When Shirley Richardson-Thomas isn't busy mentoring youth, the 83-year-old is drilling and marching or engaging in camp activities in her role as a master guide in the Seventh-day Adventist Pathfinder Club.
A sash of honours slung across her chest symbolises her completion in studies such as planets, the constellation, music, hiking skills, camp fires, bush cooking, tent pitching and striking, and computing.
Richardson-Thomas, who is from Cornwall Mountain, Westmoreland, said she has spent the past 55 years as a master guide, providing youngsters across the island with valuable lessons geared towards physical, social, mental, and spiritual development.
"I became a pathfinder in 1966 and at that time I was attending Montego Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church. There were three of us in the club, and we were studying to become master guides, but the other two fell out the programme and I continued until the studies were finished in 1967," she told the Jamaica Observer.
Richardson-Thomas started pathfinder clubs and acquired many leadership roles at several other clubs in St James, Westmoreland, Kingston, and Trelawny.
Her role as a master guide was in sync with her profession as an educator, as she obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Secondary Education.
"I attended the Knockpatrick Church where I served as an instructor and counsellor until my graduation in 1985. After graduating I went back to West Jamaica Conference and served at the Glendevon Church as an instructor and counsellor during my two years being unemployed," said Richardson-Thomas.
"I later obtained employment at William Knibb Memorial High School in 1987. At this time, I attended Falmouth Seventh-day Adventist Church where I became the director of the Pathfinder Club in Falmouth, which I named Wisdom Pathfinder Club," she added.
She said when the club started, only nine children were in attendance. But the membership eventually grew to 34 and several people got invested as master guides, including her son Andre.
Shortly after that, in 2002, she started another Pathfinder Club in her hometown where her daughter Antonnette got invested as a master guide.
While Richardson-Thomas was happy to talk about her leadership role in as a master guide, she was equally pleased to share some of her experiences in camping â€” one of the Pathfinder's main activities.
"I have had many camping experiences since 1967. My first camping experience was in Whitehouse in Westmoreland. I have rarely missed a camp since then. I would go to both Easter and summer camps every year, camporees and jamborees," she said.
"When I go to camp each year, I teach various things like home management, bed making, table manners, table making, courtesy, hiking, mountain climbing, survival skills, basic rescue, first aid and helping the sick. Right now, I am 83 and I still drill and march," she said.
Recalling one of her memorable moments at camp, Richardson-Thomas said, "I went to an environmental camp in Williamsfield in Westmoreland. It was dark and I followed the person who was leading me and when I got to a point, all I knew was that I slid on my buttocks to the bottom of the hill because it was raining before and I didn't know the way."
As she looks forward to the Inter-American Division of Seventh-day Adventists fifth Pathfinder Camporee in April, Richardson-Thomas hopes to inspire more youth during the experience.
"I have registered for it already. Right now I have my camp shirt that I got in The Bahamas in 2003. I am going to have it to wear if my life spares in April and I am taking my young people to learn from others and to grow socially, spiritually and mentally," she said.
The camporee, set for the Trelawny Multipurpose Stadium from April 4 to 8, is being held in Jamaica for the first time. The church anticipates that between 12,000 and 15,000 youth and other stakeholders from across the region will attend the camp, which is held every five years.