Earning Their Way
By Douglass K. Daniel
Urban Scouts in Columbus, Ohio, set goals that point to a brighter future
No way, Terry Powell thought to himself. A trip to Walt Disney World? Paid with his own money? No way!
Not that Terry didn't want to go on his Scout troop's biggest outing of the year 2000. Like most kids, he often dreamed of visiting the famous Florida theme park, long before he became a member of Troop 266 in urban Columbus, Ohio.
But each Scout had to earn $300 for the trip. "I was shocked," Terry, now 14, remembers. "Three hundred dollars! But going on the trip was something I really wanted to do."
Scout Joey Tanner, 14, also had his doubts. Under the guidance of Scoutmaster Curtis Wilson, the Scouts worked all year to raise money for a schedule that included outings in and around Ohio, a week at summer camp, even a 10-day trip to Washington, D.C. But Orlando, Fla., seemed a world awayand out of their reach.
"I was hoping, but I didn't think we could do it," Joey now admits. "When you try for something that big, you always have doubts you'll make it."
For many troops, money is a key barrier to new horizons, and earning enough can be especially difficult for boys in America's inner cities. Joey and Terry's neighborhood in Columbus, a metropolitan area with a million and a half people, has all of the typical big-city problems of crime, poverty, unemployment, drugs, and violence.
Raising money is hard enough without having to worry that someone may want to take it from you.
"The neighborhood's not bad," observes Scout Zackery Maynard, 11, "but some of the people are."
Character building blocks
Amid these negative influences, Troop 266 works to shape the character of its Scouts with things no one can take from themconfidence, self-esteem, and achievement. Those building blocks are reinforced every time Scoutmaster Curtis Wilson and Assistant Scoutmasters Kris Wilson and Terry Bloor put a new challenge before the troop, whether it's earning a merit badge, performing a service project, or carrying out a money-earning effort. "For most of our Scouts, it's hard to see outside the city block they live on," Curtis Wilson says. "Just because no one on their street is a dentist or an engineer doesn't mean they can't be one. We want to show them what's possible."
The troop's resident role models for what is possible are the Wilsons, both 34. They met in high school in Mount Pleasant, Pa., but parted when Kris went to Ohio State University to study Japanese and Curtis became an Army medical specialist. Still, in spite of the separation, they became engaged and then married in 1989. Together they own and operate Languages Unlimited Inc., which provides interpretation, translation, and instruction services in numerous languages to individual and corporate clients.
When Curtis wanted to do service work for the Columbus community, he chose Scouting because of the impact being a member of Troop 133 in Mount Pleasant had on his life.
"I looked up to and respected my Scoutmaster, Pete Rice," he remembers. "[But] I never expected to see myself in the same situation."
The Simon Kenton Council had just the place for Curtis. Troop 266, a part of the Capitol District, was at an ebb in its 30-year history and needed fresh leadership. Curtis spent one year as an assistant Scoutmaster and then assumed the top leadership position. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Kris signed on as assistant Scoutmaster.
She was already involved in community service as a member of the Columbus Rotary Club, but "of all the things that she does, both personally and professionally, Kris typically will name her service to Scouting as something that is important and something she really enjoys," says Randy Larson, Scout Executive for the council.
"Their creativity and their vision, combined with their commitmentand the fact that they're having fun with it as an avocationreally set them apart as Scout leaders," he says.
The Wilsons enjoy supporting the boys in Scouting and in their lives outside the troop. The Wilsons attend their special events, such as band concerts and school activities, and look forward to camp-outs with the troop.
"It's our extended family," Curtis says. "We like to do the same things they likecaving, swimming, amusement parks, whatever the case may be."
A service weekend
On a chilly weekend last February, eight Scouts from Troop 266 took part in a special multipurpose outingpart camp-out, part money-earner, and all fun. Traveling three hours south of all that city pavement, they took over Camp Oyo, one of six camps in the Simon Kenton Council, nestled near Shawnee State Forest outside Portsmouth, Ohio. High school students from Europe, South America, and Asia were meeting their American counterparts at the camp for a Rotary exchange program.
The Scouts served as a support patrol for the weekend, which was one of the many money-earning projects they had scheduled in order to pay for the troop's big summer trip. They hauled logs into the mess hall, built fires to warm the air, cooked meals for the Rotary guests, and then cleaned the tables and kitchen. In return, the Rotary placed money in the Scouts' activities fund, where each boy who participated reserved a sum to help pay for the summer trip.
"This way you are actually earning the money and not asking someone to just give it to you," Joey Tanner says after kitchen duty during lunch. "You put your heart into [the work]. It makes me feel pretty good to know what I'm doing."
