By George T. Wilson
Michael Simpson is 12, has a hearing disability, and lives in an urban neighborhood in Memphis, Tenn. Until recently, it was unlikely that Michael would ever have an opportunity to become a Boy Scout. But thanks to a program developed by the BSA's Chickasaw Council, Memphis-based The Day Foundation, and the University of Memphis, Michael now wears a Boy Scout uniform with pride and has enjoyed the outdoor activities at the council's Kia Kima Scout Reservation in the Arkansas Ozarks.
The innovative seven-year program provides scholarships to the University of Memphis for a select group of African American students who serve as leaders of one troop and one pack in an urban neighborhood. Scouts like Michael Simpson are among the first of what the council's Scoutreach staff hopes will be at least 1,000 new Scouts from urban neighborhoods over the next four yearsa figure that will significantly increase the council's urban membership.
"It's a win-win situation for everyone involved," says George Brogdon, senior program officer of The Day Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded by Memphis businessman Clarence Day. The partnership enables The Day Foundation to fund an effort that more than meets its high standards for programs improving the lives of children and young adults. Scouting brings its values-based character development and leadership training to more urban youth, while the University of Memphis retains quality students who can become the next generation of community leaders in a city where 60 percent of the residents are African Americans.
The scholarship students get help with college expenses and receive leadership training. In return, they provide a service that is both personally rewarding and a priceless contribution to the urban community.
And, of course, the biggest winners are youth like Michael Simpson, who receive Scouting's many benefits, and the boys' families, who find in Scouting an avenue for parental involvement.
Increasing Scouting's presence in the Memphis inner city requires innovative efforts because recruiting adult males as Scout leaders in its urban neighborhoods is difficult to impossible, says Chickasaw Council Scout Executive Gene Stone.
"Single-parent familiesoften headed by mothers and grandmothersunemployment, a pattern of alcohol and drug abuse, and family income below the poverty line make it difficult for Scouting to reach youth [in these neighborhoods]," he points out.
For help in funding its Scoutreach programs, the council went to The Day Foundation. "We first approached them for money to hire students as Scout aides or part-time leaders," Stone says. However, the foundation had a more ambitious plan"to partner with the University of Memphis to enhance the experience of scholarship students and create their capacity for community involvement. They had noted a lack of male participation within many volunteer programs they were funding in the inner city."
Foundation director Gary Revetto proposed the scholarship and community involvement concept, Stone says. Both Revetto and George Brogdon are enthusiastic about its progress.
"George did some research at the university and found that African American students have the highest dropout rate there," Revetto relates. "Often this is because, without scholarships, many have to work part-time to go to school."
In response, the Hal P. Bailey Jr. Leadership Scholarships program was developed. Named in honor of the former president of The Day Companies, who was also an Eagle Scout and longtime volunteer Scouter, it provides both the money and time to have a significant impact.
Over seven years, the foundation will provide more than $350,000 to fund four classes of scholarship students. The 10 African American young men who are scholarship recipients in each class receive half of their tuition and up to $300 for books each semester through graduation. The foundation has also pledged $500,000 over seven years for uniforms, equipment, and camping expenses for the troops, funding to be matched with grants from other foundations and groups.
Revetto describes the program as "a unique, three-pronged attack on problems in at-risk areas." He is convinced that the young men involved "have incredible potential to become effective Scout leaders and later leaders in the community."
The program was launched in the summer of 1999 with the selection of the first 10 scholarship students, who began working with troops and packs in the fall. The second group of 10 students was named last August.
Selection is based on factors like leadership potential, personal communication skills, and awareness of social issues. Those selected receive Fast Start and Leader Basic Training and participate in a summer camp experience with campers from urban neighborhoods.
During the school year, the students attend monthly support roundtables to sharpen their Scouting skills. At these sessions they meet with local African American community leaders, such as city court clerk Thomas Long, deputy sheriff Randy Wade, and city commissioner Shep Wilburn, for motivation and encouragement.
The roundtables are organized by council Scoutreach director Tim Bingham, who coordinates the scholarship program. Bingham came to the Scout council from the Memphis Housing Authority and "has the know-how to make this program work," says Gene Stone.
Personally involved in every element of the program, Bingham arranged for a public housing apartment to be converted for use as a "Scout Hut" for unit activities and meetings. He trains, motivates, and counsels each scholar and also monitors the study habits and college grades of them all. He maintains unit records, oversees scheduling of events, and attends every meeting held by a troop or pack in the program.
Other key council staff include James Moore, district executive of the Central District, and Jeff Isaac, director of field service.
The first 10 scholarship recipients were responsible for 20 inner-city units, with a maximum of 25 boys per unit. Students in the second class assisted with those same units, allowing each pack and troop to have a leader and an assistant.
In the third year, the scholarship students will total 30 and 20 more units will be addeda total of 40 troops and packs, involving 1,000 inner-city boys.
