“Aren’t you a little old to be wearing a Boy Scout uniform?” a smiling, brown-eyed seven-year-old boy named Carlos asked me as I stood in his classroom surrounded by his peers.
“What makes you think I’m too old to be wearing a Boy Scout uniform?” I said to him smiling back.
“Boy Scouts don’t have beards,” he said while giggling. “Unless you’re a really old Boy Scout.”
For the past three weeks, I have spent my mornings in classrooms throughout Monterey County, California promoting “Cub Scouts” a scouting program for boys in grades 1st through 5th within the Boy Scouts of America organization.
Since I became a “professional scout” in April, I’ve had the opportunity to not only work with an amazing group of volunteers, youth, and community leaders, but I’ve also been able to see how Scouting is different than when I was growing up in the early 2000s.
As a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America where I serve as the liaison for the Scouting program in Monterey County, it’s my job to not only help support scout leaders in the district I serve. But it’s also my job to create new Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, and Venturing crews (a co-ed high adventure program for high schoolers) within my district which spans over 3,281 square miles ranging from the California coastline of Monterey to the agriculture regions of Salinas, California.
Even though I lived in Northern California when I was a student at San Francisco Theological Seminary between 2009 to 2013, I only visited the Monterey area once in four years during that time. What amazed me about this unique area then is what amazes me about this area now; the vast shorelines which are home to a variety of sea-based wildlife in the Monterey Bay to the endless agriculture fields in the Salinas Valley which have dubbed this region as the “salad bowl of America.”
“A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool,” once wrote American author and Salinas Valley native John Steinbeck.
Ever since I was a child, Scouting has been a part of my life. From when I was in the third grade all the way through being a senior in high school, I lived and breathed Scouting. While I was not into sports as a child and struggled with being shy, Scouting allowed me to do activities after school in the outdoors while also gaining character development through learning the tenants of the scout law as being the moral code for boyhood: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
For me, the proudest moment was earning the rank of Eagle, the highest award a boy can earn in Scouting. This is something I could not have accomplished without my scout leaders and my parents guiding me along the way.
After high school, I was not as involved in Scouting like I was as a youth. Going from high school to college and later to seminary, I didn’t have the opportunity to give back to the program what it gave me to me. That is, until now.
Last year after I finished my chaplaincy residency and while still working through the church ordination process, Scouting became an important part of my life again as I became a district executive in Pittsburgh and now as a district executive in Northern California.
Being a district executive involves wearing a lot of hats through the course of the day. From working to help manage fundraising and recruitment campaigns, to helping scout leaders get the learning skills they need to become effective leaders, I work with a multitude of parents, teachers, community organizers, business leaders, and clergy to help them run effective and independent Scout programs in their churches, neighborhoods, and communities.
And yes, I sometimes wear a Scout uniform to work.
As I work with schools and teachers to start new Cub Scout programs, I also get to see Scouting grow into new communities.
From Muslim based Scout units to Chinese based Scout units to its expansion into other non-white communities, Scouting is growing to become more than how it has been depicted in the Norman Rockwell picture of being an activity for white boys in the 1950s. And along with the change in its membership policy to allow those who are openly gay to be scout leaders, this is long overdue. But it’s still a wonderful thing.
However, working to help Scouting grow can be difficult.
In the Salinas Valley where I serve, 75 percent of residents are Hispanic or Latino with Spanish being the preferred and the most familiar language for many in the valley. For me, this has been a learning experience. Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I have only been familiar with the English language. This comes as being a disadvantage for me, not just because I need a translator when I speak with many parents who live in the Salinas Valley. But because my lack of knowledge of the Hispanic and Latino culture can be a barrier between me and many of the Scouters I seek to serve.
However, despite my regrets of not learning Spanish (or other languages than my own) while in school, I find myself reminded of what one of my co-workers (who identifies as being Latino) told me when I asked him how I can overcome this barrier.
“It’s important to recognize that we as Hispanics and Latinos have a different culture than you and it will take awhile for us to be familiar and embrace programs like Scouting which came from the Anglo community,” he said. “However, don’t get discouraged by that. Just be sincere when you talk to parents about the importance of Scouting. When you have sincerity in your heart and a soul to help their kids, that will help breaks through those barriers.”
For me, it’s my heart that I try to get in touch with when I find myself trying to help an experienced Scout leader register new kids for his Boy Scout troop or I find myself speaking in front of a group of new Scout parents through a Spanish translator when I talk about the importance of Scouting. For me, it’s conveying what Scouting meant to me as a child and how the program can impact their children like it did for me.
“Scouting is much more than making campfires and learning how to tie knots,” one of my Scout leaders recently told me. “It’s about instilling values in the lives of boys that they will carry into adulthood.”
And that is what I support Scouting. It gives boys (and girls) not just the opportunity to learn knots and go on outdoor camping trips. But it gives them the opportunity to help develop confidence, leadership skills, and follow their calling to make a difference in their world and community. This is something that Scouting has been teaching youth for over 100 years. And for it to grow, it will need to continue to reach out to the youth of different ethnicity, culture, and religious backgrounds to maintain itself as the largest youth organization in America for another 100 years.
I must admit that being a professional scout is not as fun as actually being a youth in scouts. But when I talk directly with youth during my school visits or when I help lead Scout meetings, it’s seeing the excitement from the kids I serve for Scouting that gives me excitement about Scouting too. Like the Scout leaders I had, it’s my hope the youth I work with having the same great experience I had in Scouting growing up.