Scouting: A Pathway to Character Building

Scouting’s local impact on Troop 20

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Eric Smith

An early morning start at one of Troop 20’s recent campouts

A group of Troop 20 Scouts after completing a 10 mile hike for the Hiking Merit Badge (Eric Smith)

Scouts BSA has been a cornerstone of the ideal young American for many years. Turning unruly crazy teenagers into model citizens; tougher, stronger, skilled, and capable. I had known of Scouts and knew that my father recalled it with very fond memories of his time as an Eagle Scout, and I knew my brother would pitch and almighty fit every time he had to go to the weekly meetings. I knew that scouts had merit badges on a sash, went camping in cold rainy weather, and spent long hours being polite and volunteering. So when it was announced in 2018 that in early 2019 girls would be allowed to join Scouts in separate troops and that one would be starting in Williamsburg me and my sister decided that we would give it a go in the name of college applications and the stories of my father’s fond memories.

A group of Troop 20 scouts enjoy their afternoon around a fire and some hammocks (Eric Smith)

Troop 20 was founded in early 2019 with a handful of committee members, a scoutmaster, and ten starting members including my sister and myself. We had a welcome night inviting anyone interested to come and see what the Troop was about. As one of the oldest four scouts I was elected to be a part of the leading leadership for the first year acting as a patrol leader. That first year passed by in a blur having skills taught hours or days before I was expected to teach it to a room of 15 6th graders. I felt as if our troop was a shell, as I only had seen fully up and running troops like the big local one, Troop 103, which has been running for nearly a hundred years with over 80 members, and countless awards. Compared to us we had a small group, unsure leadership with minimal experience, and no awards under our belt. We just kept pushing forward and only when looking back did I start to see what had become of myself, memories that stick out and show me just how far I’ve come.

Troop 20 was founded in early 2019 immediately after Scouts BSA policy was changed

I remember the night my tent flooded at three in the morning crying and panicking over what I was going to do as my tentmate slept. I remember laughing with my girls, the ones I look after in my patrol, over a game of mafia on a mosquito infested campout where we had people going home with over 60 bites on their legs. I remember the first time I saw the Milky Way Galaxy at a campout in the middle of nowhere. I remember when I was delirious and struggling on the last 2 miles of our 20 mile hike and those wonderful girls pulled me forward often quite literally. I’ve earned the Life rank one shy of Eagle the highest and most coveted, I’ve been a patrol leader in charge of 7 girls for nearly two years, and I have earned of 12 merit badges. Looking at all these little moments may seem like just odd memories to some, but to me they are important as they show me that I’m not the person I was 2 years ago, I’ve grown and changed and gotten stronger and tougher. This program puts you through fire, rainy campouts, long days, leadership positions, deadlines, new skills, and presentations. At the end you come out tempered stronger than before, but not the same person you were when you went in.

Merit Badges are an essential part of scouting and are a mark of achievement being prominently displayed on a Scout’s uniform (Kirsten Smith)

Skyler Smith Troop 20’s Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) remarked on the impressive growth she has seen in the girls under her care, “Through scouting they’ve learned how to be self-reliant and intrinsically motivated”.  The Scoutmaster of Troop 20, Mr. Eric Smith, also remarked on what the growth has been like to see in the girls of the troop, “Their ability to look around, see what has to be done, and get after it – working as a group – has been fascinating to see.  On our first few campouts, scouts would stand around waiting to be told what to do by an adult.  Now, they get after it – no matter what the conditions.”

Scouts carry canoes down to the waterfront for Troop 20’s first canoeing activity (Eric Smith)

Scout’s BSA program is structured for this kind of growth to occur encouraging scouts to learn a variety of skills in the lower ranks, and as time moves on to begin teaching these skills and taking up leadership positions, and these character changes are not simply a temporary stage. Many scouts especially those who achieve Eagle remain active in the program becoming adult leaders and mentoring young scouts, they list Eagle Scout on their resumes and job application, and encourage their children to take part in the program for the lifelong, rewarding impact the program has on teenagers finding their footing in the world.