Ask parents about the merits of extracurricular activities such as sports, music, school clubs or church groups, and they will tell you that they not only want their sons to develop tangible skills, but to learn the value of teamwork and good character while having fun.
While those and many other important life lessons are offered in many activities, perhaps no other youth organization is designed to teach boys how to become responsible, caring and competent citizens quite like the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), say its leaders, hence its motto: “Prepared. For life.”
“With Scouts we’re really making men,” says Ty Knox, a volunteer den leader for Pack 280 in West Des Moines. “That’s a great investment in your child. You don’t get that exactly in sports. In Scouting we try to make better people.”
Since its inception in 1920, the BSA’s mission has been to provide a program for boys and young adults to build character, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and to develop physical and mental fitness. The program is designed to make a difference in the lives of boys ages 7 to 20, while instilling life skills, values and leadership qualities. It also encourages its members — from Cub Scouts to Eagle Scouts — to conduct good deeds that benefit their schools, communities and country with a sense of selflessness, pride and patriotism.
The Mid-Iowa Council BSA, which oversees troops, packs and dens in West Des Moines and other parts of central Iowa, posted on its website the results of a study commissioned by the BSA that reinforces the success of the organization’s teachings. Among the findings of the study, “The Values of Men and Boys in America,” Scouts responded that the BSA has taught them to take better care of the environment (89 percent); to get along with others (88 percent); to always give your best effort (87 percent); to have confidence in yourself (87 percent); to set goals for yourself (87 percent); to care for other people (86 percent); and to treat others with respect (86 percent).
In addition to those lessons, BSA creates opportunities for parents to spend time with their children, a feat that can be difficult for working parents whose children participate in multiple, time-demanding activities.
“One of the rewards of being a den leader is spending time with my son every Monday during our Scouts meetings,” says Knox, whose 10-year-old son, Charlie, is a member of Pack 280’s Webelos I, Den 2. “You get to participate in their experiences, but you don’t have to be a leader to experience that. Parents can do it, too.”
Ready, set, go!
Though activities such as camping, hiking, outdoor sports, community improvement projects and selling popcorn are easily identified with the BSA, perhaps no other activity is more closely associated with Scouting than Pinewood Derby car races.
In addition to his volunteer duties as den leader, Knox made a concerted effort this year to enhance the Pinewood Derby car racing experience for the approximately 40 members of Pack 280 in West Des Moines by improving the organization of it, building wooden racks to display the cars, and creating an open class race to allow parents and siblings (boys and girls) of Scouts to participate.
“When I started with Scouts four years ago, the boys had lost interest in it. To me, having been a Scout and having so many positive memories of it growing up, the Pinewood Derby was the pinnacle of Scouting, and I wanted to improve the experience for the boys,” he says. “I built the wooden racks to display the cars so that everyone could see the work that went into them. It also helped us organize the race and judge the cars. I also built wooden boxes to help line up the cars up for races.”
Knox says the goal of the open class race was to not only to encourage non-Scouts to participate, but to ensure that the Scouts, not their parents, were doing the majority of the work to build their cars.
“We thought this would be a way for dads to build a car alongside their sons, who would learn by following their example,” he says. “One of the things I learned in Scouts was independence and personal responsibility.”
Pack 280 hosted its Pinewood Derby event at Fairmeadows Elementary School on Feb. 22.
“It was a successful experience, and we hope to create a tradition and legacy with it for Pack 280,” he says. “When my son crosses over to become a Boy Scout next year, I plan to leave a book and materials for future leaders to use.”
On the trail to the Arrow of Light
Twelve-year-old Kaleb Clarke of West Des Moines joined the BSA at age 6 because “it looked like fun.” Six years later, he has transformed himself from a Cub Scout to a Boy Scout in pursuit of his ultimate goal of becoming an Eagle Scout.
“I’ve learned a lot, like how to be loyal, trustworthy, helpful, friendly, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent, all the things that the Scouts teach you,” he says. “I’ve also had a lot of fun hanging out with my friends on campouts and marching in the Fourth of July parade.”
