In this article, Dan Grdovic, who serves as Director of Energy Optimization at Edison Energy, discusses his ongoing mentorship to New Jersey youth.
Dan Grdovic spends his days helping clients develop, design, and execute a wide range of energy optimization programs and projects. Based out of Edison Energy’s Asbury Park office, Grdovic, who serves as the Director of Energy Optimization, leads his team across a complex scope of work such as project commissioning, system retrofits, and HVAC replacements. But once out of the office, Grdovic leads a very different kind of team.
It all started when Grdovic’s young son, Jacob, joined his local Cub Scout group. Grdovic began attending Scout meetings and noticed that they needed more structure and direction, while the Scout leaders needed a higher level of support.
“I grew up with a spirit of volunteering,” Grdovic said. “I started helping out and we turned the meetings around. We got them organized and straightened out.”
It wasn’t long before Grdovic was asked to serve as a Cub Master himself.
Grdovic has seen his troop grow from young Cub Scouts between the ages of five and 10, all the way through Boy Scouts.
“The amount of growth that goes on between the ages of 10 and 18 is incredible,” he said. “You really see a level of development. You see maturity, you see kids coming into their own, you see leaders come out. Some of them actually figure out what they want to do in life through this scouting program. We had one kid who took the archaeology merit badge and then decided that he wanted to become an archaeologist and is pursuing that today.”
Things got challenging, however, when the Covid pandemic hit, Grdovic says, with the group forced to move their in-person meetings to a virtual platform.
“I realized the last thing these kids wanted to do was sit in Zoom meetings after doing that all day for school, so we started meeting outdoors at people’s houses,” he said. “We did that through the year, in the dark–it didn’t matter. We’re scouts, so we set up propane lamps and outdoor stuff and had meetings outdoors. We had fire pits outside–boys and fire, forget about it. And for them, it was the ability to get together when they hadn’t had the ability to get together anywhere else. We managed to continue to have social activities and we masked up outdoors.”
Dan Grdovic with members of his Boy Scout troop on a whitewater rafting trip on the New River, W. Virginia.
Overnight camping trips were also shifted to the backyards of various Scout leaders. Grdovic recalls the time when three young boys, all new to the group, joined a backyard camping trip for the first time.
“The first night, one of the boys said he wasn’t feeling good and he called his dad, who encouraged him to stick through it, and he did,” Grdovic said. “And the second night there were no issues at all. It was amazing to see the transformation amongst these young boys. The reason I do this is I just enjoy watching these little kids grow up into young men, watching them develop and learn skills.”
Ten years in and Grdovic is still going strong. His group includes 20 boys and five girls between the ages of 10 and 17, who he meets with each week, as well as leading a camping trip every month.
“Some of them are interested in engineering, architecture and design, math and the sciences, criminal justice–it’s interesting to see how they all shake out,” he said. “Most of the kids who come out of this program have a better idea of what they want to do than a lot of other kids, and I think that’s because they’ve been exposed to so many different topics.”
Merit badges are a major part of the Boy Scout program. Troop members are required to choose one area of interest from 135 categories encompassing sports, crafts, the sciences, trades, business, and future careers. These include everything from Animal Science and Aviation to Chemistry and Environmental Science.
“The intent is that they continue to serve,” Grdovic said. “When I say I believe in the program, you start to understand why–because it really establishes well-rounded young men and women and puts them in a position where they can be pillars of the community. They have to do things to help and support each and every one of us. That’s why I don’t have a problem volunteering that much time for it because of what I see it generating in these kids.”
About a year ago, Grdovic, along with the other troop leaders and organizers, launched a girls’ troop with the hope of inspiring young women to pursue a diverse range of activities and careers. He is also on a mission to recruit female troop leaders to volunteer their time to mentor young women across the state.
“I finally found an outlet that involves the community and mentoring young men and women,” he said. “This has fulfilled something in me. Sometimes what I see is that these kids end up teaching me things as well. I’ve seen these kids do very adult things that I wouldn’t otherwise expect necessarily. When I look at society today, I don’t expect to see a lot of that, and I see these kids pulling it out. It’s very encouraging for the future.”