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Bridging the gap: Crews team up for adventure

“The parents see the change in [their child] after they went to Philmont. We’ve got one that just got accepted into medical school, we’ve got one that is an active marine . . It’s really fulfilling for us to hear,” said Mary Esserman, advisor for crew 621-A from northwest Indiana.

Esserman and her co-advisor, Ann Ballinger, have been bringing crews to Philmont for several years now. They work to remove financial barriers and encourage scouts to come to Philmont who might have otherwise not had the chance. They understand the impact Philmont has on its youth and try to help encourage Scouts to gain that experience.

Crew 621-A was formed from several neighboring troops in a tradition that they’ve been growing for years. “We put our heads together and wanted to do this because troops were kind of dwindling out of doing the high adventure stuff and it’s hard to get enough people in one troop to want to go,” said Esserman.

“We like doing it to hold the cost down for families. In the several years that we’ve been together, we’ve had a lot of youth who probably wouldn’t be able to go if wasn’t for being able to go with us.”

“As far as cost, we travel from Chicago by Amtrak, and Mary diligently shops for the lowest possible fares we can find,” added Balinger.

The crew has tried to make Philmont financially accessible for any scouts that want to come.

“One of the ways that I think makes it financially more feasible is we have a lot of equipment stockpiled,” said Ballinger.

Esserman elaborates: “Over the years, the little bit that we get from [the families'] portion of the charges, we buy tarps, and we maintain stoves and all that stuff. . . . I think all but [three pieces of our] equipment now is actually somehow hand-me-down.”

Removing the financial barriers is only one part of convincing Scouts to come to Philmont. “Another thing that I think that helps make it all possible is sharing the stories." remarks Ballinger. "Mary takes a million pictures, and I take half a million pictures, these other adults are going to take half a million pictures, and we compile them onto a flash drive, and we share them, so everybody gets their own flash drive. . . We really encourage kids to talk about it.”

Ultimately, the Philmont experience is the goal for this crew. As Esserman said: “This is my vacation, I come out here, and I don’t care how hard I have to work, or what I have to do ahead of time. All of the planning Ann and I do: scheduling hikes, weekend practice hikes, it’s fun, and it’s enjoyable to see the kids' personal growth from the first time they meet up with us until the time they get off the train back home.”

Crew 621-A poses for their crew photo on June 21, 2023 at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. Photo by Caroline Fallin.

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