Navigators USA Chapter 223, also known as the Roosevelt Island Navigators, is our new, co-ed, secular scouting alternative. Meetings will take place in the 455 Main Street party room. The next Navigators meeting will be held on Thursday, June 21, 6:00 p.m.
Navigators USA was founded in 2003 by a couple of former leaders from Boy Scout Troop 103 in Harlem, who recognized the need for an alternative scouting experience. Navigators USA teaches many of the same skills and values as traditional scouting while emphasizing diversity, inclusion, and group problem-solving.
The organization is currently growing at the rate of four chapters per month. Chapter 222 was formed in Puerto Rico (the day before our chapter) where a community saw the need, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, for children to learn basic survival skills.
Roosevelt Island Navigators practice problem solving at their first meeting.
My first Christmas on Roosevelt Island with my son, four years ago, we went to Motorgate to buy our tree from the Boy Scouts. It was a time-worn local tradition, we were told. But that year we discovered the money would go to the PS/IS 217 PTA instead, as the Boy Scouts chapter had folded. I didn’t know the full story, but I could sense, in the eyes of the young man who assisted me, the longing for something lost.
He quietly took the chainsaw to even out the base of our tree, asking me how many inches I wanted him to slice off. I told him, “As little as possible.” It was our first Christmas on Roosevelt Island, and our first Christmas without my son’s father. Despite having a much smaller living space, compared to our home in Nantucket, we were going big. We picked a Frasier fir with that piney fragrance that made me a little giddy with the remembrance of my own childhood. The young man picked up that seven-foot tree and carried it on his shoulder all the way to our apartment building down in Southtown, as my son, then five, and I tagged along behind him. If I recall, he even let my son help him carry it for a while, not minding that it slowed him down a bit, and clearly bearing the bulk of the weight. This man had all the qualities one would expect from a scout – polite, kind, and helpful, without expecting anything in return. But while one usually encounters scouts in the presence of other scouts, he seemed to be alone. He was like the last of the Mohicans, the last of a dying breed.
Neither he nor any other scouts returned to sell and deliver the trees in subsequent years. We started getting smaller trees that we could carry home ourselves. People talked wistfully about the loss of the Boy Scouts every year when Christmas rolled around. The trees at the Motorgate were a stinging reminder of the tradition they had begun, and which they had been forced to let go of.
In the time since, a local Girl Scouts chapter was started, and began to flourish. It was wonderful to see their energy and participation in community events. Yet, at the same time, if you were a boy, there was the feeling of something wanting. There was even, at times, a feeling of being excluded from community events.
There was apparently some effort to start another Boy Scouts chapter a couple of years ago, and a meeting was called, but parents backed out when the person who wanted to step in and lead was not someone who inspired confidence in parents.
For me, a single mother, the Boy Scouts were not all that viable an option anyway. I wanted to make use of my background in outdoor education and wilderness survival training. How could I join an entity that had, by design, excluded my gender? And, further, what was really to be gained by separating girls and boys?
In the early spring, I started looking into co-ed scouting groups, and my discussion on my personal Facebook page was met with great enthusiasm from another local mom of boys and a girl, Nicky Galarza. Nicky suggested that the Navigators might be a better option because they seemed to have a large East Coast presence. As we began to reach out to other Island parents, one thing became resoundingly clear: there was a large body of Roosevelt Island families that were interested in a co-ed scouting group for their kids.
Newly galvanized by the collective interest of the community, Nicky and I began to put our heads together and roll up our sleeves. We brought in her husband, David, because, after all, we want a scouting experience where dads as well as moms can play a role in leadership. We submitted an application to the Navigators to form a local chapter, and we called a meeting. We announced our plan on social media, and received great support and well-wishes from Girl Scout Troop leaders Kristin Bruan and Susana del Campo Perea, who expressed an interest in joining forces with us for community events in the future.
This past Sunday, June 3, we held our first meeting with a packed house. Approximately 16 families turned out for the meeting. Many more have expressed an interest, but couldn’t attend that meeting. We set up my beautiful North Face Domey 3 tent with a Himalayan Heat Map design, and some kids who have never been in a tent got to experience firsthand the excitement of being inside a portable shelter.
We began to lay out some of our ideas for a vibrant, active, and inclusive scouting chapter for our kids. We ended the meeting with a go at the Human Knot Game; we created a tangled knot with joined hands and attempt to untangle it. We didn’t succeed that time, but we did learn something about how tangled knots – even human knots – can be!
Early the following morning, we were notified by Navigator USA Chapter leader Robin Bossert that our application had been approved. We are officially Navigators Chapter 223, known as the Roosevelt Island Navigators!
Robin has had a close relationship with the legendary Geoff Kerr, the former chapter leader for the Roosevelt Island Boy Scouts, and they had helped one another out over the years. We are thrilled about the continuity here, and eager to enlist the expertise of Mr. Kerr as well as former Boy Scouts. I have spoken to one, who is now a parent of my son’s best friend. I know there are others as well, and I encourage community members to get the word out to former scouts they know who may be waiting for a chance to pass on some of their knowledge.
Let’s untangle this knot in our community, and get that spark of light back in everyone’s eyes. When the tide rises, the boat floats, and we are all in this together!
Roosevelt Island Navigators