The three-year participation of the fourth scholarship class will carry through to the end of the program, for a total of seven years of leadership involvement from scholarship students. By then, the 40 packs and troops will have had time to develop sufficient community and parent support to become self-sustaining.
Gene Stone hopes the program "can provide a successful model for other foundations and groups to work with other councils."
The scholarship program is only one aspect of the Chickasaw Council's urban Scouting effort, Stone notes.
"Our Scoutreach program is very multifaceted, so we can reach pockets of youth in the inner city. Among our efforts are partnerships with the parks and recreation department, and the juvenile justice system; the more traditional Scouting relationship with churches and organizations; and a unique and time-tested police precinct Scouting program.
"In all these areas, however, leadership is always a difficult hurdle, to which the scholarship program offers an innovative answer."
Freelance writer George Wilson lives in Memphis. For more information on the scholarship program, write to Chickasaw Council BSA, Jeff Isaac, Director of Field Service, 171 S. Hollywood St., Memphis, TN 38112.
A Powerful Impact
Curtis Franklin, Jason Pilgram, and Kevin McCalleum were 19 years old and had entered their freshman year at the University of Memphis when they were selected for the first class of 10 students in the Hal P. Bailey Jr. Leadership Scholarships program. All three had once been Boy Scouts, and Curtis is an Eagle Scout.
"We are generally pleased and satisfied with all the young men in the program," said Chickasaw Council Scoutreach director Tim Bingham, "but these three especially have grasped the spirit of Scouting and are relating well with the boys in their units."
Last spring, Curtis, Jason, and Kevin reflected on their experiences during the first year of the program. All are convinced that it has a powerful impact on both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. And all three hope to remain involved in Scouting after their scholarship responsibilities have been filled.
· "I would like to continue with my troop," said Jason Pilgram, who is studying to be a mechanical engineer. "I don't want to be with them four years and then just drop off." He has seen how the program makes a difference in the lives of the boys. "At our meetings, we see the enjoyment on the face of each child," he said. "They have enthusiasm for what we teach them and are excited when I tell them what we will be doing the next week."
Jason believes the program is not only "helping the Scouts, but it's also helping me. They see me as a leader, and the program helps develop me as a leader." Scouting allows "some good kids" to demonstrate what they can accomplish, he noted, and "people in the community see this and are influenced by what Scouting can do for young people."
· Becoming an Eagle Scout helped Curtis Franklin learn a lot about responsibility and being a leader. Because he began Scouting as a Tiger Cub, he was already familiar with the program and didn't have to be sold on Scouting's value, he said. "But my role is now more challenging. More people are expecting leadership of me.
"The success of packs and troops started by the program will get more boys interested in Scouting," said Curtis, a psychology major. "Boys not yet involved as Scouts see from our activities that this is a fun learning experience and want to join us. They'll realize the program is not like school, where they often just sit and listen while the teacher talks."
· Kevin McCalleum, who wants to become a contract lawyer and "then get into politics," has had part-time jobs with the city attorney's office and in the office of a city commissioner. Participating in the scholarship program has shown him that "these kids really do need role models," he said. "I'm not saying I am the perfect role model, but I do try to the best of my ability to be one when I am around them."
He related an incident that showed he was, indeed, making a difference. "Once, after I hadn't met with the kids for about three weeks during Christmas break, I came into the room and a boy named David came up to me. He smiled and gave me a big hug. This really touched me and made me realize how important I was to him."
Kevin feels strongly that the scholarship program has had an impact on the course of his college studies. "It has caused me to realize more the serious aspects of college life. It can be fun, but being in this program has caused me to think more about my future."
First Time at Camp
At Camp Currier, located south of Memphis in Mississippi, both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in the Scoutreach program took to the trails with excitement, enjoying camp experiences for the first time.
Their comments revealed how important both Scouting and their college student leaders had become.
"They try to discipline us and encourage us to become the best young men we can be," said Webelos Scout Chris Shelton, 11. He noted a lesson he had learned: "If you don't cooperate with your den members, then they won't want to cooperate with you." He liked the buddy system and had formed close friendships with boys he didn't know before.
Cub Scout Michael Price, 10, enjoyed building model boats and cars, and learning to tie "square knots and rescue knots." He also had made new friends at camp and hoped to "learn to fish and swim, and learn more about wild animals."
Boy Scout Roy Taylor, 13, was having fun with the other members of his troop. He, too, wanted to learn more about animals and said he had already spotted a raccoon, a deer, and an armadillo. He looked forward to learning "how to survive in the woods and prepare for college."
Boy Scout Martino Jackson, 11, said he enjoyed learning to pitch tents and cook food in the outdoors. He liked hiking, but admitted being wary of "bees and wasps." Camping was a new experience, he said, and it allowed him "to enjoy and appreciate his friends" in a new way.
"I like my Scoutmaster," he added. "He teaches me a lot."
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