Writer: Steve Byrns, 325-653-4576, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: Dr. Dale Rollins, 325-653-4576, email@example.com
SAN ANGELO – The Texas Brigades summer youth camp registrations are now in full swing. And along with the muster of cadets for the seven camps goes the perennial call for adult volunteers who often get as much or more from the five-day experiences as do the young participants, said two longtime volunteer leaders.
The husband and wife team of Rodney and Melissa Sturdivant of Coleman are both longtime camp volunteers — for 13 years in Rodney’s case and nine years in Melissa’s.
Dr. Dale Rollins, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist at San Angelo and the camps’ creator headquartered at San Angelo, said there are seven camps held across the state — six centered around various wildlife species and one dealing with ranch management.
Rollins said they are meant to equip young people with the leadership skills needed to become effective advocates for wildlife conservation and land management. But to help them achieve those goals, the camps are always on the lookout for, as he puts it, “highly motivated adults ages 20 to 60 years old willing to serve as leaders.”
Many like the Sturdivants gravitate to specific camps, in their case the Rolling Plains Bobwhite Brigade, which has become an annual high priority commitment in their lives.
Rodney Sturdivant holds a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries management, but said he got sidetracked for 20 years being an Air Force navigator. Retired since 2001, he’s now a civilian contractor training navigators for the B-1 bomber at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene.
“I joke about being a wayward biologist,” Sturdivant said. “I am involved in several volunteer groups like the Master Naturalists and in hunter safety courses along with the Rolling Plains Bobwhite Brigade – it’s my way of scratching my biology itch. I served as a Bobwhite Brigade covey leader in the 9th Battalion in 2001 and have been hooked ever since.”
Rodney met Melissa through his volunteer work with AgriLife Extension’s Master Naturalists program.
“I helped start the Big Country chapter in Abilene,” he said. “Melissa was in our first class and she was our first president. I invited her to come out to the Bobwhite Brigade, which she did, and since then we have been hooked on the camp — and each other.”
Melissa Sturdivant said she was captivated at that first Bobwhite Brigade camp she attended, which like all the Texas Brigades share a military-styled theme.
“Y’all had me with the first conservation cadence,” she said referring to the marching chants cadets learn to help them remember specific keys to proper conservation. “I volunteered as a Covey Leader in 2006 and I have been calling those conservation cadences ever since.”
As a soil conservationist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Melissa Sturdivant is keenly aware that teaching the habitat needs of the Bobwhite quail, as well as most any range-related topic, can’t be done solely from a book or desk.
Teaching “conservation on the ground,” as she puts it, gives her the greatest satisfaction, both personally and professionally. And to further that commitment, she is stepping in to serve as the Rolling Plains Bobwhite Brigade’s Camp coordinator beginning this year.
“There is no substitute for experiential learning,” she said. “I feel so very fortunate, because to quote Dr. Rollins, we as instructors are truly blessed that many of our vocations are one in the same with our avocations.
“These youth are the future stewards of the land who will someday make decisions concerning its use. What better way to teach conservation on the ground than by spending time cultivating an informed future steward of the land? I love it and consider my time with the camps an investment in our youth that will ensure they have the knowledge to make informed decisions about land management as true stewards should.”
Rollins, who also serves as the statewide coordinator for the legislatively funded Reversing the Quail Decline Initiative, said the camps are a partnership effort of AgriLife Extension, Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, several universities, conservation groups, local soil and water conservation districts, private businesses, and individuals with an interest in wildlife and youth leadership development.
To learn more about the camps or how to become an adult leader, or to register as a cadet, applications may be completed online or downloaded at http://www.texasbrigades.org. Or contact Helen Holdsworth at firstname.lastname@example.org , Kassi Scheffer at email@example.com , or call 855-TXBRIGS (855-892-7447).
“If you are passionate about our land and what it provides to us, and if you want to invest in our future and the sustainability of these natural resources, then the Texas Brigades are for you,” Melissa Sturdivant said.
“Working with the brigades truly gives me joy in my heart knowing that some of the Bobwhite Brigade cadets will be that future generation who will continue to improve upon the proper stewardship tradition. It’s heartwarming when you realize these future stewards will probably be using skills they first experienced at a Rolling Plains Bobwhite Brigade camp or at one of the other camps. What a return on that investment.
“And as far as volunteering as a couple? For us it’s ‘like minds; like hearts.’ When you are dedicated to such an effort as the Bobwhite Brigade and are as truly passionate about it as we are, it’s just a sign of what else is in your heart, right?”