by Lou Mancinelli
In 2010 more than 790,000 youths participated in Boy Scouts of America (BSA) programs across the nation. Of the former three Chestnut Hill BSA troops, only one, Troop 221, chartered out of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, located at 8855 Germantown Ave., remains.
“In February, the boys in the troop sat down, and they came to the conclusion that they need to be more visible in the community to get more people to join their troop,” said Scoutmaster Drew Brown
“We’ve been closeted away in the Presbyterian Church,” said Brown, an 18-year Chestnut Hill resident with two sons in the troop. Brown himself became an Eagle Scout in 1968, and has been scoutmaster since last August. “We’ve been active in the world, but not so much in the community.”
To change that, on Memorial Day Troop 221 members, dressed in their olive pants and khaki shirts adorned with their merit badges, walked alongside the honor guard as part of the Chestnut Hill Veterans of Foreign Wars commemoration. Before that, on Mother’s Day, six of its 16 members handed out water at the finish line to participants in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Philadelphia breast cancer fundraiser.
The events were two chances where, otherwise, “there haven’t been a whole lot of opportunities for us to be seen in uniform in the community being helpful,” Brown said.
“Often, whenever we go out, we are one of the unique troops,” said former Scoutmaster Bart Poindexter, who stayed on as scoutmaster for an additional two years after his son Bryant was too old to participate.
“We are unique because we are one of the most diverse groups in the Cradle of Liberty Council,” he said, adding that a majority of the troops are homogenized versions of their communities.
Troop 221, ne noted, is as diverse as Northwest Philadelphia, with Jewish, Christian, vegan, Asian, white and black scouts, and more.
“It’s something we embrace, applaud, and celebrate,” Poindexter said.
It was 102 years ago, in 1909, when Chicago publisher William D. Boyce, a man born in Plum Township, Pa., in lost his way in a dense fog in London. A young boy helped guide Boyce but refused a tip. The boy explained that he was a scout and would not except a tip for doing a good act.
The act led to a meeting between Boyce and Robert Baden-Powell, the British founder of the Boy Scouts. Powell was a former lieutenant general in the British Army and had served in the Second Boer War in 1899 in South Africa. After the war, he returned to Britain and found young boys were reading his military manuals on stalking and survival in the wilderness.
Powell rewrote his material with non-military nature skills and called it “Scouting for Boys.” Back in the states, Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America on Feb. 8, 1910, under the laws of Washington D.C.
Since then, millions of boys between the ages of 11 and 17 have climbed the ranks from Tenderfoot to Eagle Scout, and millions of more boys have been Cub Scouts, an organization for boys ages seven to 10. At the core of the Scout’s mission, is the Scout Law, which says a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
Troop 221 has done its best to uphold that law. In the past year it has produced four Eagle Scouts: Cameron Spiller, Blake Cooper, Todd Darby and Devon Honeyman.
An Eagle Scout is the highest rank in boy scouting. To become an Eagle Scout a boy must pass through the six ranks of Boy Scouts, earn 21 merit badges based on community service, wilderness and athletic skills, serve six months in a troop leadership position, plan, develop and commission a service project to benefit the community, participate in a Scoutmaster conference and complete a scout review.
Becoming an Eagle Scout is a task that requires devotion, dedication and strong character. Only 5 percent of Boy Scouts earn the rank each year. Of the 181 NASA astronauts who were scouts –57.4 percent of all astronauts – 39 were Eagle Scouts, according to the BSA website. In addition, one in four students at the Naval Academy participated in scouting as youths, and one in ten midshipmen are Eagle Scouts.
For 16-year-old Mt. Airy resident Cameron Spiller, a junior at Roman Catholic High School, Boy Scouts has been the thing that made him.
“They call it Boy Scouts,” Spiller said, “but really it teaches you how to be a man. It teaches you how to be mentally awake and morally strong.”
“I enjoy what [BSA] does,” Poindexter said. “It trains young men to be leaders. When you have a 14-year-old kid, and you suddenly put him in charge of something important, like where are we going to pitch our tents, or how are we going to divide the labor – when you do it right, the end result is usually a well-run event or operation. And you have a young man who is proud of himself who can say, ‘I did that.’”
Spiller joined Cub Scouts, against his wishes, as a 6-year-old first-grader. He liked it so much that he stayed and climbed the ranks to a Webelo, a Cub Scout’s highest distinction before becoming a Boy Scout.
“I didn’t want to do it at first,” said Spiller, whose father signed him up as a Cub Scout. “When I did it, I learned to be a leader. I suddenly had all these people following me.”
Last spring, Spiller collected more than 1,000 children’s books and donated them to the Tabor House in Germantown for his Eagle Scout service project. His project assists children at Tabor who once were part of the state’s adoption system, but who now are young parents in need of guidance and aid. Tabor House is a nonprofit child welfare agency that serves children, youths and families.
“A lot of kids nowadays grow up without books,” Spiller said. “If people have more access to books, maybe they can have better success later in life, and jails will be less populated.”
Troop 221 members also will volunteer in this summer’s 24th Annual Run for the Hill of It, a fundraiser that benefits the Montgomery Child Advocacy Project (MCAP), which provides free legal representation to children who are victims of abuse and neglect.
The troop was formed in 1987 by a group of parents at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. It is a member of the Northern District of the Cradle of Liberty Council, a BSA administrative district with headquarters in Center City and Valley Forge.
For more information, call Troop 221 Scoutmaster Drew Brown at 215-685-6098. Troop 221 meets every Thursday, except in August, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave. Interested individuals are encouraged to attend the meeting. For more information about Tabor House, visit www.taborhouse.org.