Scouting the Island
One year ago on the Island, Boy Scouts nearly ceased to exist. Now, with the help of Cub Scout leaders, Kevin Oliver from Chilmark and Andrew Bradshaw from Tisbury, there are close to 40 Island Boy Scouts from ages 7 through 18.
Mr. Oliver explains the resurgence in Cub Scout membership as a very positive reflection of parental involvement.
Mr. Bradshaw says, "Scouting is great because you don't drop your kids off - you can't be a drop-off parent in Scouting. It is for people who want to form a strong bond with their kids."
Mr. Bradshaw joined scouting in response to Mr. Oliver's encouragement and in hopes of developing a stronger relationship with his nine-year-old stepson, Nathan. Both fathers hope that the recent revival in scouting on the Island will secure the future of the organization they have both grown to value.
"There are no cliques in scouting," Mr. Oliver says enthusiastically. "When the kids put on a Boy Scout uniform, they're all the same. They're all in the same boat, and they know it."
Mr. Oliver joined Boy Scouts of America soon after his seven-year-old son, Solon, expressed an interest in it. "Before I had kids," he says, "I never thought one person could be so close to another person...Scouting has brought us even closer."
Mr. Oliver has found it a great way to connect with his son and with other like-minded parents, many of whom he now considers good friends.
Every week, Mr. Oliver and Mr. Bradshaw host meetings with their assigned Cub Scout packs. Mr. Bradshaw oversees pack 90 of Edgartown, and Mr. Oliver pack 93 in Oak Bluffs. The meetings begin with an opening ceremony where the Scouts sing the National Anthem together followed by a prayer, such as "A Scout's Prayer in Winter:" "Lord, we are camping in the snow today, We may fear the cold, But we trust that your Spirit, Will guide and warm us."
Working in teams, Scouts collaborate on building projects, games, and trust exercises such as learning to build campfires, making arts and crafts, playing sports, and participating in leadership activities. Merit badges can be earned in such categories as American Heritage, Archeology, Camping, Dog Care, and Environmental Science.
Mr. Oliver recalls one national event, the Pinewood Soapbox Derby, for which Solon fashioned a small pine racecar from a kit supplied by BSA for the Island Derby. Solon's car won, and he advanced to the regional Derby where he wound up winning the Judge's Choice Award for excellent craftsmanship by a Scout. "In our minds it was the best award Solon could have received," his father says.
Mr. Oliver hopes that his and Solon's enthusiasm for scouting will influence the younger Island children to carry on the tradition, which has waxed and waned here in recent years.
Amy Zahn, the Youth Serving Executive for the Cape and Islands Council, is impressed by the recent revival of Scout membership on the Island. She says, "It is thanks to Kevin Oliver and Andrew Bradshaw that the council has stayed afloat and continues to spark interest in kids." She praises such programs as Safe Rides, through which high school students can call a member of the program to get a no-questions-asked ride home on weekend nights.
Like Mr. Oliver, Ms. Zahn hopes that the continuing involvement of parents will maintain the current level of interest among boys. "After all," she says, "it is the parental involvement and support that allows scouting to exist."
With its 110 million members nationally, Boy Scouts of America, celebrating its 100 anniversary this year, is one of the largest youth organizations in the country. Among other things, its mission is to provide boys with the confidence and sense of duty necessary to function as responsible citizens.
As described by Mr. Oliver, scouting has provided an environment for boys like former Boy Scouts Neil Armstrong, John F. Kennedy, Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg, to name a few, to gain a greater understanding of their world through exercises in morality and character development. With chapters all over the country, the organization relies entirely on volunteer support from participating fathers.
Support for on the Island comes in part from Friends of Scouting, a local non-profit organization that assists in scouting activities and at the local Scout facility, Camp Duarte.
Once at the high school level, a Boy Scout can go on to become a Varsity Scout, or begin Venture Scouting, which is a co-ed division. The highest rank attainable is that of Eagle Scout. Since its introduction in 1911, more than two million boys who've earned at least 21 merit badges have earned the Eagle Scout rank.
For additional information on joining Boy Scouts of America, contact Kevin Oliver, 508-645-2730, or go to beascout.org for specific Martha's Vineyard council information.
E. Conor Hagen is a freelance writer living in Katama.