Leaders at the Boy Scouts of America’s Quivira Council want people to know how much good their boys have done for our communities.
Part of their reason for doing this is to thank Wichita and southern Kansas for helping the Boy Scouts so much in recent years. They are about to finish a $6 million fundraising campaign to upgrade scouting camps and to build an expansive new service center in Wichita.
Part of their reason for outlining their good works is that they wonder sometimes whether the boys’ good works might be overshadowed in the public mind by rough publicity the national organization has received, either for its stance on gays or how scouting organizations kept secret files on people who they wanted to keep out of scouting for immoral or criminal behavior.
They declined to talk about those matters. But they did want to talk about the community service hours donated in the Quivira Council’s 30 counties, and the way they say they hope to shape the character of youth and spur their life education in ethics, leadership and service.
“Do we think the Boy Scouts get a bum rap sometimes? Yes,” said Brad Bechtel, the council president. “But there are so many benefits the community receives from the Boy Scouts.”
The Quivira Council has much to be grateful for, Bechtel said.
In spite of the 2008 recession, the council raised $4 million for upgrading council scouting camps in need of repair, and are spending the other $2 million to build the 14,000-square-foot Koch Scouting Center.
It is scheduled to be completed near K-96 and Oliver in September 2013. Koch Industries donated the land, next door to the new Rainbows United, as well as a cash gift.
Scout leaders worried about raising the money at times. Local charities like the United Way, for example, saw donations decline after the recession.
“But we’re the Boy Scouts,” Bechtel said. “We always take the toughest course, so we waited until the economy was tough enough to be a challenge.”
Adapting to change
Bechtel and council commissioner Jeff DeGraffenreid said the scout leaders and the boys served by these donations have done much to thank the community already. There are many good things most people don’t know about the scouts, they said, not only about their frequent charitable work but about how the Scouts have changed with the times to deal with a much more diverse country and be relevant to young people who text and fraternize incessantly on social media.
So, Bechtel said, it’s sometimes good to teach how to respond to a disaster by creating a Zombie Apocalypse disaster for the Scouts to solve. (If they can survive a Zombie Apocalypse, they can likely know how to survive tornadoes, floods or other natural disasters).
It’s sometimes good to take the boys to the Wichita Area Technical College and have them work with skilled aircraft workers. The Quivira Council now gives out merit badges for welding and for working with aircraft composite materials.
While the boys are doing this they are also sometimes studying the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, all in programs designed to be hands on – and fun.
Other things have changed in the Quivira Council, the leaders said.
• Sixteen percent of youth served by the Scouts here are Hispanic, African American or Native American now.
• Half of all Scouting families have household incomes of $50,000 or less.
• The Scouts religious emblems program includes awards for youth of 38 faith backgrounds, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Quaker and more.
• More than 335,000 hours of community service was given by Scouts and leaders in 2011.
• More than 80,000 pounds of food was gathered in 2012 to support local food pantries – 10,000 more pounds than they raised in 2011.
• The council’s outreach program provides Scouting to 850 at-risk youth in the urban core through partnerships with churches, schools, and community centers.
Beyond that, Bechtel said, all scouting organizations make sure young people get into scouting even if they can’t afford a uniform, or the $15 registration fee.
“Nobody will be turned away,” Bechtel said. “We tell parents, ‘Don’t worry about that. The only thing you should worry about is make sure you get the boys here on Monday nights.’ ”
Anywhere one looks in Wichita or the other communities served by the Quivira Council, people will likely see people or projects helped by the Quivira Council Boy Scouts, DeGraffenreid said.
The Scout leaders aim to shape the character of Cub and Boy Scouts, but they say the adults show up only “to keep them safe, to keep them from going off in the ditch.” But the adults give the leadership of the groups – and the possibilities of success or failure of projects – to the boys themselves.
So they learn service while helping elderly people take care of their houses. They learn leadership while organizing to clean up ditches and roadways.
In the field, because most of their learning takes place outdoors, they learn to shut off their smartphones and iPads and engage with nature. But the Scouts are more nuanced than that; at other times they encourage the Scouts to use their iPads and smartphone and apps to do everything from find their way around with GPS to figure out how many charcoals to light inside a Dutch oven.
One of the fundamental ideas of Scouting is that people learn best from failure, Bechtel said. So when parents come – and they are encouraged to come – the Scouts often make sure the parents aren’t around to help their kids when the projects get assigned. The boys learn from other boys.
They learn how to solve problems by working together, drawing up plans, helping people, building things.
There is a new footbridge a Boy Scout named Mitchell Lawrence built, for example, in Chisholm Creek Park, about a year and a half ago, Bechtel said.
“Until now, only the critters of the forest knew that he did that,” Bechtel said.