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Newmarket Scouts volunteers allow children to get 'wild outside'

Nicole Donadio is one of over 40 Newmarket Scouts volunteers that give children a place to explore the great outdoors, develop lifelong skills, and, in the time of COVID-19, escape the isolation of the online world

After a year of lockdowns, isolation, and much of life lived online, it’s good to get back to the basics.

For the Newmarket Scouts’ 40-plus volunteers, that means providing local children the opportunity to explore the great outdoors, develop essential skills, and build lasting friendships away from school.  

“What we offer youth is a program that breeds confidence, kindness, and everyday life skills, alongside a sense of real adventure and know-how, which we know they will carry with them the rest of their lives,” said Nicole Donadio, council relationship manager with Scouts Canada.

In addition to her “day job” with Scouts, Donadio also volunteers with the five to seven-year-old Newmarket Beaver Scouts. Donadio and her peers provide mentorship to almost 70 local Scouts, one of the largest groups in Canada.

A typical week for Scout volunteers includes planning safe, fun adventures for the children and running weekly meetings. Outdoor activities this past year have included biking, hiking, canoeing, and “old school” skills like fire starting, shelter building, and compass navigation.

Lockdowns haven’t done much to hinder the Scouts’ fun. They’ve transitioned to online meetings as needed, learning skills like coding and enjoying virtual visits to outdoor learning centres.

When COVID-19 restrictions make it impossible to meet as a group, Scouts complete activities with their families instead.

“The thing that’s impressed me the most is how much the Scouters have been able to adapt,” said Donadio. “Carrying on the program for the youth gives them a role model and shows them that even though things aren’t optimal, we’re going to make the best of it and find new ways to do things.”

Currently, the Newmarket Scouts are undertaking the Great 8 Challenge, an eight-week-long adventure formed in partnership with Canadian Survivorman Les Stroud. Based on chapters from Stroud’s new book,Wild Outside: Around the World With Survivorman, the campaign sees Scouts undertake a new challenge designed to keep them active each week.

Kicking off the contest April 19, the Scouts have so far completed the Far-Out Feast challenge, cooking with unusual ingredients, and the Tarp Troubles challenge, building survival shelters from unusual or limited supplies. In addition to bragging rights, a special crest, and weekly prizes, Scouts across Canada will be vying for a grand-prize virtual meet-and-greet with Stroud.

“It has always been my honour and a point of pride that so much of my work as a filmmaker, outdoor instructor, author, and guide has related to the Scouting program in Canada,” said Stroud. “Relating to nature in a respectful and skilful way allows a person to live a more adventurous and even honourable life. While the stories in Wild Outside derive from my adventures in the wild, they also serve as a wonderful platform to learn, as Scouts do, more about oneself as a human being.” 

Donadio is pleased to report a variety of creative Great 8 Challenge entries so far. Newmarket Scouts have worked hard to develop their survival skills, making meals from wacky ingredients like insects and survival shelters from just blankets.

“It’s been really fun,” said Donadio. “The kids and Scouters alike have really embraced it. They’ve jumped in and are trying some new and interesting stuff.”

As a parent to two Cub Scouts, volunteering gives Donadio an opportunity to watch her children grow alongside their Scouting peers.

Scouts Canada also offers personal development and learning classes for volunteers, she said, teaching them outdoor survival skills, mentorship classes, first aid, and more.

“You will never find an organization that is so dedicated to developing their volunteers,” said Donadio. “We get to learn and do cool stuff too!”