It’s Not Your Grandpa’s Scouting Anymore
One of the country’s largest youth organizations, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) will celebrate its centennial this month.
Founded by Chicago businessman William Boyce on February 8, 1910, the institution is considered essential to young boys in the Fox Cities, teaching them how to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
These traits are part of the Scout’s Law that prevails in the BSA, a values-based developmental organization that has served our country for 100 years.
Today, the BSA uniform may be more recognized than the mannerisms and stature that young men learn as part of the organization.
Dr. Etienne (E.T.) Mejia, of Appleton, has spent his whole life in uniform.
From Boy Scouts to the U.S. Navy, to working as an EMT in college, and now an orthopedic surgeon with Appleton’s Sports Medicine Center and the medical director for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, it’s his scouting experience that ignited his life passions.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Mejia was six years old when he entered Cub Scouts.
Today, he is a scout leader for his two sons, age nine and 13.
“My career stems from the seed of the first aid merit badge,” says Mejia. “It made me realize that there was a lot there and gave me a well-rounded vision of the world.”
Mejia’s peers elected him for a distinguished national BSA honor society called Order of the Arrow.
“The rank advancement system is tried and true,” he says.
His involvement in BSA spilled over into other areas, such as volunteering for the organization while he was in the Navy and serving as a camp counselor.
“The energy and enthusiasm of guys who were really living it was truly incredible,” says Mejia.
The same lore of long ago is still practiced today. And its the spirited young servicemen in our community that are mastering basic skills and forming the foundations of manhood.
“Everyone has their preconceived notions of ‘old’ scouting,” says Mark Logemann, scout executive of the Bay-Lakes Council. “But it’s not your grandpa’s scouting anymore!”
This year, the BSA is making a point to celebrate its historic past while heeding the future.
The Bay-Lakes Council, made up of seven districts, 22 counties and over 200 communities in northeast Wisconsin, serves nearly 18,000 young men. That boils down to about one in four kids involved in Boy Scouts.
The organization has struggled to remain relevant. A common misconception is that young men need to make a decision either to participate in scouting or do other extra-curricular activities.
But the BSA is making it loud and clear that scouting doesn’t have to be a choice.
“The greatest part is that we have varsity athletes (in scouting),” says Logemann. “For us, it’s not an either or; it’s both.”
Logemann explains that parents or guardians often struggle to commit to their sons’ development and excellence. The BSA is working to reconnect with the parents and their values.
For Appleton resident Cindy Veit, Boy Scouts has given her two sons opportunities they couldn’t have experienced otherwise, such as rock climbing, high adventure trips and sleeping in caves.
Her oldest son, Curtis, a junior at Appleton East High School, started as a Tiger Cub Scout in first grade and has worked, camped and earned his way to the highest youth award in BSA, the Eagle Scout rank.
“My parents wanted me to do it, but I liked to be outside so [Boy Scouts] sounded good to me,” Curtis says.
The Veits have even spent time with the organization as den leaders, committee chairs and merit badge counselors.
“Each parent has a different level of involvement,” explains Cindy. “Our own leadership skills have developed at an adult level, too.”
By focusing on the development and growth in their boys, they watched on as Curtis transformed into an exemplified scout.
Much like Mejia, in the eighth grade Veit was elected to the Order of the Arrow brotherhood, which allowed him to go the extra mile with service projects and camping excursions.
THE EAGLES OF TODAY & TOMORROW
Nationally, more than two million young men have reached the Eagle Scout pinnacle in the last 100 years.
That number can be deceptive because it only represents 4% of youngsters who have joined BSA.
In 2009, over 250 Eagle service projects were completed in the Fox Cities, benefiting community organizations and non-profits.
“Being a Boy Scout, you have to follow the Scout oath and law, and as you go on you live up to it more and more,” Curtis says. “Being an Eagle Scout doesn’t mean you have to stop being those things. You have to be them even more so.”
Having earned 39 merit badges, he approached Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in Appleton and scavenged through a book of projects they offer scouts.
Over the course of four days, he guided and coached a crew of peers to remove paving bricks, pour concrete, tile and grout a new walking path.
“It sounded simple, but of course, it’s a little more work than that,” he reflects.
As a Xavier High School senior and Eagle Scout, Nick Bongers constructed a composting display with a sign and patio at Mosquito Hill Nature Center in New London.
“Think about the future,” Bongers says, urging others to join Boy Scouts. “If you’re in the Army as an Eagle Scout, you get promoted upon entry. It’s easier to get into college. It’s recognized that you’re a leader. They’ll take a risk on you.”
A 2010 national getaway that will take place in Virginia on July 26–August 4 will celebrate the centennial.
The celebration is historic, dating back to the first jamboree in 1937 in Washington, D.C., at the invitation of President Roosevelt.
Locally, J.J. Keller and Associates and the Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity has partnered with the BSA to orchestrate a youth build project.
“As a foundation and company, we have always had a relationship with Boy Scouts,” says Tom Cherrier, corporate distribution manager at J.J. Keller and a Habitat board member. “We decided to look to them for this project, being their 100-year anniversary.”
Cherrier is also an Eagle Scout and remains close with the organization.
“I have a strong passion for the Boy Scouts,” he adds. “This will be a really nice way for the three organizations to come together.”
At this time of celebration and reflection, it has those close to the organization voicing their aspirations for the future of Boy Scouts.
“I hope it can withstand the challenges and distractions of today’s youth,” says Mejia. “It’s important that it remains as a strong resource for young lads to discover and grow in.”
For parents like Mejia and Veit, the level of maturity displayed by children in scouting is an invaluable quality.
“It’s been wonderful to see them grow and develop, as any parent would see,” Cindy Veit says. “Every now and then, you can look at them and say, that came from scouting.”
But it’s the scouts who best articulate why their experience and time spent with the organization and scouting buddies is worth the while.
“Part of my experience that makes it so great is that I have a lot of scouts that are now my friends,” Curtis says. “You’re learning invaluable skills.”
Bongers, who also participates in cross country, tennis, the math league and forensics, can relate to those who think it may be tough
“It will benefit you in the long run,” he says. “It makes you a more upstanding, honest person.”
—By Alison Fiebig