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2019 OA Innovation Award Recipients

Bill Loeble and Tripp Clark     February 10, 2020     Lodge Ledger

Many lodges develop creative and innovative solutions to the challenges they face in implementing their annual program plans. In order to spread the best ideas to other lodges and areas across the country, the Order of the Arrow Lodge Innovation Award was created in 2012 to not only recognize lodges for their efforts but to share them nationwide as best practices. Up to two awards in each region can be presented annually.

Each award is accompanied by a $1,000 cash gift to the donor restricted endowment fund of the council that each lodge serves. That gift will benefit Scouting in that council in perpetuity - meaning forever.  In total since 2012, local council endowment fund balances have received over $70,000 in total from the OA as a result of the creation of these permanently encumbered financial gifts.

Announced in 2019, seven lodges were chosen for the Innovation Award.

Narragansett Council’s Tulpe Lodge (Rhode Island) was one of the lodges to receive the Innovation Award.  Inspired by a fulfilling experience at the Order of the Arrow’s ArrowCorps5 in 2008, Tulpe Lodge developed and implemented ArrowCorps Yawgoog at their council camp, Yawgoog Scout Reservation.  “ArrowCorps Yawgoog is a one week experience at Yawgoog Scout Reservation where the principles developed during the summer of 2008 at national ArrowCorps5 are being applied in our own camp setting.”

ArrowCorps Yawgoog is offered during one of the existing weeks of summer camp. The cost is much reduced from the regular summer camp fee. ArrowCorps Yawgoog participants form a provisional unit at a summer camp with Adult Advisers functioning as Scoutmasters for the week and a youth chairman who functions as the Senior Patrol Leader.  Participants work alongside camp rangers Monday through Friday all morning. The rest of the day they participate in camp programming and advancement opportunities.

Projects have included the construction of Adirondack shelters and trail creation and/or trail improvements. According to lodge leaders, “The program has not only strengthened our lodge, but it has also provided expanded opportunities for youth leadership and service.  It has increased camp attendance, developed current and future camp staff, and offers an affordable summer camp experience for the families of southern New England.”

Glacier’s Edge Council’s Bigfoot Lodge (Wisconsin) was another lodge to receive the Innovation Award.  Unsatisfied with the prior performance of their former lodge, Takoda Lodge, which was granted a conditional charter in 2017 and suffered systemic problems and a lack of confidence of its members, Scoutmasters, and council leaders, lodge leaders sought a solution.  Faced with the very real prospect of discontinuing the Order of the Arrow in Glacier’s Edge Council, youth leaders and their advisers proposed a plan to reinvent the way OA was delivered in their council.

They took the rather radical step of dissolving their former lodge and reinventing the Order of the Arrow in Glacier’s Edge Council with a new lodge – Bigfoot Lodge.  This involved a complete rebranding campaign. “We knew that we had to completely change the experience of everything from our events, to the way we communicated with our members and responsiveness when serving units.”  In selecting a new lodge name and “brand,” the youth leaders “abandoned the previous name to embrace an entire brand based on a timeless folklore character and chief advocate of ‘Leave No Trace.’ Bigfoot Lodge was created with the idea that everything would be as big as Sasquatch himself.”

More than just a new name and a marketing plan, lodge leaders also chose to utilize modern business strategies including change management techniques and a matrix organizational structure.

In its new matrix organization structure, Bigfoot Lodge has seven Vice-Chief positions; one each for Program, Communications, Finance, Service, Camping, Leadership Development, and Unit Relations, and the matrix structure divides up the workload for each project and encourages collaboration. “The creation of the VC for Unit Relations was a strategic shift in how we engage our members.”  They opted to dissolve their chapters, which they found to be ineffective, in favor of a direct connection between the lodge leadership and individual units. “The VC of Unit Relations is responsible for providing unit reps with weekly announcements to read at their troop meetings, as well as motivating the unit reps to encourage their members to attend OA events.”

“If we did not implement these innovative solutions, the OA in our Council would have been terminated.  It was a failing program that was barely alive. By rebranding the lodge, we were able to generate new enthusiasm, optimism, and re-invigorate disengaged members.” 

The successes exceeded the expectations of the lodge and council leaders. They went from 30% of unit elections performed to 90% within 45 days.  The retention rate increased by nearly 10% (77% in 2017 to 86% in 2018). The youth Ordeal completion rate increased by 11% and the total membership increased by 11%.  Their major events also had significant increases in attendance.

Pee Dee Area Council’s Santee Lodge (South Carolina) was recognized with the Innovation Award for their “O.A. Week” program at Camp Coker.  At the end of the summer camp season, the week-long program is open to all OA members and newly elected candidates. There is an Ordeal at the beginning of the week and a focused “Day of Service” for members.  Merit badges are offered during the week, typically different merit badges than those offered during the regular summer camp program. A Native American-themed “pageant” – a full-length play – is practiced throughout the week and performed for families and guests at the end of the week.  The week concludes with the lodge’s Summer Fellowship. Staff positions are volunteers, each staff member paying $50 to cover the cost of food. Participants pay a fee well below the normal summer camp fee. “Order of the Arrow Week increases membership retention of our Scouts, improves the quality of leader for Santee Lodge, and provides increased direct benefit to Camp Coker with additional service opportunities.”

Navajo Chapter of California Inland Empire Council’s Cahuilla Lodge was awarded an Innovation Award for its successful efforts to improve member communications and activate new members.  They developed a weekly e-mail campaign to keep members informed of upcoming events and service opportunities. They also had two “big events” after both of their Ordeals to welcome new members.  These “big events” were a summer barbeque and a fall luau. Each event included a chapter meeting, drum and dance, a patch auction, and other activities. “The costs of both events were offset by donations from members in a ‘tip jar’ and a silent/live patch auction with donated patches from one of our members.”  Both the e-mail campaign and the “big events” targeting new members served to engage members effectively, resulting in improved participation and enthusiasm.

Other lodges recognized with the Innovation Award were Nischa Chuppecat Lodge, Hoosier Trails Council (Indiana); Woapalanne Lodge, Patriots’ Path Council (New Jersey); and Netopalis Sipo Schipinachk Lodge, Longhorn Council (Texas).

Consistent with the business plan of the National Order of the Arrow Committee, lodges and their leadership should be focused on election, induction, and activation rates. The Lodge Innovation Award is the perfect platform to share innovative techniques and programs that lead to or sustain a lodge thriving in these areas.

By seeking out those lodges that have been especially effective with unit elections, inductions and/or new member engagement, the National Order of the Arrow Lodge Innovation Award will provide a platform to enhance and promote the exchange of new ideas across our organization.