Clarke says that to become an Eagle Scout requires hard work and perseverance, but that it is a noble goal.
“It’s hard to be an Eagle Scout, but no matter how much homework I have I know it’s going to be a good thing to work toward. If you know how to work hard, it will be really fun for you,” he says.
His father, Scott Clarke, agrees.
“Scouts instills those core character values for kids and gives them opportunities to work together,” he says.
The senior Clarke says Scouts is also a great way for parents to meet people, make friends and spend more time with their children.
“That’s a cool thing,” he says. “It’s also satisfying for parents to see their kids mature and do things on their own and learn to take care of themselves.
“I also like the fact that it’s tied to an organization with Christian values. That’s important.”
Helping Cub Scouts become Boy Scouts
After six years of serving as a volunteer leader of Pack 280’s Den 7, Adam Offerman of West Des Moines reflected upon the Scouting experience as members of his Patrol crossed over to become Boy Scouts during a March 2 ceremony held at the newly constructed Fred Maytag II Scout Center in Des Moines, one of the nation’s most modern Scouts headquarters.
From six years of leading weekly meetings in which he personally educated and trained members of his den/patrol, to the all-seasons campouts he helped coordinate and lead at Camp Mitigwa and Springbrook, to his work with Pinewood Derbies, popcorn sales and other Scouting activities, Offerman says the countless hours spent volunteering for the BSA are well worth the work.
“It has been rewarding seeing the boys become aware of their surroundings and each other. Seeing boys experience new things — like pitching a tent, building a fire and boating for the first time — means so much to me,” he says. “I realize this is Iowa, but some of these boys have never used a fishing pole, or been near a camp fire. For me, some of my greatest childhood memories are being in the outdoors. Being the person to witness these young men in nature come into contact with new experiences for the first time is awesome.”
Offerman says he became a den leader at the urging of his 11-year-old son, Aidan, when he first became a Cub Scout.
“I remember Aidan in first grade looking up at me and saying, ‘Dad, I want you to be my den leader.’ I felt a very strong, though somewhat reluctant feeling to come through for him. Since then I have taken personal pride in not only being a strong teacher for the boys, but to also be an example for my son,” he says.
Offerman further notes that the success of Scouts, like other youth programs, is dependent upon the support of parents.
“I have been blessed to work with some great, caring parents that want the best for their child. We are definitely stronger as a group, or Pack than we would be as individuals. Scouting has given me the power to give my son, what I hope to be, some of the greatest memories of his life,” he says.
How about an adventure?
During 14 years of BSA leadership, Pat Baldus has seen Scouts of all ranks prove themselves in a variety of environments that test their physical and mental skills. The father of two Eagle Scouts, Clark and Jason, he knows firsthand that if given the proper guidance, Scouts benefit from challenges that prepares them for adulthood.
“When they go camping, they learn how to buy their own food, cook it and do the dishes and learn how to be independent. When they become Boy Scouts, they meet kids from other schools and work with older Scouts, which is also beneficial. They also have access to programs that lead to careers in fields like radio and engineering. Scouts offers them a glimpse of what adult life is like,” says Baldus, scoutmaster of Troop 283 in West Des Moines.
Baldus says any Scout willing to do the work can achieve the rank of Eagle Scout.
“When the boys cross over to become Boy Scouts, I ask them give the program a fair shake and see what it offers. It’s not a race to become an Eagle Scout, because they can work at their own pace,” he says.
Like most volunteers, Baldus took a leadership role to spend more time with his sons and to teach them enduring life lessons. He says he plans to step down as Scoutmaster in the near future and that plans are in place for another leader to fill his position.
“Keeping the program healthy for the boys is key. Troop 283 is successful, and we have the leadership in place to keep it going,” he says.
Equally important, Baldus says, is that the mission of the Scouts endures.
“I remind the boys to look at the Scout laws as their code for life,” he says. “It’s a positive way of life.”