Scouting Responds to a National Crisis

As the country reeled with horror at the sights of the devastating terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 in New York City, Washington, D.C., and rural Pennsylvania, Scouts and Scouters rushed to respond to the call for help.

In the Suffolk County Council, Tiger Cubs helped packs and troops collect more than 153,000 bottled drinks for rescue workers. (Photography courtesy of Frank Bailey)

Their efforts, an extraordinary combination of self-sacrifice, efficiency, and community spirit, not only provided immediate relief for victims and rescue workers, but also helped to heal national wounds.

Within hours of the attack, Boy Scout troops, Cub Scout packs, and Venturing crews across the country asked: “How can we help?” Volunteers near the attack sites took the initiative in their neighborhoods, collecting supplies; helping with emergency preparedness; and offering support to children whose parents had not yet checked in, or were military, medical, or rescue personnel working at the disaster sites.


For New Yorkers, another question was “What do you need?” Brooklyn Scouter James Gallo, activities chairman for Lenape Bay District, was an eyewitness to the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers. “I was immediately compelled to help, Scout that I am,” he said.

Within days, Scout units in Brooklyn gathered more than 200 truckloads of supplies needed by rescue workers, which were delivered to “ground zero” on Sept. 15 and 16.

On Sept. 16, as Scouts continued the task of sorting supplies, several Brooklyn fire company trucks stopped by to thank them. The firefighters had just been relieved after several days at the disaster site, “Yet they made time to come and see the kids who had done so much to help them,” said Gallo.

To help keep rescuers hydrated, the Suffolk County Council in nearby Long Island urged every Scout unit to contribute bottles of water or sports drinks. In just 70 hours, more than 153,000 bottled drinks, enough to fill six tractor trailers, were collected, loaded onto 18-wheelers provided by a local beverage distributor, and delivered to warehouses designated for the relief effort.

“Difficult times bring out the best in people,” noted George Fleckenstein, council support services director, “and in Suffolk County, our community rose to the occasion. The response to our effort was beyond any of our dreams.”


In addition to contributing to relief and support efforts, Scout units sought to strengthen public morale in their communities and help counter the tragedy’s mind-numbing impact.

Scouts from Troop 761, Sterling, Va., met with President Bush on Oct. 16 to deliver $500 for the President’s special fund for children in Afghanistan. (Left to right) Erick Schulz, Kristian Nielsen, Will Sellers, President Bush, Stephen Nielsen, Raymond Deskins IV. (Photograph by Wayne F. Nielsen)

The National Capital Area Council asked units throughout the greater Washington, D.C., area to participate in a flag-waving ceremony on Sept. 15. Scouters in Loudon County, Va., responded by creating a Goose Creek District “American Spirit Day,” organized by Troop 761 Scoutmaster Wayne Nielsen and district chairman Ed Yarbrough. They mobilized nearly 500 flag-waving participants, with speakers including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, United States Representative Frank Wolf, and Virginia state delegate Dick Black.

Members of the military were touched by the displays of respect for the flag. U.S. Navy Commander Bob Hooks—who serves as Troop 1533 committee chairman in Fairfax, Va.—was at work in the Pentagon, directly above the impact site, at the moment of the attack.

“The military defends the symbol of the flag daily,” said Hooks, “and we appreciate the flag ceremonies and displays immensely. It reminds us of the reason for our sacrifices.”

To help relief efforts, many units refocused previously scheduled events. At Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, for example, Scouts from BSA Troop 12 had planned to fund a camping trip with the money they would earn for bagging groceries at the local commissary. Instead, the Scouts dedicated the project to helping the relief effort.

“The response from people was overwhelming,” said assistant Scoutmaster Wayne Boswell. “We collected $1,200 in the first hour alone.”


At his Oct. 11 news conference, President George W. Bush called on “school classes, Boy [Scout] and Girl Scout troops, and other youth organizations” to earn or give money to aid the children of Afghanistan. “This is an opportunity to help others, while teaching our own children a valuable lesson about service and character,” the President said.

In response, BSA Chief Scout Executive Roy L. Williams sent a letter to President Bush offering the BSA’s full support for the relief effort. “The Boy Scouts of America enthusiastically endorses your request for Scouts to earn money and donate it to America’s Fund for Afghan Children,” Williams wrote.

“Thank you for giving our 4.5 million members and leaders the opportunity to serve. As honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America, you can count on the young men and women of our movement to do their best.” In Beaumont, Tex., the Three Rivers Council had a special Veteran’s Day rally scheduled for Nov. 10. Upon learning of the President’s call for contributions to the fund for Afghan children, Scout Executive Jack Crawford included promotion of the fund as part of the program. The council also designed a special Disaster Relief Team patch to honor units participating in a relief project.

