Partners in Service
By Bill Sloan
For more than seven decades, The Salvation Army and the BSA have worked together to make Scouting available to low-income youth.
Mention The Salvation Arm and a familiar image comes to mind of a holiday bell-ringer standing outside a busy store collecting donations for the needy. We may also envision soup kitchens, community centers, disaster relief operations, and trucks bearing the group's red insignia that pick up donated household items for resale.
However, some things we probably don't picture when thinking of The Salvation Army are hiking trips, summer camps, merit badges, courts of honor, and Eagle Scouts.
But we should.
A valued chartered organization
The truth is, The Salvation Army is a dedicated partner of the Boy Scouts of America. Hundreds of its officers and members work as BSA volunteers, and for nearly threequarters of a century the Army has been one of Scouting's valued chartered organizations.
As of January 2001, a total of 208 Cub packs, Boy Scout troops, and Venturing crews were chartered to The Salvation Army. They offer the Scouting experience to more than 3,600 youth, most of them from lowincome families, from the South to Alaska and from New England to California.
"I've been a Scoutmaster or assistant Scoutmaster for five troops in four different states," says Lieutenant Colonel Joe Bassett of Nyack, N.Y., an Army officer for 42 years, who currently serves as its national BSA liaison.
"And although I'm proudest of the work I've done directly with the boys, I've also been a district commissioner and a district chairman, too."
Bassett calls his work a number of years ago with racially diverse urban Troop 200 in New Haven, Conn., one of the "most memorable" experiences of his life.
"We had the broadest mix of ethnic groups I've ever seen in one troopblacks, Hispanics, Asians, whites from many cultural backgroundsand the majority of them were from low-income homes," he says. "Getting to do all the traditional Scouting activities was a wonderful treat for those kids. Two of them became Eagle Scouts, and none of them ever forgot their Scouting experience."
Spiritual creed, earthly deeds
Many Americans identify The Salvation Army primarily as a social services organization, similar to the Red Cross but with religious overtones, Bassett notes. In fact, it is a denomination of the Christian church, with a ministry motto"Heart to God and hand to man"that sums up its spiritual creed and earthly goals.
Officers are ordained ministers and graduates of one of four special Salvation Army ministerial schools. In addition to the work they do with disaster victims, the homeless, the needy, the elderly, and the young, these ministers also conduct weekly worship services, officiate at funerals, and perform weddings just as other clergy do. Rank-and-file members are called "soldiers," with those age 14 and older classified as "seniors" and those 7 to 14 designated as "juniors."
For Salvationists, as they refer to themselves, Scouting frequently runs in the family from generation to generation. Joe Bassett's son, Todd, also a Salvation Army officer, is a former Scout who is helping to organize a new Cub Scout pack in York, Pa.
One of Todd's fellow Scouters in York is Captain James Cocker, a veteran of 20 years in Scouting, whose grandfather was also both a Salvation Army officer and a volunteer Scout leader 60 years ago.
"Scouting's mission fits in nicely with The Salvation Army's mission," Cocker says. "It's a good marriage."
Support for units
Today, Salvation Army-chartered Scout units operate as traditional BSA troops and packs in every respect. One feature that distinguishes them, however, is that a majority of the youth they serve are from disadvantaged homes.
"Most of our kids come from low-income families because these are so often the people The Salvation Army works with," says Bill Deavor, a high school math teacher and lifelong Salvationist who has served for the past eight years as Scoutmaster of Troop 65 in Lockhaven, Pa., a college town of about 10,000 people.
"If there's any other difference between Salvation Army units and other Scouting units, it's probably the level of financial and other support we get from our chartered organizations," Deavor notes.
"For example, The Salvation Army district that our troop is chartered to provides us with a van for transportation, food for our overnight camp-outs, funds for summer camp, and so forth." (The district covers portions of eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and southern New Jersey and serves as chartered organization for three other troops in addition to Troop 65.)
Troop 65 also conducts its own money-earning projects, Deavor adds. "We sell popcorn and hold lots of dinners. People around here really like to eat, and The Salvation Army community center has a nice kitchen we are able to use."
Like the many other services provided by the Salvation Army, the Scout troop is an outreach program for the community at large. "We don't take an overly religious approach with the boys, and the troop is open to any kid who wants to join," Deavor says. "But we do stress the importance of spiritual values, using the same basic 'God and country' approach other Scout units use."
Deavor describes his 15member troop as "busy and conventional" in most respects. "Our program is competitive with most of the troops I've seen," he says. "We camp out six or seven times a year and always spend a week at summer camp. We also do a lot of community service projects, some related to The Salvation Army and some not."
Because at least 75 percent of the Scouts are from economically disadvantaged homes, the troop "doesn't always have money or resources for some things, like serious winter camping," Deavor says. "But the important thing is that we serve kids who otherwise might not have access to Scouting. We give them opportunities they'd probably miss if we weren't here."
Renewing a tradition
Early in 2001, John Busby, national commander of The Salvation Army, and Chief Scout Executive Roy L. Williams signed a new Memorandum of Understanding to formally extend the two organizations' long tradition of cooperation.
"Resolved," the memorandum says, "[that] The Salvation Army and the Boy Scouts of America will work cooperatively with each other ... so that boys, young adults, and adults may grow in Christian character, citizenship responsibility, and with the personal fitness necessary to achieve their greatest potential."
These sentiments are strikingly similar to those expressed in 1929 by Chief Scout Executive James E. West in a letter to The Salvation Army's commander.
"[W]e shall count it a privilege through cooperation with you to extend the benefits of Scouting to more boys than might [otherwise] be possible," he wrote.
Dramatic changes have taken place in America over the past 72 years. But the cooperative spirit expressed by West seven decades agoand the ongoing commitment of Scouters and Salvationists alike to the welfare of the nation's youthremain as firm as ever.
Contributing editor Bill Sloan also wrote the article in this issue about the BSA's Hispanic marketing program.
September 2001 Table of Contents
Copyright © 2001 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.