100 Years of Scouting: Celebrating "Something for Everyone" in Boy Scouts

by Tracy Carmichael

You know him. He's the 10-year old boy in your neighborhood with the blue and gold cap who drops off bags for the canned food drive. He's the first grader with a whistling gap between his teeth who proudly wears his uniform as he stands in front of the state capitol in Richmond for a photograph. You know her. She's the lanky, smiling teenager who organizes a scouting crew to paint fences at Montpelier on a sunny spring Saturday. She's the busy executive taking time to show the local scouts around her company to snatch a glimpse of just how adults can succeed once they enter the world of commerce. And you probably know him, too. He's the wizened grandfather who devotes himself to keeping Camp Shenandoah primed and ready for the next group of laughing faces from the Stonewall Jackson Area Council. They will glow in the firelight of yet one more crackling campfire. This campfire, where it all began. This is where the stories of old are retold and made new, again and again.

Yes, you know them. They are like so many others across this fantastic, rolling land of ours - they are the Boy Scouts of America.

The Boy Scouts number over 110 million members since 1910. There are over 4.5 million active youth and adult members across the United States. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They come from all cultures and beliefs. They come from any neighborhood you could imagine. And now they come in skirts, too! They range in age from 6 to 60 (and beyond!). The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is a shining example of an American institution that, much like our Constitution, was designed with such ingenuity and flexibility that it stretches and bends season after season, like a tree in the wind.

Now here's a twist - just like our venerable Smithsonian Institution, the Boy Scouts organization was not invented in America. It was those clever Brits who found a glaring need and designed an organization both proper and reverent to fill it.

The year was 1899. The British war hero Lord Robert Baden-Powell had just returned from the South African Boer war. Settling back into his civilian life, he noticed young boys were exploring the regimental manual on survival training that he wrote for his troops. At the same time, across the pond in America, Ernest Thompson Seton founded a youth group called the Woodcraft Indians, while Daniel Carter Beard strove for youth development with his Sons of Daniel Boone movement. These three pioneers shared one belief. Life skills training was overlooked by those entrusted with educating young men. Lord Baden-Powell fused their ideas together when he wrote and illustrated the first Boy Scout Manual in 1908. It provided a platform for simple, purpose-driven educational programming designed to train boys in survival skills, personal fitness, service, and leadership.

Shortly thereafter, a Chicago publishing magnate, William Dickson Boyce, was in London when one of their famous pea-soup fogs rolled in off the Atlantic. Once the dark gray shroud descended, he lost his bearings and wandered utterly alone and adrift. Then, a faint light bobbed along in the murky distance. Attached to it was a boy, about 12 years old, carrying a lantern. He saw Boyce's plight and offered to guide him along his way. Once they arrived at his destination Boyce offered payment in exchange for the boy's good deed. However, the boy replied, "No, sir. I am a Scout. Scouts do not accept tips for Good Turns." Boyce was so struck by the character and disposition of the young man that he immediately asked the boy to escort him to British Scout Headquarters. The boy introduced Boyce to Lord Robert Baden-Powell. Impressed with the Scouting manual, Boyce decided to formally launch a Scouting program back in the States.

Boyce rallied these Scouting pioneers and lit a fire under their smoldering movement. Together, with the first Scouting for Boys handbook, they opened the first Scout camp at Lake George, New York. On February 8, 1910 the Boy Scouts of America took flight. Seton was Camp Director. Beard became the first National Scout Commissioner. But best known as primary architect of the scouting organization is James E. West, a lawyer and children's advocate. He was appointed as the first Chief Scout Executive.

Scouting was so successful that Congress chartered the Boy Scouts of America in 1916. Scouts across the nation celebrate the founding of their beloved Boy Scouts each February at the Blue & Gold Ceremonial Banquet. There, performance transforms into achievement recognition and awards for boys, and into glowing pride for their families.

As Scouting approaches its 100th anniversary, many things remain the same within the Boy Scouts of America, and yet many have changed. The original purpose of Scouting was simple: build character, train in the responsibilities of citizenship, provide service to others, and develop personal fitness. These principles have expanded over the century to include, among others, ethical decision-making, family strengthening, and environmental stewardship.

So how does a Scout become a Scout? One achievement at a time, as he advances through "the ranks". Designed on a military training model, the path toward advancement is virtually the same for every den, troop, or crew around the world. The beauty of the Scouting program is how it delivers the same objectives and goals with a variety of options for achievement. Patrick McGinnis, Eagle Scout, 1999, describes Boy Scouting in one word: OPPORTUNITY. Any child can earn advancement in ranks from Tiger Cub to Eagle Scout just as Patrick McGinnis did, though only 2% of all Scouts are honored with this elite achievement recognition. Some Eagle Scouts you may recognize are Sam Walton, President Gerald Ford, Donald Rumsfeld, and Steven Spielberg.

My son asked me just last week, "Mom, do you think I can be an Eagle Scout someday?" I smiled. The potential is limitless. "If you want to, you can," I replied.

