The local Blue Ridge Mountain Council/Great Valley District of Scouts BSA believes that everyone has the abilities needed to be a Scout given the proper leadership and environment.
The organization realized there was an unmet need locally in Scouting for children with special needs. That led to the formation of the ScoutAbilities Committee—a group of individuals focused on inclusion of Scouts of all abilities.
According to Courtney Pugh, an educational consultant who chairs the committee, “One mission of this ScoutAbilities committee was to create an environment in which those with limited social, physical, cognitive, and communication skills could come together and work as a Scouting unit. These Scouts may require a slightly different Scouting experience due to their needs.”
Many members of the Committee knew one another and were passionate about serving those with disabilities, especially since “many of us have our own children with special needs.”
“Discussions were held on April 2 at the “Light It Up Blue” rally at Elmwood Park in Roanoke celebrating Autism Awareness. The event was hosted by the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center (BRAAC), the ABC’s of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABC’s of ABA), and St. Vincent’s Home (SVH) Services.
The ScoutAbilities committee set up a registration table at the rally to allow families to see that Scouting is open to everyone. The ABC’s of ABA had a vendor table nearby which led to discussions about how Scouting could benefit some of their clients.
Pugh says both the BRAAC and the ABC’s of ABA were eager to participate.
An Open House followed in May at BRAAC, followed by distribution of flyers from both organizations.
“Chirstina Guiliano of BRAAC and Lissa Hoprich of the ABC’s of ABA have committed to help with resources with the chartering and leadership of these units,” said Pugh. “Through collaboration with the BRAAC along with the ABC’s of ABA, Troop 42B and Pack 42 were created.”
BRAAC will provide the location for Troop and Pack meetings and resources. Some of their staff will volunteer in leadership roles as time permits as several of them are Eagle Scouts.
Troop 42B is an all-boy troop. Troop 42G will be the all-girl troop once they reach the membership requirement of five girls to charter as a unit.
“Currently all of the Scouts in these two units have special needs but we are open to all abilities and everyone who wants to join,” Pugh says.
“The plan is to integrate the accommodations and strategies used by both the school and the company to assist with teaching the life skills and social skills of Scouting,” added Pugh. “The Scouts will help with service projects around the school and in the community while working on those social, communication, and other skills.” They will learn to interact both with one another and adults.
Right now, Troop 42B has 11 members in sixth grade and up, most associated with BRAAC or the ABC’s. There is no age cap for students with documented special needs.
Cub Pack 42 is gearing up as well, for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Troop 42B starting meeting about a month ago in the cafeteria at BRAAC (located just off Peters Creek Road). Their meeting night is Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Once Pack 42 gets up and running, they will meet at the same time, but in a different room at the BRAAC.
Meetings start off, as in all BSA Troops and Packs, with the flag, the Pledge, the Scout Oath, the Scout Motto, and Scout Law. Troop leaders say the boys have been impressively quick to memorize those Scout essentials; in fact, it took just one session of practice. They have almost completed the first Scout rank in just three weeks.
The program is tailored to their needs. While the Scouting goals remain the same, adaptations are made. Scouts in Troop 42B and Pack 42 will progress through earning pins and badges and completing rank requirements on their way to Eagle Scout the same as other Scouts; however, they can perform alternatives for meeting requirements if there is a documented need.
Troop 42B and Pack 42 will master knot tying, hiking, first aid, swimming, identifying trees and insects, personal fitness, environmental science, cooking, and much more. They will follow the Scout handbook, making modifications as needed.
The Troop has come up with their own Patrol name—the “Cool Aid Patrol,” as in they “are cool and provide aid for everyone.”
The Scouts had their first fundraiser on July 13—a yard sale–with the goal of improving social interactions. Down the road, their leaders plan for them to develop the social skills to participate in the annual Popcorn Sale.
Troop 42B will be attending Salem Red Sox Scouting night on August 3. The new Aerial Adventures course at Explore Park is on their list of upcoming activities. They plan to become campers in the long run, possibly starting with an indoor camp out or camping on the lawn. Leaders believe by next summer they will be ready for regular campouts.
Several of the leaders have worked with other Scout Troops. Troop 42B chairman Joe Ostronic says that “99 percent of the time when a child wants to join Scouts, the parent ends up serving. Parents just naturally become involved.” His son is an Eagle Scout. Ostronic recruited his wife Rachel into Scouting.
Pugh served as Cubmaster, planning and organizing Pack activities, when her youngest child was a Cub Scout, but her role diminished as her child aged and is now a Life Scout. Her oldest is an Eagle Scout.
Troop 42B Scoutmaster Hawk Hillberry has been involved with Scouting since earning his Bobcat rank in 1965–an Eagle Scout who has served in many leadership positions. In 1979 he started a special needs troop in northern Virginia with 11 boys. Out of those 11, eight went on to become Eagle Scouts.
Hillberry says the best meal he ever had was prepared by a deaf Scout and a blind Scout working together cooking over a campfire. He worked with a Scout with Cerebral Palsy who completed a hike of 50 miles over one and a half weeks, carrying his own backpack—“through sheer willpower. He was an inspiration to the whole troop.”
Assistant Scoutmaster Janette Hunt has three boys in Scouting—a Life Scout, a Tenderfoot, and a Webelo. She first became involved in 2015 as Den Leader with her middle child.
Cubmaster Zach Rice did not grow up in Scouting, although his grandmother was involved in the Scouting program. He was recruited by the ScoutAbilities Committee because he works with the ABC’s of ABA program and has a background with children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities.
When the boys were asked why they joined Troop 42B, new Scout Nate said that it’s because he loves the outdoors. David said that he likes outdoor activities, and also his parents encouraged him to join.
Joshua said his grandfather wanted him to get outside. His grandfather, Danny Crump, added that he wanted Joshua to improve his social skills through Scouting.
Nicholas came for fun and socialization. Noah said his mom talked him into joining.
The families agreed that they were especially interested in socialization for their children through Scouting. They wanted them to learn outdoor skills and teamwork in what Heather Mason described as a “safe and fun environment.” Paul Yakob, an Eagle Scout himself, wanted son Nicholas to have that same fun and social experience.
Troop 42B, Pack 42, and soon Troop 42G, welcome boys and girls of all ability levels. Come join them. Their email address email@example.com. Their website is https://troop42roanoke.wixsite.com/troop42roanoke.