‘Venturing’ helps Sonoma Valley girls become leaders

Seventeen-year-old Renee Serota has visited ancient wonders in Europe, but it took membership in Venture Crew 16 to introduce her to snow - and in a big way.

Serota didn’t spend an afternoon tossing snowballs and sledding at a snow park. She and fellow crewmates bundled up in layers for a wintertime weekend of snow camping in Tahoe National Forest.

They pitched tents in a snowy campground, built an igloo, hiked in snowshoes under a full moon and prepared all their meals outdoors, surrounded by several feet of the icy precipitation that, until February, the Sonoma teen had never experienced.

Taking a snowy adventure was a new experience for Serota, one of a dozen high school girls who are founding members of the year-old Venture crew in Sonoma Valley. Having positive experiences and exploring the great outdoors are key components of Venturing, a youth development and leadership program of the Boy Scouts of America.

“It was the sort of thing I’d only seen in books or on TV,” said Serota, a junior at Marin Academy in San Rafael. “I was really, really, really excited to see snow for the first time.”

Her parents, both from the East Coast, had never taken their daughter to the snow, preferring warmer-weather destinations for family outings and vacations.

“They’ve seen enough snow to last their lifetimes,” Serota explained.

Abigail Craig of Sonoma spearheaded the campaign to establish a crew in Sonoma Valley after becoming a bit envious of the fun adventures her younger brother was experiencing as a Boy Scout.

“I wanted an opportunity to join other girls to do crazy stuff we normally don’t have an opportunity to do at home,” said Craig, 17.

Recognizing not every family is outdoorsy or able to take river rafting or geocaching adventures, she recruited her mom, Sara Craig, to help with a proposal and an outline for a Sonoma Valley crew.

With a commitment from like-minded girls, Craig approached the Rotary Club of Sonoma Valley to sponsor the crew. Boy Scout Troop 16 of Sonoma Valley also stepped up and offered use of its outdoor equipment and a meeting space, both organizations giving the girls a jump-start for their adventures.

Since its founding last May, the teens have gone camping twice (along with snow camping), with one of the outings featuring an astronomy presentation and star-gazing through a telescope. They first climbed to new heights at the Challenge Sonoma Adventure Ropes Course, where they also worked on team-building skills and got to know one another.

“It’s amazing how we’ve grown as a group in the first year, and the skills and perspectives we’ve gained,” said Craig, the crew president.

Most challenging, perhaps, has been scheduling activities. In addition to Serota attending high school in Marin county, other crewmates are scattered from Sonoma Valley High School to Justin-Siena High School in Napa, where Craig is a junior. Members live in both Sonoma and Napa valleys.

The girls all carry challenging academic loads and are involved in numerous extracurricular activities at their respective public and private high schools, but agree Venturing provides adventures they otherwise might not have with their own families.

“This is something they’d never experience. We’ve kind of become that adventurous family for them,” Craig said.

“And it’s challenging,” said Anna Stava, 17, a junior at Sonoma Valley High School. “I joined to experience the outdoors more and build strong relationships with girls I don’t normally get to hang out with.”

With three high schools represented and some of the girls meeting for the first time, the teens said the crew is an ideal way to prepare them for college and stepping outside their social circles and comfort zones.

Although Venturing welcomes young adults from 14 to 20 and offers co-ed programs, the girls opted to keep their crew same-gender and among high-schoolers. They’ve built friendships in the first year and imagine they’ll strengthen those bonds this summer when they take several expeditions together. The girls aim for six adventures each year.

Upcoming plans include rock climbing, cave crawling and spelunking, backpacking and camping. They’re also considering a first-anniversary celebration with a return to the ropes course.

Venturing also is community service- and citizenship-oriented, with outreach plans to take underserved younger girls on a hiking and beachcombing outing. They also plan to do a beach cleanup.

Crew advisors Donna Worona and Rebecca Hengehold chaperone trips, but the crew is member-led, giving the teens an opportunity to plan and organize activities, handle logistics, delegate and develop leadership skills. The advisors serve more as mentors, the teens said.

“It’s not my friend group at school, so it’s forcing me to branch out,” said Worona’s daughter, Lauren, 16, a sophomore at Sonoma Valley High School and the crew’s vice president. “It’s nice to have a group outside of school you can get to know. It’s really fun overall.”

The crew is primarily self-supporting, mostly raising funds on patriotic holidays by placing and retiring flags at local businesses and private residences. Getting up by the crack of dawn to display flags on a rare day off is challenging but well worth the effort, the girls agree.

When they’re pushing their limits in the outdoors, gaining experiences and building their confidence, there’s no greater source of satisfaction.

“It really allows us to grow as individuals,” Craig said.

For more information about Venture Crew 16 of Sonoma Valley, or to subscribe to the Flags Across America fundraising program, contact Abigail Craig at 721-6066 or

Contact Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at

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