Learning, Leading, Serving
By Amy Falkofske
“There is no finer program for preparing American boys for citizenship and leadership than the Boy Scouts of America. As an Eagle Scout, I know firsthand how impactful this program can be, and I believe its mission is more important today than ever before,” said Dr. Robert Gates in an October press release, on scouting.org, announcing his election to the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America.
Gates, former U.S. secretary of defense and at one time the director of the nation’s Central Intelligence Agency, got his start in the Boy Scouts, like many other notable achievers, such as astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon; Bill Gates Sr., father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and legendary Hollywood filmmaker Steven Spielberg. These men all attained the rank of Eagle Scout, the national youth organization’s highest level.
Boy Scouts of America includes nearly 2.5 million youth members between the ages of 7 and 21 throughout the U.S. and its territories. In Prince William County, the organization serves about 4,800 youth, including close to 2,500 in the county’s western part, known in the Boy Scouts as the Bull Run District, and about 2,300 in the eastern portion, the Occoquan District, according to Bennett Hart, committee member of Troop 670, in Manassas, and former Bull Run District chairman.
The Occoquan and Bull Run districts are among 23 districts that form the Boy Scouts’ National Capital Area Council (NCAC), which includes the District of Columbia, parts of Virginia and Maryland and the U.S. Virgin Islands, said Ben Hazekamp, Occoquan District executive. The NCAC is the second largest council out of 300 local councils throughout the nation, he said.
It all starts when a boy is in the first grade or 7 years old. He can join a Cub Scout Tiger Cub den and when 8, move up in the Cub Scouts to eventually become a Boy Scout at age 10 or after completing fifth grade.
Since incorporating in 1910, Boy Scouts of America has been teaching boys values and life and leadership skills that prepare them to be exceptional members of their community, nation and the world.
Providing community service is a big part of being an exceptional member of the community. According to Boy Scouts of America (on scoutingnewsroom.org ), Scouts performed more than 17 million service hours nationwide in 2013. The Occoquan and Bull Run districts combined contributed nearly 15,000 service hours, said NCAC Scout Executive and CEO Les Baron.
Prince William Boy Scouts’ largest project is “Scouting for Food,” according to Hart, who said that as part of the week-long nationwide Boy Scout project, Bull Run District Scouts collected more than 19,000 pounds of food this past November for SERVE (Securing Emergency Resources through Volunteer Efforts), the Manassas campus of Northern Virginia Family Service. SERVE provides food, emergency shelter and other services to impoverished families living in western Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park.
Hazekamp said that during that week Occoquan District Boy Scouts collected more than 43,000 pounds of food, which he said went to ACTS (Action in Community through Service), a private, nonprofit organization in Dumfries that provides food and shelter to families in the greater Prince William area.
Occoquan District Boy Scouts also partner with Keep Prince William Beautiful, a local nonprofit environmental organization, and the Prince William County Landfill to collect worn and tattered U.S. flags for repair or proper retirement.
Cub Scouts serve the community primarily through cleaning up nature trails and parks. Woodbridge resident Matthew Moore, 8, is a Wolf Scout member of Cub Scouts Pack 1353, which is sponsored by Lake Ridge Baptist Church. Moore has helped clean up churches and schools in his area alongside others in his pack. He joined Cub Scouts at the urging of his mother, Patricia Moore, because she saw the value of the program for young boys, she said.
“I think Boy Scouts overall is a really good society for young men. Everything we teach them is based on core values and principles. They may achieve different things, but they learn responsibility and resourcefulness and getting outdoors,” she said.
Patricia Moore, a Tiger Cub Den leader since her son joined Scouting last year, said she has seen the positive results that Scouting has had on him.
“Matthew is more focused when he wants to earn a belt loop or a badge or something. He actually asks, ‘What can I do to earn this?’ He likes the achievement,” she said.
Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts alike earn merit badges by learning about and demonstrating proficiency in a subject of choice, such as camping, emergency preparedness or fishing. There are at least 134 merit badges available in the Boy Scouts. Scouts must earn 21 to become an Eagle Scout. They must also complete a service project for a religious organization, school or the community.
Hazekamp said that a Boy Scout working to qualify for Eagle Scout will put in hundreds of hours of labor in addition to time spent planning and preparing his project. Eagle Scout projects are a major portion of the service hours that NCAC Scouts put in every year, he said. “In the NCAC, every six hours, a new Eagle Scout joins the ranks,” Hazekamp said.
Another way that Scouting encourages service is through its national honor society, the Order of the Arrow. Scouts are elected to the order, after fulfilling a set of requirements to qualify, based on how well they exemplify the “Scout Oath” and “Scout Law” in their daily lives. They then can move up through the order’s ranks by completing service weekends and focusing on what it means to do a “good turn,” Hazekamp said.
Hazekamp recalled his days as a Boy Scout, earning his Eagle Scout badge and being a member of the Order of the Arrow. “It was a very valuable part of my childhood growing up and taught me a lot of great skills. I’m happy to be here now, trying to make sure all the kids in Prince William County have the same opportunity to grow with those same skills,” he said.
To learn more about how to get involved in Scouting, visit www.ncacbsa.org or www.scouting.org.
Amy Falkofske ([email protected]) is a freelance writer and the owner and photographer of Beautiful Moments by Amy Photography. She lives in Bristow with her husband and two sons.