Honoring Scoutreach's 'Unsung Heroes'
By Bill Sloan
The Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award recognizes individuals and organizations for their dedicated efforts to bring Scouting to youth in urban and rural areas.
As a young college student in the late 1960's, Carl Stewart heard speeches by Whitney M. Young Jr., who, as executive director of the National Urban League, ranked among the period's most widely recognized civil rights leaders.
At about that same time, Young also spoke to the 58th National Annual Meeting of the Boy Scouts of America, at which he challenged the BSA to tackle the "unfinished task of making real the dream of justice and equality" for American youngsters. Soon afterward, Young was chosen by President Lyndon B. Johnson to receive the Medal of Freedomthe nation's highest civilian award.
Stewart found Young's words inspiring and energizing, and along with millions of other Americans, he was shocked and saddened when Young died in a drowning accident in 1971.
At the time, however, Stewart, a young Shreveport, La., native, never dreamed that he would become instrumental more than three decades later in keeping alive the memory of one of America's foremost advocates of social justice.
A major guiding force
Now a federal judge serving on the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Stewart is also chairman of the BSA's Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award Committee and a member of its National Scoutreach Committee.
In these roles, he has become a major guiding force behind a program that honors hundreds of individuals and organizations each year for their service to Scouting in rural and urban areas. In addition, the veteran jurist has helped over the past five years to make the Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award program in Shreveport's Norwela Council a model for other councils to follow.
"Whitney Young's principal focus was on social and humanitarian work with young people," Judge Stewart says. "He tried to emphasize the need to reach out to youth in rural and low-income urban communities so that they wouldn't be left behind. His dedication to this goal makes it very fitting that this special BSA award to the 'unsung heroes' who serve Scouting in those areas is named in his honor."
Stewart traces his interest in Scouting to his own days as a Cub Scout and later to the fact that his two sons, Carl Jr. and Kyle, have excelled as Boy Scouts. Carl Jr. has earned his Eagle Scout Award, and Kyle is a Life Scout working toward Scouting's highest rank.
The judge has been a volunteer member of the Norwela Council's executive board since 1983. Serving as board president from 1985 to 1987 drew him into volunteer work at the national level.
"I got involved with the Whitney Young Award program as a result of serving on the National Scoutreach Committee, and it's something I truly enjoy," he says.
"Judge Stewart has worked tirelessly to expand awareness of the Whitney Young Award and to get more local councils to establish their own awards programs," says award staff adviser Don Rogers of the BSA's national Scoutreach Division.
"His work has had a tremendous impact in promoting Scouting in rural and inner-city areas and attracting more active volunteers in those communities."
A growing list of honorees
Since it was established by the BSA in 1979, the Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award has been presented to 1,754 recipients nationwide. Judge Stewart himself was one of the Norwela Council's earliest Young honorees in 1996.
With his help and that of many others, participation has increased markedly among local councils over the past few years. Each honoree receives a handsome plaque engraved with the recipient's name beneath an engraved image of Whitney Young.
"A total of 101 councils have participated in the program since 2000," Stewart says, "and the level of interest in the award is steadily increasing."
The Norwela Council held its first Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award Reception in 1999. In each of the five years since, it has honored up to three area individuals or organizations with the awardan even dozenmaking a total of 15 awards to date.
The reception is also the forum for other major service awards presented each year by the council, including Scoutreach District Awards of Merit and Spirit of Scouting Awards, says district executive Darryl Morgan, who oversees the event.
"We select an honorary chairman of the event each year, and we've been fortunate to find a number of veteran Scouters to fill this rolesome of them in their 90's," Morgan says. "We hold a banquet and formal reception to showcase the awards, and we try to get as many Scouts and volunteer leaders to participate as possible."
The National Scoutreach Division and the Scoutreach Committee endorse the idea of "showcasing" the awards program, but each local council is free to choose its own format for presenting the awards, and the presentations can be scheduled at any time during the year.
"The awards can be given at a banquet, a reception, a lunch, a breakfast, or even a business meeting," says Don Rogers. "They can be combined with other service awards or given separately, and the presentation can be held at the most convenient time for the council."
Councils should, however, allow at least two months' lead time for their Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award nominations to be processed and approved by the five-member committee chaired by Judge Stewart.
"We receive nominations all during the year," Stewart explains, "and since our volunteer committee members are scattered all over the country, it takes a while to get the forms back to the councils, so it's important to plan ahead. Otherwise, local councils have a lot of flexibility in scheduling their awards events."
Other members of the Young Award Committee include Dr. David L. Briscoe of Little Rock, Ark.; Helen Overholt of Fortuna, Calif.; George N. Whitelaw of Locust, N.J.; and Ernest C. Browne Jr. of Detroit.
"The award is an important tool for recognizing the long-term contributions and unselfish service of special people who may not fit the criteria for other BSA awards, such as the Silver Beaver or Silver Antelope," Stewart says.
"Many honorees go on to serve Scouting in expanded new capacities, and the award also encourages other volunteers to keep up their own good work."
Stewart says he is gratified at the rising level of participation in the Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award program, but he makes it clear that he and other Scoutreach leaders see plenty of opportunity for further expansion.
"Eventually," says the judge, "our goal is to get this program going in every council in the country. I really believe that can happen."
Nomination forms (BSA No. 7-427) are available through the Supply Division. Award plaques and materials may be ordered from the Scoutreach Division, Boy Scouts of America (S260), 1325 W. Walnut Hill Ln., P.O. Box 152079, Irving, TX 75015-2079; phone (972) 580-2106.
For more information on the Norwela Council's Young Award program, please contact Scout Executive Bobby Madison or district executive Darryl Morgan at (318) 868-2774.
Contributing editor Bill Sloan also wrote about Scouting museums in this issue.
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