In addition to outdoor adventures, Trail Life encourages service. Troop 1557 (above) recently delivered firewood to those in need. It meets at Vermont United Methodist Church, and Tom Friend is troopmaster.
Last September, a group of Tri-Cities men joined more than 1,200 others in Nashville for the unveiling of a new youth organization called Trail Life USA. Not all of those local men knew each other at the time, but they were in Nashville for the same reason — to find a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts of America after the BSA announced a change to its membership policy to admit youth regardless of their sexual orientation or sexual preference.
Bill Lizzio and Mike Duncan, of Johnson City, had been active for years as leaders with Boy Scouts.
"I had been involved in scouting when it began to move in a different direction," Lizzio said. "We met to decide what to do. We want to raise a generation of great men, take what we learned from Scouting, shake out the cumbersome, study great men and put together a program."
Lizzio and Duncan attended Trail Life's first national convention and were blown away by the response — 44 states were represented — and the potential.
"It exceeded our expectations," Lizzio said. "The heritage part, the strong Christian values."
Dan Pohlgeers had been involved in Scouting with his son, Nick, 14. He joined the Johnson City contingency in Nashville.
"What do we like about Scouts? What do we not like about Scouts? What can we improve on? It was a convergence on Nashville. This was the program we were looking for," he said.
Mike Beverly, senior minister at Indian Springs Christian Church in Kingsport, is an Eagle Scout and his 10-year-old son, Michael, was a Cub Scout when the BSA began considering its policy change.
"If Boy Scouts made these changes, I would make my own program," Beverly said he remembers thinking. He also made the drive to Nashville.
On Jan. 1, Trail Life USA officially launched its outdoor adventure program for boys and young men. Today, Lizzio serves as a Trail Life USA trailblazer, leading the area team that supports the growth and development of Trail Life troops in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. He is also the representative for Trail Life Troop 110, which meets at First Christian Church in Johnson City. Duncan serves as troopmaster for Troop 110. And Beverly is troopmaster of Trail Life Troop 633, headquartered at Indian Springs.
Trail Life USA is a Christian adventure, character and leadership program. The K-12 program centers on outdoor experiences that build a young man's skills and allow him to grow on a personal level and as a role model and leader for his peers. Experiences could include camping, hiking, bicycling, caving, outdoor cooking, mountaineering, swimming, archery, fishing and emergency first aid.
As young men progress through the various levels of the Trail Life USA program, they take part in a camping program, leadership development, rank advancements, awards, a trail badge program, community service, summer adventures, spiritual training and a variety of special offerings. The program also has a focus on community service, based on the servant-leadership model.
"Trail Life is more into service," said Tom Friend, troopmaster of Trail life Troop 1557, which meets at 7 p.m., Mondays, at Vermont United Methodist Church in Kingsport. "The junior high boys have to have 15 hours of service [each year] to move up. High school boys need 20 hours each year."
"This teaches that service is a habit, not just a punch list," Lizzio said. "It's lifestyle, habit and part of their charact e r. "
Trail Life USA has a strong inclusion policy for youth; all boys are welcome to the program regardless of religion, race, national origin or socioeconomic status. However, adult leaders in the program will be Christian and must sign a statement of faith and submit to background checks. Both boys and adults will be required to adhere to a code of conduct. The full membership policy can be read online at www.TrailLifeUSA.com .
There are eight local chartered Trail Life troops — three in Kingsport, and one each in Johnson City, Telford, Abingdon, Erwin and Spruce Pine. These troops are part of the Overmountain Region. There are an additional two troops in the process of being chartered — one in Elizabethton and one in Bristol.
Troop 110, at First Christian in Johnson City, is one of 25 charter troops across the country. The number 110 is taken from Colossians 1:10: " .... that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." Meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. each Tuesday during the school year in the church's Family Life Center. It has approximately 110 adult and youth members.
Nick Pohlgeers, an eighth-grader at University School in Johnson City, was in Boy Scouts for three years before joining Troop 110. Like most teenage boys, he enjoys the varied activities.
"I like all the adventures we have — the hiking, the camping, being outdoors," he said.
"I think it's great that the meetings start and finish with boys of all ages together," Dan Pohlgeers added. "The older boys have the chance to mentor younger boys. The younger boys have someone to look up to."
Michael Beverly enjoys all the activities associated with being a Trail Life Mountain Lion, the rank he has achieved. His troop, Trail Life Troop 633, meets at Indian Springs at 6:30 p.m., Mondays, and is based on Matthew 6:33 ("But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you"). "We do a lot more Bible stuff," he said. "What we do always reflects on our lessons of the day. We do some really fun games." Michael's dad, troopmaster Mike Beverly, said he likes Trail Life's explicitly Christian identit y. "I want to partner with groups that are unapologetically Christian," he said. "I also like the fact that they are giving us a lot of free rein to be creative with our troops."
Tom Friend, troopmaster of Trail life Troop 1557, which meets at 7 p.m., Mondays, at Vermont United Methodist Church in Kingsport, said his troop has doubled since he combined two former Scout troops — Boy Scout Troop 155 and Cub Scout Pack 157.
Kingsport's third troop, Troop 1031, meets at 6:30 p.m., Thursdays, at Cedar View Christian School. Troopmaster is Kevin Adams. The troop verse is I Corinthians 10:31: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.'
At First Christian in Johnson City, area girls can participate in an American Heritage Girls group. Like Trail Life, American Heritage Girls is a Christ-centered character development program. Beverly is working to start an American Heritage Girls troop at Indian Springs.
For more information about Trail Life, or to locate a troop, visit www.TrailLifeUSA.com. For more information about American Heritage Girls, visit www.ahgonline.org.