Daniel Richardson: Scouting now, more than ever

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When we talk about the Boy Scouts, it often becomes a conduit into our own agenda and serves as yet another touchstone in the on-going culture wars. We complain that it has not changed, or that it has changed too much. It is either a bastion of outdated "Dudley-Do- Rights," or another traditional institution caving into the pressures of political correctness. But those of us who are associated with the program know that these views have more to do with the observer than objective reality.

The irony for either side is that Boy Scouts, when it was introduced little over a hundred years ago, did not have the trappings or associations of Americana that it has since gained. When it was introduced to the United States in 1910, it was a bold and progressive program that like the best ideas of its time merged a radical vision to conservative values. The idea that motivated the founders of Scouting was that as Americans moved away from rural life, and the frontier receded into history, boys needed a way to learn the lessons that had made prior generations great. This concept was born out of the same civic-improvement vein that popularized early childhood education, labor laws, and anti-trust muckraking. No less a champion of these many causes than Theodore Roosevelt was given the honorary title Chief Scout Citizen for his vigorous support of the organization.

Over the years, as Scouting succeeded, it became enmeshed in American society. For any one growing up after 1920, Scouting was just another facet of life, like 4 th of July parades or sledding parties. The fact that both the beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Astronaut Neil Armstrong were Eagle Scouts may have less to do with Scouting and more to do with the fact that they grew up in mid-20th century America.

While a certain Norman Rockwell aura has inevitably fallen over the organization, the memories and images that its members hold are slightly different. For me the first image of scouting is of Dr. Dennis Young hiking up to our campsite from the Troop's base camp with his khaki uniform, skinny legs, and an Adirondack Pack full of woodcraft tools. Doc Young was a physician with a busy practice and professional responsibilities. But each year in the 1980s, he took a week off to teach a bunch of 11-year-olds basic camping skills like how to strike flint to steel and capture the sparks on char-cloth. As with thousands of other adult leaders, Doc Young gave freely of his time and talents to ensure that city kids like myself could learn the skills of self-reliance and self-worth that come through the program.

Scouting owes its true longevity and success to its deceptively simple program: Use volunteers to teach youth basic skills and do it in a fun, egalitarian atmosphere where a daily "good turn" is the prevailing ethos. But the results are anything but simple. Youth who go through the scouting program are forever changed. In learning the Scout Law, the 12 words to live by: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent, they learn how to be responsible citizens. They gain confidence and ability. They develop, to use an old-fashioned phrase, character.

Today, Scouting is more necessary than ever. As Robert Putnam, author of the book, "Bowling Alone," has noted: "Community connectedness is not just about warm fuzzy tales of civic triumph. In measurable and well-documented ways, social capital makes an enormous difference in our lives ... [It] makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy."

With fundamental threats like opiate addiction tearing our communities apart, Scouting offers a chance to heal and the promise of creating community amongst youth. Scouting gives them identity and sense of self. Through the organization's dedicated members and volunteers, like Doc Young, Scouting represents a low cost, high yield investment that anyone can get in on.

This is an exciting time to be part of the Scouting adventure. Scouting has always been open to youth of all backgrounds and means, but over the past five years, Scouting has expanded its promise to all youth across gender and sexual orientation lines. As an organization, Scouting has recognized that no one should be denied the opportunity to participate in one of the best youth programs ever created in this country. If you have not been part of Scouts recently, now is the time. Just contact the local Green Mountain Council Service Center at 802-244- 5189 or info@scoutingvermont.org. The group is around the campfire waiting for you.

Daniel Richardson is a lawyer in Montpelier and a member of the Executive Committee of the Green Mountain Council of the BSA. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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