Boy Scouts Steers Youth on Path to Success
By Markida Scotland
[The following article originally appeared in the St. Croix Avis on February 28-29, 2016]
ST. CROIX — The Boy Scouts of America has been dedicated to keeping young boys off the streets, teaching them civic mindedness and leadership skills in various fun and educational ways.
The activities are made possible via donations and volunteer efforts by members of the public, officials said.
To that end, local Boy Scouts troops are always looking for support, according to Les Baron, Scout Executive at National Capital Area Council, on island recently to meet with Michael Dow, executive director of the territory’s Boy Scouts Council, and former Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis, a volunteer.
The Virgin Islands is among the many sites that Baron’s council overseas in addition to six counties in Maryland, nine in Northern Virginia and one in the District of Columbia.
Scouting, he said, gives young boys opportunities that could lead to a bright future.
“Scouting is a program about ethics, education, character and physical fitness,” Baron said. “All of those elements are translated to the young people through the outdoor activities. The realty cool thing about scouting is the different advancements that we work towards are all leading up to lifetime skills.”
Michael Dow, executive director of the territory’s Boy Scouts Council, is responsible for maintaining the organization’s program quality, among others.
He said the young boys take part in different areas of scouting, based on age and noted that despite misconceptions, the programs aren’t based on gender.
“It says ‘Boy Scouts hut we also have girls,” Dow said. For example, there is the Venturer program for boys and girls ages 13 to 21 that teaches growth and leadership skills.
“Boys and girls in that program are involved in outdoor activities — generally, cave exploration, scuba diving, all those things, but within the program they learn leadership skills and personal growth,” Dow said.
Another program is the Cub Scouts, for those ages 6 to 10.
“It’s a matter of developing the boys from an early age. They learn interpersonal relationships, teamwork — all through the programs we offer,” Dow said. “It’s age-appropriate and many of the lessons learned from these activities literally teach the boys to do things and work well together.”
The boys get promoted from a Tiger Scout to Webelos Scout, with each becoming more advanced to suit their ages, Dow said.
He said participants also go up in rank with the lowest being Tenderfoot’ and the highest being ‘Eagle.’
“Less than 4 percent of boys who are Scouts earn Eagle,” Dow said. “Our recent success story is one of the boys In St. Thomas made Eagle last November and it was announced that he was awarded a $300,000 scholarship.”
In January, Virgin Islander Marcus Norkaitis, a Boy Scout and a student at Peter Gruber International Academy on St. Thomas, was offered a $300,000 Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship to attend any school of his chocking that offers a Navy ROTC program.
“The point I want to make is that Scouts tend to do better academically as well,” Dow said. “It’s one of the things I try to impress upon parents. Keep the boys involved and interested and they will develop these skills, and it’s an opportunity whereby they are constantly in a situation where they are making ethical and moral choices.”
Boys learn to live by the Scout law which follows 12 key points — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
“Adhering to that is a super path to follow,” Dow said. “Following that you won’t go wrong.”
Dow, who noted the increase in crime in the Virgin Islands, said the Boy Scouts program aspires to keep young boys out of trouble.
“I think a good strategy for public safety would be crime prevention strategy versus law enforcement,” he said. “If we get to the boys when they are 6 to 8 and get them into our scouting program, we don’t need to employ law enforcement to chase them and apprehend them when they are 16 or 17.”
Boy Scouts of America isn’t limited to boys in elementary and middle school level. Its Explorer program is geared to high school students up to age 21.
“It’s a career-based program that exposes youth to one or the other of some basic clusters such as aviation, fire, communications, science — that type of thing. Currently we have one Explorer program, an aviation program at the St. Croix Educational Complex,” Dow said, adding anyone can join.
There also are scholarships available for young people who are part of those programs.
There is money in the programs. One of our girls from the aviation program, she was the salutatorian in Central this year,” he said in reference to St. Croix Central High School. “I put her up for a scholarship and she got it.”
Dow said the scholarships come in handy for students who may not otherwise have funds to attend college.
“So a kid doesn’t have to have a 3.95 GPA to get a scholarship,” he said. “All these programs get them recognition and find ways for Scouts to achieve their goals. Advancement in all these programs takes them from one level to the next and you can’t beat that.”
As the Boy Scouts of America is a nonprofit organization, it depends on philanthropic donations and volunteers, according to Baron.
Funding, however, especially in the Virgin Islands, is often a struggle, Dow said.
“One of the things we have to do is appeal to the community on a consistent basis to request assistance,” he said. “Other than just simply funding, which is very important, the other important thing we need is adults in the community who are prepared to give some of their time to working with the young people.”
That’s where Francis comes in. Larson said that Francis, a volunteer, is the district chairman for the territory.
“He is the district chairman, and it’s the top volunteer position in the Virgin Islands for all the scouting,” he said.
Francis, who said he learned to cook and communicate with others when he was a young Scout, believes that more young men throughout the Virgin Islands can benefit from the mentoring and discipline that it provides.
“All In all, I would encourage any parent if they have young boys to take part in scouting,” he said. “It made a difference in my life and I will always speak of that. Scouting is the way to go — it’s an alternative to violence and it’s fun.”
Dow said adult support is a definite need, especially male support, noting that mothers are more supportive of scouting than fathers.
“We need adults to come forward now and help us continue benefiting the community and we struggle with that — finding adults to help out with the kids,” Dow said. You don’t need any experience. It’s not difficult to do, it just requires some interest.”
Dow, using himself as an example, said it is never too late to become a Scout.
“I was never a Scout, I became a Scout as* an adult 26 years ago,” he said. “Principally because I always wanted to be, but I was busy as a teenager doing other stuff. So when I was asked, 1 jumped to it. It was something 1 was interested in, and of all the boards I’ve been on it’s the only one I stayed on for so long.”
He added that serious matters aside, the program gives youth a chance to have fun and make lasting memories.
“Many persons you speak to, such as former Lt. Gov. Francis, will tell you as a Scout you will most likely have dozens of memories,” Dow said. “I haven’t come across any adult who was a Scout who doesn’t have wonderful memories or who doesn’t speak of the opportunities that it gave them,” Dow said.
In addition to Francis, Police Commissioner Delroy Richards, Sr., Gov. Kenneth Mapp and Superior Court Judge Darryl Donohue are examples of notable Virgin Islanders and former Boy Scouts.
Adults Interested in volunteering and young boys Interested in becoming a Scout — as well as those who wish to donate — can contact any known adult in active units or call Dow at 340-277-2655 or Larson at 301-214-9101.
Photo Caption: Awquen Irish from Boy Scouts Troop 227, from St. Croix, gets blasted by a wave on the first day of river running during the Scouts Whitewater rafting trip down the Salmon River in northern Idaho.