One of the most special awards we give out each year is the Outstanding Crew Member of the Year. It’s awarded to that crew member who has most demonstrated outstanding leadership, service and spirit. Someone who lives the Venturing Oath each day. But what makes this so special is that the winner is selected by the youth, not the adults. By secret, or semi-secret ballots, they have voted. I’ve told them to take this award seriously and not to use it as a popularity contest. And they listened. Please welcome this year’s winner, Rachel Thomas.
Rachel has been with us for three years but it seems more like 30. And I mean that only in a loving way. Rachel and I tease each other quite a bit. The truth is, this young woman is the spark that drives this crew. Her enthusiasm is contagious and always present. She is a blur of motion, never still, independent with a capital I, always up for any adventure, the more hardcore, the better. Her leadership skills are enormous, not the least of which are her abilities to communicate. Her empathy for others and friendliness toward all members of the crew have made her not only a popular leader but one who is respected as well.
She has shown huge improvement this year and if it wasn’t already for the fact that she had received the growth award last year, she certainly could have won that this year, as well as the spirit and others. A former two-term secretary, she decided to try for vice president of administration, the first vice president, in September and won running against a very respected leader.
Then she asked me if she could also run for the same job on the Council’s Venturing Officers Association. I said sure and she won again. She now serves both organizations and has done an outstanding job in both.
Of course, Rachel is nothing if not pure fun. My inbox for text messages is filled with her correspondence. When she volunteered to sign up for Kodiak X, a leadership training course, this is what she sent me: “Are we going to be dropped off in the middle of the woods with nothing to eat for days?” She was disappointed that was not the plan.
Another time when we were preparing our fundraiser at Applebees, she asked if she and her twin sister in the crew, Kristina, could be hostesses.
Well we are the hostess type. We are the best hostess type ever. We’ll show you. People will be fighting to get in the door.
Then there was the time I asked her to call some crew members about coming to an event. About one, she wrote, “he said he’d mail u after he thinks about it. But he’s sunburned and sick. Ha Ha.” (Well, she cares about most in the crew)
Or there was the time she took part in our underage cigarette buy, where youth go to stores and try to buy cigarettes without lying about their age. While visiting one store, she sent me this text: “Hey, some guy was going to sell them to me but he asked if I was 18. What should I say?”
Then there was the time two months ago when Rachel was walking with Kristina in our neighborhood, which Kristina moved into, and Rachel text me she had just walked past my home. “Just an innocent walk and BAM you have a house and a life and stuff.”
I could go on and on. Everyone in the crew has their favorite Rachel stories. Some revolve around her famous sense of direction. Mr. Kent and I joke about her ability to navigate without a GPS. Last month when the crew went to Fun Zone, she assured me having been there before she knew how to get there and would direct her driver. I saw them leave the parking lot headed for Columbia. Fun Zone is close to Ballentine. A little while later I got a call from her explaining they were in the parking lot of DJJ and asking for directions.
She also is a climbing fanatic, as long as it is something she is not supposed to climb, fire towers, houses, churches, the projection room at the top of the movie theater, if there is a challenge, she wants it. And it’s not just climbing. Though we don’t ride ATVs in Venturing, Rachel does and she and Stuart pushed the envelope at Mr. Kent’s country estate, immersing her in muddy water but not dampening her enthusiasm.
And I couldn’t talk about Rachel without mentioning a prominent defect. If you spend any down time with her, she eventually will insist on playing a game of Would you rather. If this happens to you, simply turn and run. Or you can stay and ask her how women with burkas can wear a Jihad on their head. Either defense will work.
For all the laughter we have had with Rachel, things have not always been fun for her. This has been a year of learning and growth. She had a very poignant lesson in leadership last fall when a mistake in judgment threatened her reputation and respect in the crew. She apologized with tears and worked hard to regain their trust.
She has paid back to Venturing as much as she has taken out. Her teaching during the last Council Venturing Leadership Skills Course was superb and she has volunteered to be an instructor for this summer’s Kodiak, having completed Kodiak and Kodiak X training herself.
In short, Rachel is the embodiment of Venturing, full of spirit, leadership and service. She is the heart and soul of this crew. And while these are my words, they were reflected by the many votes who have declared her the 2010 Outstanding Crew Member.