THE MODERN SCOUT – HOUSTON
Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council
Boy Scouts of America, Sam Houston Area Council
by Bernadette VerzosaOnce upon a time, there was a Scout. The Scout had fun with friends, while learning about character and commitment. This storyline has become a classic American childhood tale, as both the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) pass the century mark.
Over the last hundred years, more than 116 million boys and about 59 million girls have participated in scouting programs in the United States. In the Greater Houston area today, there are about 70,000 Girl Scouts, and nearly 50,000 Boy Scouts. This is a snapshot of how these two important groups are shaping Houston youth in these modern times.
THE GIRL SCOUTS OF SAN JACINTO COUNCIL
The GSUSA is celebrating its centennial, declaring 2012 the Year of the Girl. The campaign focuses on helping girls become aware of their leadership potential and their power to transform lives and communities.
The Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council (GSSJC) serves 26 counties in Southeast Texas. It is the second largest Council in the United States, and the home of the first Hispanic Girl Scout troop in the country.
“Our mission is to empower girls with courage, confidence and character, so they can make the world a better place” says Celia Valles, GSSJC Membership Manager. “Today, it’s about leadership and independence.”
Diana Nathan, a teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School, signed her daughter up with the school’s troop five years ago. 11-year-old Jacqueline Nathan is a member of Troop #25192. Both say they’ve made life-long memories from the group activities that include volunteering and camping. “I like the skits, and singing songs by the campfire. I like learning about saving energy and saving trees,” says Jacqueline Nathan. “It makes me feel happy that I’m accomplishing something, that I can do something that can change the future.”
Jacqueline’s troop leader is Allison McLean. “It creates a sisterhood of friendships. We have a great group of parents,” she says. “We leverage parents’ talents to create activities. A mom who’s a poet led a meeting on writing poetry. A mom who’s into healthy eating did a meeting with foods, introducing certain foods to the girls while they were blindfolded so they did not have predisposed notions about tasting.”
Mclean says that most everyone’s favorite activity, however, is the camping. “It’s the highlight, if you ask any child. It’s a big sleepover â€“ the smores, preparing meals, getting the campground ready,” she says. “The Girl Scouts of Houston have the benefit of great camping facilities. They are immaculate. They’ve got horses, canoes and archery. Cookie sales go to maintain camping facilities.”
Today, there are more than 3.2 million Girl Scouts around the world. The organization has launched Pathways, a program that is more flexible, and requires less commitment. “We found that in middle school and high school, there are a lot of extra-curricular activities that compete for the girls’ time,” says Valles. “We created Pathways so girls can continue to be members at their own pace, and at their own time.”
THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA â€“ SAM HOUSTON AREA COUNCIL
The BSA is celebrating the 100th year of its Eagle Scout rank, the highest attainable rank in Boy Scouting. The first Eagle Scout badge was awarded to Arthur Eldred, a scout from New York in 1912, just two years after BSA was incorporated.
In Houston, there are 946 Eagle Scouts today, and many younger scouts aspire to earn this rank. “My son has told me he wants to be an Eagle Scout. He wears his uniform proudly,” says Melinda Tan, whose 9-year-old son, Andrew, is a member of West University’s Pack 266. Andrew became a Cub Scout three years ago. “He enjoys the camaraderie and friendships. He learns different aspects of citizenship and sportsmanship. Because it’s not a competitive environment, it’s a good opportunity for kids to succeed on their own, just to learn to be better people,” says Tan.
Tan is the registrar for the Pack 266 and Troop 266 unit, which has 150 member scouts. “I’ve become the pack busybody,” she jokes. “I’ve met every family. They come up to me to ask me what I know about stuff.” Many group events are hosted and sponsored by the West University United Methodist Church.
The unit is one of nearly 1,800 scout groups in 16 southeastern Texas counties registered with the Sam Houston Area Council. Across the U.S., more than 2.7 million boys are Scouts.
“The principles of Scouting have remained unchanged since its founding in 1910. Chartered by Congress as an educational program, Scouts take an oath to do their best, serve God and their country and their communities,” says Lynda Sanders, Director of Marketing/Communications at the Sam Houston Area Council. “While the foundation remains, the advancement programs have evolved to reflect special interests. While Boy Scouts was developed first, today there are multiple programs such as Cub Scouts, co-ed programs such as Sea Scouts, Venturing and a career-focused Exploring program. In addition, new merit badges have been introduced to capture industries and hobbies of interest to members. Robotics and Chess Merit Badges were introduced in 2011.”
Houston scouts volunteer for service projects. The West U Scouts have helped clean up trash along Buffalo Bayou, sung Christmas Carols at senior citizens’ homes, and collected donations for Toys for Tots.
“These service projects allow them to see beyond themselves,” observes Tan. “They are learning important life qualities and life lessons, and they’re having a good time doing it together.”
She notes that the families also learn from each other. “We’ve made friends with families with different interests. My husband and I were not the handiest people, and we’re not outdoorsy. Now my husband has power tools, and we’re camping. To go camping with 300 other people, it’s more exciting and more fun!”