Zack Maynard passes out pizza and pie to the Rotary teens. "It's not like someone is paying for me. It feels good because I'm doing it myself," he says.
The Scouts also receive a bonus in knowing that their contribution is appreciated. "Hey," one of the visitors calls out, "you guys did a good job!" Zack smiles at the compliment. "That makes me feel happy. Somebody likes what I did."
Earning money, opening minds
These urban Scouts try to do as much as possible on their own. Well-intended community members often want to give the troop money, no strings attached. But instead of a donation, the troop leaders look for a way that allows the boys to personally earn the funds.
For example, they have picked up parking lot trash after Ohio State football games and sold water or worked concession stands at summer festivals.
Along the way they meet people they would normally not see in their neighborhoodor even their country. At Camp Oyo, for instance, the Scouts play soccer with boys and girls in whose countries this type of "football" is a passion. After dinner on Saturday night they watch the Rotary students' talent show with musical numbers performed in Spanish, French, and Japanese.
"Participation in this type of event helps to open their minds," Kris Wilson says, "and gives them a little more vision and opportunity."
The Scouts enjoy these departures from typical Scouting activities and appreciate the role that Curtis and Kris Wilson play in providing them. "They keep us motivated and keep us going, [but] if you don't want to do it, they don't make you," says Joey Tanner. "But you usually do want to [take part] because afterward you'll feel happy that you've accomplished something."
Without the leadership provided by the Wilsons "we probably wouldn't do all these things," Joey adds. "They do a lot of extra things for us." Among these extras is assisting Scouts with their homework before the troop's regular Monday night meeting at the Broad Street Presbyterian Church.
Perhaps due in part to its urban location, Troop 266 schedules a camping experience every month, regardless of the weather. Even when an outing is a service project or money-earning activity, the troop tries to include camping and Scoutcraft events.
In addition to their kitchen duties at Camp Oyo, for example, the Scouts worked on merit badges by launching model rockets, learning to fold the American flag, spending time in the woods observing wildlife, and taking a hike in the forest where they crossed an icy stream.
For some younger city boys, this is like visiting another world. Steven Tanner, 11, finds traces of animal footprints near the clear but fast-flowing stream. Is the water safe to drink, he wonders? "Clean-looking water doesn't mean it's safe," Scoutmaster Wilson warns, pointing out a cloudy green pool of standing water, surfaced with scum, just a few yards upstream.
The Scouts acknowledge that some young people back in their Columbus neighborhood will make fun of them after hearing what they did during the weekend at Camp Oyo.
"Some people are like, hey, it's cool. But others take it to an extreme and make fun of you," admits Jerry Powell, Terry's 15-year-old brother. Daniel Schreiber, 17 adds: "Lots of people make fun of it, but we get to do things they don't do."
Peer pressure hasn't stopped Daniel from staying in the troop for six years. "I'm going for Eagle Scout," he says with confidence. "It's the highest thing you can do. The rewards and honor you get in the end make it worth it. And for myself, it means I did it."
Goals achieved, new challenges
Talk of achieving personal goals again reminds the Scouts of the previous summer's trip to Walt Disney World. When it was announced that they had accumulated the required travel money earlier than expected, the Scouts had cheered. But then the Wilsons added a new challenge: Instead of camping every night on the trip, the Scouts could stay in a hotelif they continued working to earn the additional money. Which they did.
Then came another challenge. Did they now want to earn enough to fly to Florida instead of making a long drive?
Not surprisingly, on departure day the Scouts boarded a jet for Orlando. "When they told us we'd earned the money to pay for everything, I felt really good," Joey Tanner remembers. "I'd achieved something I didn't think I was capable of."
How do you top Disney World when planning the summer trip for 2001? By thinking BIG, considering Canada, Colorado, Mexico, Hawaii, England, Japan, even Australia.
The troop settled on Cancun, the Gulf of Mexico resort city that features big water, ancient ruins, and an ecosystem unlike anything in Ohio. Getting there would take a lot of work, of which the weekend at Camp Oyo was just a part.
"I want to see a country outside the U.S.A., to learn about other countries," Zack Maynard says before cleaning up the campsite.
When it comes to achieving personal goals, Terry Powell says the expression "No way" is no longer part of his vocabulary.
"I'm going for it," he declares. "If I can raise $300, I can do anything!"
Much of his self-confidence can be attributed to Scouting, he adds. "Scouting put a lot more in my heart, a lot more in my mind. Now I [believe] I can do anything that comes my way."
Douglass K. Daniel, a former Boys' Life writer and editor, teaches journalism at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.
October 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.