The 1st Elmira Scouts have a history that reaches back more than a century. For about half of it, Brian Soehner has been involved, but now he’s stepping back due to health reasons.
Soehner has spent the past decade as commissioner of the group, a role in which he is now being joined by Phillippe Bertrand, himself a longtime Scouting volunteer.
The 1st Elmira Scouts were established in 1912 to provide adventures and leadership skills to young people ages 5 to 25. Members are divided into five sections based on age: Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Venturers and Rovers. Soehner has been very much involved in how the Elmira group evolved over the latter half of its history.
“Brian’s amazing,” said Phillippe Bertrand, who is filling Soehner’s role as co-commissioner. “There’s very little Brian hasn’t done or seen. He’s having challenges, personal challenges and I thought that somebody needed to step up and help him out.”
Bertrand has been working with Elmira Scouting for 13 years. He was working as a secretary before taking on the role as co-commissioner, although he has taken on many positions throughout the years.
“I started off for three years as a Beaver leader,” he said. “I’ve done seven years in Cubs. And this is my fourth year with the Scout troop. Somewhere, year three or four or so, I joined the group as a secretary. A year or two after that, I worked as a recognition officer as well to make sure members were getting recognized for their contributions. As my experience with the group and years of service on the committee progressed, people were coming more and more to me, when Brian wasn’t available, to ask me questions. So it’s been kind of a gradual transition as the co-commissioner.”
Soehner and Bertrand have been working closely together for more than a decade. Soehner is confident in Bertrand’s ability to be a good leader and role model for members.
“Phillippe’s been helping for more than 10 years,” Soehner said. “He will do an outstanding job. He’s in the same position that I was in. He’s a Scout leader and he’s about to be commissioner as well. He’s very good at it, … very understanding of what needs to be done. The kids really seem to enjoy working with him.”
After such a lengthy career, Soehner has seen changes to the group along with the challenges that come with it.
“One of the biggest challenges has been making sure that youth know about our program,” he said. “We don’t get much in the paper anymore. We used to get something every week. That’s one of the biggest challenges is being recognized in the community for what we do.”
The main point Soehner wanted to make known is that the Scouting program teaches valuable skills to its members.
“The public should know the opportunities that Elmira Scouting provides children,” he said. “Most of the Venturers have their scuba diving licenses and first aid training. It teaches them survival in the outdoors. Those who come out of the program learn a lot more about life skills.”
“A lot of our leaders, myself included, take personal ownership in the program,” added Bertrand. “We all truly care about the program.”
Bertrand has also noticed changes over the years.
“It’s not focused on their badges like they were when I was a kid,” he said. “It’s really adventure-focused and youth-led. We’ve done everything from climbing to archery, canoeing, hikes, cookouts, everything you can imagine.”
Anyone interested in more information about the 1st Elmira Scouts can go to www.elmirascouting.com.