts,” she said.
Battling perceptions, facing hurdles
For Perrone, pride is found by overcoming the challenges unique to urban scouting.
Not every family has access to transportation or access to camping resources like tents, clothing, specialty footwear and the financial means to acquire and maintain them. Then, there’s an issue of image.
“There’s a perception that scouting is for rich — and often white — kids,” she said.
Compounding this is that scouting requires elements of cooperation, compassion and teamwork, which is difficult for children who have to maintain what Perrone termed “a hard edge” to survive their daily environment in urban schools and neighborhoods.
Because of this, she is making a concerted effort to reach kids who are able to make the switch from the streets to the scouts.
“I want to provide them with a safe challenge,” she explained, “and involve them with something where positive things are going to happen.”
For Troop 1719, the test lay in their ability to exist in unfamiliar surroundings and to work as a cohesive unit, which is the very essence of scouting.
Taking three hikes
Seated on wooden benches inside the Boy Scout House on Wigard Street in Fairmount Park on a Sunday morning, the scouts, along with Perrone and Assistant Scoutmaster Eddie Rigler, began relaying their thoughts about the weekend.
The first scout to speak was Matthew. Bearing no thorn, he said the he enjoyed the hikes. Troop 1719 went on three of them over the weekend.
The first was a night hike on Friday, at the outset of the excursion. Before the troop departed, Perrone gave them a tutorial on safety.
“Listen,” she said, “the night hike is just dangerous enough to be fun, but not any more dangerous than that.”
Beseeching the scouts never to run, Perrone cautioned them to watch for obstacles.
“I’m sending eight scouts out,” she continued, “and I expect eight back.”
As the octet marched off in the dark under the supervision of Rigler, Perrone sat down on a picnic table outside the Scout House.
“This,” she said, “is an act of faith.”
Into a different element
At the next day’s wake-up call, all eight scouts were present, an immediate sign that the night hike was, at the most basic level, successful.
Recalling the voyage, Rigler said there was a slight problem of orientation.
“We kind of lost our way,” he said, noting that he scouts had to retrace their steps.
After a scout-prepared breakfast of “eggs in a bag” — scrambled eggs cooked with vegetables and cheese in a Ziploc package — the scouts went for their second hike of the weekend in the woods, along with six colleagues from Scout Troop 474 from Roxborough, who volunteered to help the fledgling troop with their first camping trip.
Encountering intermittent precipitation, the scouts reached their destination at The Inn at Valley Green without incident. They returned to the Scout House for lunch and instruction in using ropes, knife safety and etiquette, and Dutch oven cooking.
After a dinner of macaroni and cheese, Troop 1719 went for their second trek of the day, a service hike to remove litter from Roxborough streets.
Service projects are not only a requirement for Scout outings; it’s tradition to clean where you camp, according to Perrone.
But be they functional or fanciful, hikes are a key component to scouting, and take on even more importance in a city troop.
“It’s getting city kids into a different element,” said Perrone, “especially with hikes in the woods.”
In addition to “seeing nature up close,” as Perrone phrased it, scouts must work together as a team and learn to share trails with bikers, hikers, and horses. And, to keep things interesting, in the Wissahickon, she said, “there’s a little touch of getting a little lost.”
Most important, however, is what the scouts take away from it.
“It’s a chance to get in touch with something real,” Perrone observed. “It’s not a virtual experience.”
A successful voyage
Foregoing likes and dislikes, Trent’s “rose” spoke to the scouts’ ability to endure.
“Mine,” he said, “is that we made it through the weekend.”
And, in spite of the rain and the cold and the seemingly small, shared tents with the troublesome zippers and too little sleep, not enough food and almost 36 continuous hours without their favorite television programs — not to fear, they DVR’ed them — the scouts of Troop 1719 did, in fact, make it.
Moreover, the scouts who were eligible completed all the outdoor requirements necessary for the rank of Tenderfoot, the first rung in a scout’s ascendance. Additional training in basic first-aid and physical fitness will secure this status.
However, sometimes the most meaningful accomplishments are not recognized with ranks or badges, but with small — and significant — gestures.
Closing the “thorn and roses” session, Perrone extended Troop 1719 a simple accolade.
“You guys,” she told them, “are now, in my eyes, real scouts.”