It breaks my heart that young people suffered abuse in scouting. It still infuriates me that predators used the program for such nefarious ends. My heart would break all over again, however, if new generations missed those unique experiences that have so indelibly shaped more than 100 million American youth since 1910. Many fear such a scenario; some doubt scouting’s resilience.
Their questions largely center on the rather drab Texas office building that houses the National Council, which has just filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The corporate entity at the eye of today’s hurricane of abuse-related litigation owns more than $1 billion in assets, a portion of which will now go to compensate and aid victims. Nobody doubts their claims and the scouting family’s collective heart truly aches for these individuals and their families.
Those in scouting take some comfort knowing the youth protection programs put in place three decades ago have evolved into the sector’s finest; 90 percent of claims stem from incidents occurring more than 30 years ago. Still, settlements will take a heavy toll on the organization, perhaps placing its existence in jeopardy.
BOY SCOUTS FILING CHAPTER 11 LEAVES PARENTS SEEKING ALTERNATIVES
Importantly, the Boy Scouts of America, Inc., (BSA) is not scouting.
When the BSA faced its previous crisis over membership requirements barring gay leaders and youth, I set out on a cross-country trek to prove a hunch: certainly, I thought, scouting was larger than a single policy or organization.
My travels introduced me to Eagle Scouts from nearly every state. The encounters eventually became a book “Legacy of Honor” which shares what I learned about scouting, its influence and what it means to our nation’s future.
In Virginia, I met George Coker, who’d earned the pinnacle rank of Eagle Scout in Troop 32. At age 23, he’d carried those values into North Vietnam’s infamous Hanoi Hilton POW camp. They sustained him for nearly seven years of brutal captivity. Decades later, he shared a particularly important observation. “Scouting’s not an organization,” he explained. “It’s a program designed to develop character and leadership.” I began to realize that scouting didn’t happen in an office building but rather in thousands of troops in countless communities.
NYPD Emergency Services Unit officer Scott Strauss crawled into a pile of burning debris to rescue the last 9/11 survivor; Scott didn’t think he’d make it out alive. “No doubt being an Eagle Scout had its mark on me that day,” he said. “‘Help other people at all times’ (a reference to the scout oath) even if it’s going to cost you your life.” That’s what he learned in Troop 42.
Percy Sutton, who served with WWII’s Tuskegee Airmen and participated in the Freedom Rides through the segregated South, recalled, “In the cocoon of Troop 72, I explored the world and learned what it could be….Scouting gave me access, it helped me dream.”
Were it not for scouting, Sudanese refugee Buey Tut would never have graduated high school. Thankfully, an Omaha scoutmaster re-oriented his life and helped him start Aqua Africa, which today provides clean water to South Sudan.
Robert Gates, who served Presidents Bush and Obama as Secretary of Defense, said “Becoming an Eagle Scout was the first time in my life I believed I could lead others. My scouting experience gave me the confidence to believe I could be a leader and it also gave me the tools to do so.”
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Steven Spielberg’s fellow Scouts helped him produce his first film, “The Last Gunfight.” It won him photography merit badge and kindled a lifelong passion.
Those are just several stories out of millions, but they point to the power and far-reaching ripples of what happens inside the local scout troop near you. Those brief anecdotes also demonstrate extraordinary diversity bridged by common values.
Politicians speak of “bringing us together.” Well, I found grassroots scout troops have brought Americans together for 110 years. They stand as increasingly rare institutions where individuals from myriad backgrounds share meaningful experiences, rely upon one another and together, aspire toward common ideals. Tomorrow and long into the future, this will continue to happen in vibrant units in every state.
The scouting movement, as some call it, has survived the Great Depression and World War II, the unrest of the Vietnam era, and the political issues of modern society. I sincerely believe the scouting program will once again persevere because America needs it to. The country needs 100,000 resurgent youth-led units safely delivering a time-proven program that instills character, skills and citizenship. We need 50,000 Eagle Scout projects contributing millions of service hours per year. And perhaps most importantly, America needs a new generation willing to do its duty.
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When they meet those who believe, they say: "We believe;" but when they are alone with their evil ones, they say: "We are really with you: We (were) only jesting."Allah will throw back their mockery on them, and give them rope in their trespasses; so they will wander like blind ones (to and fro). (The Cow 14-15 )