In Sterling, Va., Scouts from Troop 761 decided to extend their friendship to the Afghan children in need as soon as they heard of the President’s appeal. Because of the troop’s immediate contribution of more than $500, the Scouts were invited to meet with President Bush on Oct. 16.

“The President specifically asked for Scouts to help—need I say more?” said Scoutmaster Wayne Nielsen in explaining why the Scouts in Troop 761 responded so quickly and with such enthusiasm. Meeting President Bush “was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he added. “The President talked to each boy—it was an incredible honor for all.”


In the aftermath of the attacks, Scouts played a role in the nationwide effort to promote understanding among Americans of all ethnic and religious groups.

When Scouts returned to their re-opened classrooms in Washington, D.C., and New York City, they felt called to reach out to their fellow students, observed Curtis Pruett, marketing director for the National Capital Area Council.

“They showed that ‘a Scout is friendly’—to all Americans, regardless of their ethnic background,” Pruett said. “By living up to the Scout Oath and Law in this time of crisis, we can truly perform a great service.”

Contributing editor Cathleen Ann Steg is an assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 1533, Fairfax, Va., in the National Capital Area Council.


Suffolk County Council’s Trailblazer District commissioner Rick Gimbl, a New York City firefighter who arrived at “ground zero” during the attack on the World Trade Center, recalled the moment and its aftermath:

“I got there just after the second tower collapsed. I was there for four days, not wanting to leave until my brothers were found. A total of 19 brothers [fellow firefighters] are missing from my firehouse, the hardest hit firehouse in the city. We’ve only found four as of [Oct. 25].

“It has been a really hard time; words cannot explain…The Scouts from my district have been great. Letters, cards, posters are coming in daily. It lifts me up beyond belief. Even though it brings a tear to my eyes, it is really soothing to the soul…My council ran their bottled water drive in my honor; I was overwhelmed that they did that. Every time I drink water from a bottle at work, I think of the Scouters in Suffolk County Council. My saying is ‘This water is for you!’ and I drink up!

“I work over 60 hours a week now, and don’t have the time to put into Scouting. My district executive and my commissioner staff have done a great job in keeping our district working. They have taken the concern off my shoulders because they say, ‘Take your time, Rick; we are here for you and will keep things going.’ I am proud to be a Scouter, I am proud to be a district commissioner, because of them. God bless Scouting!”



Scout units throughout the five boroughs that make up the Greater New York Councils acted tirelessly to support the rescue efforts, through blood drives, Red Cross fund-raisers, and supply collections. And as the crisis continues, Scouts are offering additional services, such as providing instruction packets on topics ranging from flag etiquette to emergency preparedness.

As a result, schools and churches in the area are learning about ways to keep children safe in the event of further emergencies. Don York, director of field services for the Greater New York Councils, explains: “What if your son takes the subway home from school, but it’s been shut down? What if he finds himself at a station he’s never been to before? Families need to have tangible advice, strategies that they can prepare for ahead of time. That’s what we’re offering to the communities now.”

The council hopes to take a leading role in teaching tolerance, as well. A Thanksgiving weekend Ten Commandments Hike allowed Scouts to learn more about each other’s beliefs by visiting many different places of worship, including those of the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths.

Yet even as the Scouts help others, “we’re still learning the impact of the disaster on Scouting itself,” continues Don York. “Many parents lost their livelihood when the buildings came down. That’s sure to impact us down the road. We’ve established a Scouting relief fund so no child will lose his or her place in a unit because of hardships.”

Some Scout programs are on hold now as well, because the adult volunteers are needed elsewhere. “We have 4,500 youth in this area in law enforcement Exploring,” York adds. “They’ve had to cease meeting for the time being, because the officers who were their Advisors are on 12-hour shifts and just can’t be available.”



From the national BSA office to the neighborhood troop, thousands of Scouts and Scouters spread the news on Sept. 11 through cyberspace. Information that would have taken weeks to disseminate in the past moved to thousands of people in minutes:

· Troop and pack group e-mails went out during the attacks, asking members to check in if they worked or lived near the attack sites, while phone lines were down or overloaded; offering support to families hit by the disaster; spreading the news about unitwide blood drives, collection efforts, and other immediate plans; and brainstorming for bigger ideas for the coming weeks.

· Councils worked with unit leaders to share ideas and coordinate major efforts; built special pages on council Web sites offering detailed plans for upcoming relief projects; and asked units to submit their ideas to be shared on the council sites.

· The BSA national Web site ( offered a special page, “…To help other people at all times…,” with tips for parents to use in working through the tragedy with their children; lists of emergency response and assistance agencies; and links to the White House information pages.

· To complete the circle, individual troops and packs updated their own hastily built emergency Web pages, including links back to the national Web site, for full coverage of Scout support information nationwide.

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