By Harold Clapper
In New York's Chautauqua County, at the western end of the state near Lake Erie, the American Legion has practically become synonymous with Scouting. Veterans of the U.S. military who make up the membership of the 19 American Legion posts in the county help Scouting financially and with volunteer efforts. Seven posts serve as a chartered organization for Scout units, with six supporting both a Cub Scout pack and a Boy Scout troop. More than 500 boys are enrolled in Legion-chartered units.
Chautauqua County American Legion commander Stan Kawski acknowledges a natural association between his organization and Scouting - both in their mutual dedication to God and country and in their teaching of values.
"We emphasize the teaching of basic values and respect for the values of our country and our flag," he says. "We also strive to make learning fun and give boys recognition for what they do."
Chris Eichmann, Scoutmaster of Troop 267 in Fredonia, N.Y., calls himself "a product of Scouting in this area." As a boy, he belonged to a Legion-chartered Scout troop. A former Navy pilot now with Delta Airlines, he values his Scouting background. And he values the support of the American Legion.
"Because this area has struggled economically, we're fortunate to have a lot of Legion posts willing to serve as chartered partners for Scout units," he notes. "The Legion is a real mainstay of Scouting in this county."
Besides serving as chartered organizations, the Legion's commitment to Scouting is visible in other special ways. For example, a Legionnaire (usually county American Legion Scouting committee chairman Jim Hayward) attends most Eagle Scout courts of honor. And in American Legion-chartered troops, each new Eagle Scout receives a $100 savings bond and a citizenship certificate from the American Legion's Department of New York.
In Troop 177, chartered to American Legion Post 777, new Eagles receive a paid trip to either a jamboree or Philmont Scout Ranch. Several other American Legion posts underwrite a catered dinner at Eagle courts of honor.
The most visible activity is the annual American Legion-sponsored fall camporee. For 14 years, the event has brought together Webelos Scouts, Boy Scouts, Scout leaders and families, and Legionnaires for a weekend of activities that offers something for everyone.
The theme of the 1998 camporee was "The American Sportsman." Scouts competed in eight team events, ranging from an "Iron Man" obstacle course to marksmanship, spin casting, and archery to animal-tracking and Kim's Game. Legionnaires and other volunteers supervised and judged the events.
One memorable past camporee theme was "Salute to Law Enforcement," which involved eight law enforcement organizations, including the F.B.I. Another featured five different military units. Others have focused on Scout skills, pioneer survival skills, the Olympic Games, and Native American games and folklore.
Jim Hayward, who has chaired the American Legion's county Scouting committee since 1985, has seen the camporee grow from an attendance of 48 at the inaugural event to more than 300 Scouts, adult leaders, and volunteers in 1998. His committee of eight does most of the camporee planning and organizing.
Asked about the place that the camporee fills in the Legion Scouting program, Hayward replied: "The whole Scouting program here in Chautauqua County and nationally is part of the American Legion's Americanism Program. The Boys State and Boys Nation Program for high school students is also part of that, but we actually reach more young people through Scouting."
"In my 27 years as a Scouting professional I haven't encountered a county American Legion more organized or supportive of Scouting," said Linwood C. Wiley Jr., Scout executive for Allegheny Highlands Council. "The annual fall camporee is but one example of what they do for us; and the best part is that county Legion posts have undertaken to do it by themselves - it's their show in all respects."
Scout troops, Webelos dens, and Venturing crews chartered to veterans' groups throughout the northeastern United States were invited to attend.
Camporee first-timers included Webelos Scouts and parents from Pack 524 in Springville, N.Y. Most of the boys had been together since Tiger Cubs, so they did well in the competitions.
"We had the best time so far in the Iron Man competition," announced Webelos Scout Eric Lay in observing that he liked everything about the camporee. And although their time in the obstacle course was eventually beaten, the den still had a shining moment. For uniform inspection, all the Webelos Scouts appeared in full uniform - and beat the competition hands down.
At the camporee the Webelos Scouts from Pack 524 were guests of the Scouts from Springville's Troop 543, which enabled them to fulfill a requirement for their Outdoorsman activity badge. Mark and Beth Lay, the Webelos den leader and assistant; and Dave Seitz, assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 543, arranged earlier for the joint camping experience.
"For younger Boy Scouts, this experience is a 'low impact' camp-out," observed Seitz, "but for Webelos Scouts, it's a challenge. And for some of the older Boy Scouts, it's sort of relaxing. It pretty much covers all the bases."