The hierarchy of the Boy Scouts of America organization is simple. Adult volunteers provide leadership at the unit, district, council, and national levels. This architecture guides and assists the boys (and girls 14 and older) in a variety of training and achievement goals to establish personal mastery and leadership. Some achievements are required to advance to the next rank. Others are elective depending on the child's interests and abilities. The handbooks, program materials, and publications, like the 91-year-old Boys' Life magazine, illustrate and instruct. The service awards and merit badges reward mastery, service to others, and achievement in an ever-widening circle of aptitude and knowledge. There are well over 100 merit badges to earn. The choices are limitless and can be pursued at any rank.

Each Scouting unit is sponsored by a community-based organization holding a national charter to use the Scouting program to further its own youth training mission. These organizations include religious, civic, and government groups. For instance, our pack is sponsored by our elementary school. These charter organizations provide invaluable meeting places and leadership to operate Cub Scout Packs, Boy Scout Troops, Venturing Crews, and Explorer Posts.

The age-based levels of Scouting reflect an increasing depth of detail, challenge and difficulty. My wonderful neighbor and Scout Guru, Margaret Gorman, gave this example: as a Wolf Scout (second grade) you could learn how to communicate in an emergency. In the sixth grade the Boy Scout might learn CPR. First Class Boy Scouts or Explorers may shadow a police officer during her shift. A Venturer would train younger Scouts in first aid. An illustration of this progressive learning process would appear as a cyclonic funnel (and believe me, there are times when this feels like a cyclonic funnel!).

In elementary school, dens of 6 to 8 boys are arranged by grade level. Several dens combine to form a pack. These are the Tiger and Cub Scout years, when fundamental concepts and skills are introduced and explored. This is when boys learn how to know themselves, how to grow, and how to interpret their world. I often ask myself if it's worth the hours and days striving toward achievements. And you know what? I always spiral back to this answer. Where else would my son learn so many practical skills, take part in such interesting events, learn the joy of helping others, or spend time with boys just kicking around and having fun? {deletion}

During early these years a whirlwind of activities take place. Most involve boys and their families working together to complete achievements, perform community service, and earn merit badges and special awards. My son is eight. Over the past three years he and his Scouting buddies have grown immensely. He has earned not only rank and merit, but also self-confidence, a love of the outdoors, and a chance to reach higher. Our family has learned and grown a lot, too. We have hiked, cooked, created and decorated. We have raced cars, bikes, paper planes and each other. We have golfed, landscaped, constructed and recycled. And then, we've taken those trips.

Each Scouting trip is an adventure. Camping with Scouts is learning on the fly. Instant memories are created when we add kindling and strike a match. I have yet to meet a Scout who dislikes camping. Be it family camping, summer camp, or high-adventure trekking at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, Scouts love to get down and dirty and camp.

On the other hand, Scouts are instantly recognized in their fresh uniforms as trustworthy and helpful. People smile. The uniform, designed by founder Daniel Carter Beard, is a visible image representing the honor and service one can expect from a Scout. On field trips to the Krispy Kreme donut store, the Channel 29 studios, or the Senior Center, we serve, achieve, and learn. When else will we visit the Pegasus emergency medical team or check out the "green screen" in a television studio? {deletion}

In fifth grade, the Cub Scout advances, or "crosses over" into Boy Scouts. Boy Scouting spans the length of a young man's adolescence. It differs from Cub Scouts in that it is a peer run program. That is, the adults act as consultants rather than leaders. In this model, the boys cooperate to develop activities to earn their achievements while practicing their own leadership skills.

To lead youngsters in the 21st century, the Boy Scouts of America knew they needed a fresh approach. This paradigm shift gave seed to the Venturing program. Venturing, the fastest growing program in the organization today, is for young men and women ages 14 to 20. It is unique because it is co-ed, requires members to teach to earn awards, and revolves around high-adventure achievements. Electives like scuba and outdoor living history give Venturing a contemporary twist. They offer innovative opportunities for achievement and exploration beyond the traditional Scouting program. Young women comprise 40% of new members. Richard Bogan, Monticello District Executive, says, "It is the best kept secret in scouting." Well, at least it was!

When asked what they would say about Scouts, my son Matt and his friend Patrick summed up their experiences. Matt said, "It's very, very fun and makes me feel ecstatic!" Patrick, somewhat older and more pensive, followed with, "If you like being a nice guy and doing nice things for other people you would like being a Scout."

Well, some things haven't changed. On the other hand, the Boy Scouts of America marches into its future truly offering something for everyone. So come take a look at what Scouting has to offer you. You know us. We hope to know you.

For membership and volunteer information explore the following websites: Monticello District: http://avenue.org/mont-bsa; Richard Bogan, District Executive: monticello763@ hotmail.com; Stonewall Jackson Area Council: www.bsa-sjac.org; Pack 114: http://k12.albemarle.org/meriwetherlewis/scouts4.html; www.usscouts.org; www.scouting.org; www.goodturnforAmerica.org.

Tracy Carmichael is a scout wife and scout mom in Charlottesville who often can't tell whether she is going or coming, but she is always prepared.

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