Dave Seitz Jr., a Life Scout in Troop 543, rated the camporee "one of the best. They've got a very good program."
Troop 45, from Sharpsville, Pa., near Pittsburgh, traveled about three and a half hours to reach the camporee. The boys opted for the Legion camporee, rather than a district camporee in their own council, because they liked the program.
Donald Thompson, a Star Scout with the troop, said the Legion camporee was "one of the best I've ever attended. I think it will help the younger Scouts when they go back to their troops. And we've had fun meeting people from other troops and other Order of the Arrow lodges."
The American Legion camporee also brings out families. Esther and Paul Desnoyers, from Allegany, N.Y., attended with their son, Mike. Esther is a Webelos den leader with Pack 677; husband Paul is a unit commissioner with the Seneca District of the Allegheny Highlands Council; and Mike is a Scout in Troop 677.
Paul describes the camporee as "a superior event" whose competitions "give boys a chance to try things they don't ordinarily do."
Another Scouting family had three generations at the camporee. Ray Eckholm Jr., belongs to Legion Post 777 and serves in their color guard. His son, John, is a Webelos den leader in Pack 177, chartered to Post 777; and his grandson, Christopher, is a Webelos Scout. Scouting in this family dates back to the 1940s, when Ray was a Boy Scout.
The camporee's evening campfire, of course, is a high point, with skits, stories, and awards. But the American Legion camporee precedes its campfire with a special group activity that rates equally high in popularity: a buffet dinner at which everyone gets involved. Each Scout unit contributes a food item, like a salad or vegetable, "in sufficient quantity for about 75 people." The camporee committee provides a meat course, and the Legion Auxiliary, Sons of the American Legion, and others provide desserts and support through their efforts of manpower and financial donations.
The American Legion Scouting program in Chautauqua County has long been appreciated by the youth, parents, and communities it serves. And in 1998 it received additional recognition from the two bodies it represents: the national American Legion organization and the Boy Scouts of America.
In an article in the Legion publication Dispatch 8, Legion National Adjutant Robert W. Spanogle wrote: "Operations such as the one run by the Legionnaires in Chautauqua County, New York, are a great example of the American Legion fulfilling its obligation to serve the community."
The Boy Scouts of America honored the county Legion program with the national Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award, which recognizes individuals or organizations "for demonstrated involvement in the development and implementation of Scouting opportunities for low-income, inner-city, or rural youth."
With that level of recognition as validation, it was no surprise when the Chautauqua American Legion's Scouting Committee, in a written summary of its 14-year program, expressed the belief that "we have the best American Legion Scouting program in New York State - and just maybe in the nation." S
Freelance writer Harold Clapper lives in Syracuse, N.Y.
The American Legion and Community Service Programs - A Long History of Support
The support of Scouting by American Legion posts is not unusual. It dates back to the Legion's first national convention in 1919 when the veterans group adopted the BSA program as "an opportunity to build patriotic attitudes and strong moral character among youths.'"
Congress chartered the American Legion in 1919 as a "patriotic, mutual-help, wartime veterans organization." Its membership today is about three million men and women in 15,000 posts worldwide. Members are organized into 55 departments. Each of the 50 states is a Legion Department, as are the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico, and the Philippines.
As a community service organization, the Legion supports a wide range of programs focused on the American flag, Americanism, children and youth, legislative action, economic issues that affect veterans, national security and foreign relations, veterans affairs and rehabilitation, and a national emergency fund.
Involvement in Scouting is part of the Legion's Americanism Program. Nationwide, 2,515 Scout units are chartered to the Legion, with a total membership of 78,087.
Legion posts may nominate candidates for an Eagle Scout of the Year Award, which carries with it an $8,000 scholarship. Each of three runners-up receives a $2,000 scholarship. Further information about the American Legion is available at the American Legion Internet Web site at http://www.legion.org
Other American Legion Americanism Program activities include school medal awards; educational assistance through a publication called Need A Lift?, which lists loan, scholarship, and career opportunities for high school students; the Samsung American Legion Scholarship for descendants of American war veterans; American Legion Boys State and Boys Nation Program (a parallel program, Girls State and Girls Nation, is conducted by the American Legion Auxiliary); junior shooting sports programs to teach the proper use of firearms; American Legion Baseball; oratorical contests; uniformed groups, such as drill teams and color guards; and local scholarship programs.
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