Against All Odds

After years of failed efforts to bring Scouting to an immigrant community in San Rafael, Calif., Scoutmaster Willy Coronado makes a breakthrough with the success of Troop 2000.

Standing alongside the Golden Gate Bridge, across the bay from San Francisco, members of San Rafael, Calif., Troop 2000 gather with their unit’s founding Scoutmaster Willy Coronado.

It took 10 long years. Ten years of community mistrust and repeated efforts to establish a foothold for Scouting among recent Latin American and other immigrants.

But things turned around in 2000. That was the year Boy Scout Troop 2000 began in San Rafael, Calif. Ever since, the troop has been a shining example of how Scouting can thrive in a diverse, multicultural environment.

How did it happen? Most people give full credit to the troop’s charismatic Scoutmaster, Willy Coronado.

A land of opposites

Marin County, Calif., on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, boasts the nation’s highest income per capita. Nestled within the county, however, sits a unique neighborhood called the Canal, a world completely foreign to the nearby enclaves of pricey real estate and conspicuous consumption.

This neighborhood, in the city of San Rafael, is home to more than 12,000 people, and more than 7,000 of them were born in another country. The residents speak 22 different languages and live in packed public housing buildings. They struggle to earn a living in service-sector jobs, learn English, and become part of a brand new world.

Canal community leaders knew the neighborhood’s young people needed a positive alternative to the lure of gang membership. Sports teams, however, never took hold because residents were frequently transient, moving to better jobs and better homes, often within a year.

People tried repeatedly to organize a Scout troop in the Canal, but they failed because the predominantly Latino community felt intimidated by the organizers’ “military-looking” Scout uniforms.

It wasn’t that the Latino parents didn’t care—they were just busy eking out an existence and needed the right leader to trust. The question was: Who would that person be?

Man with a mission

Enter Willy Coronado, Scoutmaster of Troop 1, one of the largest and most successful troops in the BSA’s Marin Council. This troop, which Coronado had led for 12 years in upscale Mill Valley, had a proud history of excellence and tradition.

Coronado was born and raised in Lima, Peru. He came to the United States as a teen and raised his two sons as a single parent. He had many experiences in common with those who lived in the Canal.

That is why Gordy Rubard, who was the Marin Council Scout executive at the time, came to him with this request: “Will you try to start a troop in the Canal neighborhood?”

Because Coronado’s sons were grown and Troop 1 had a solid roster of trained leaders who could carry on, Coronado accepted the challenge.

“I knew it was my job to come here and start a troop,” he said. “It was time to do something different, and I understand Scouting and the Latino culture.”

For the next few years, Coronado worked hard to establish a presence in the community. He walked the streets, met local residents, attended the churches, and ate at the cafes. It was a struggle at every turn, and community acceptance was slow in building.

The ‘right’ chartered organization

Finding the right chartered organization for a new troop was one of Coronado’s top priorities, and he scored a big prize when he landed the support of Cam Sanchez, San Rafael’s former chief of police.

Sanchez wanted to keep Canal youth from joining gangs, and he believed Scouting would be an additional resource in that fight. Sanchez suggested that the San Rafael Police Department and San Rafael Police Association be the troop’s chartered partner.

Coronado and Sanchez, along with Gordy Rubard and the troop’s first chairman, Ramon Lopez, brainstormed ways to recruit boys. They got the local newspaper to publish information about the new troop and invited parents and boys to attend a meeting to learn about Scouting.

That was nearly eight years ago. Keith Coombs, past president of the Marin Council, said, “Willy was the answer to their prayers.”

Coronado has now led more than 120 boys through Troop 2000. Most come from Central and South America. Some don’t speak English, but that is not a problem for the Spanish-speaking Scoutmaster.

Other boys in the troop come from India and Croatia.

Even Anglo boys wanted to join the troop because of its diversity and the amazing connection the boys felt with Coronado.

Scouting far and wide

Before Troop 2000 began, the local community center was a wreck. But among grants, federal money, and the support of 11 foundations, $10 million was raised for a new facility and library. The Pickleweed Park Community Center is now Troop 2000’s home.

With the financial generosity of several council donors, Troop 2000 has sent Scouts to summer camp, the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base, Philmont Scout Ranch, and a national jamboree.

The police association bought camping gear and uniforms for the Scouts.

The boys have a sense of pride “that comes from being in uniform and the disciplined behavior that is expected from them,” said Dave Donery, supervisor of Pickleweed Community Center.

“I’ve seen the boys blossom here. They have more personal pride emanating from them than ever before.”

Kryss Solis, Troop 2000’s first Eagle Scout, says Scoutmaster Willy Coronado taught him about life, as well as about Scouting.

One of the troop’s success stories is 19-year-old Kryss Solis, the unit’s first Eagle Scout. Solis arrived in the United States from Honduras when he was 5 years old.

“Willy is our anchor, our base,” Solis said. “He holds everything together as a unit, a troop, a family.”

Now a freshman at San Francisco State University, Solis is pursuing a career in broadcasting communications.

“Through Scouting, I became someone else, someone better,” he said.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Coronado over the years.

“I’ve felt like quitting from time to time,” he admitted, “especially when there wasn’t enough guys to do a program or enough interest. Sometimes I needed to recharge, get new energy, new programs.

Now, though, “I don’t think I could ever give the troop up,” Willy said. “I’ve made a lot of friends in this area. I know thousands of residents. I have huge respect for these people.”

On a first-name basis

Marin Council President Glen Calkins said: “Willy excites the imagination of the boys. He builds a platform for them and is constantly seeing that the boys are growing. He has such a broad understanding of the boys.”

Plus, Coronado does things a little differently. Scouts call him by his first name.

“He is just a kid trapped inside an adult’s body,” Eagle Scout Solis said. “He knows how to have fun, yet he teaches us incredible skills, such as outdoor survival skills. He has the Scouts’ complete respect.”

Scout Jeremy Mondot used those skills one day. “A neighbor fell down the steps and split his head open. I was able to administer first aid to him before the paramedics arrived.

“This was because of what Willy taught us,” Mondot explained. “Willy knows a lot. He helps us through situations that are really difficult.”

Scout Jose Jimenez said: “I feel better about myself because of Scouting. If it weren’t for our troop, I would be doing bad things; I’d be in the streets. I didn’t use to have good grades, but now I’m good in school. Scouting helped me a lot.”

People in Willy Coronado’s presence feel his incredible energy, spirit, and deep caring. He has inspired this same spirit in all of his Scouts, their parents, and the Canal community.

“Willy taught me how to express myself and work toward attaining my goals,” Kryss Solis said. “He taught me that there isn’t anything I can’t do with the right planning, organizing, and the right spirit.
Willy “taught me everything I needed to know, not just about Scouting, but about life.”

Freelance writer Cindy Ross lives in New Ringgold, Pa. She also wrote the article “Too Fast for Fear” in this issue, about Venturers at a Michigan luge track.

A Celebration of Diverse Cultures

The spicy smells of Mexican posole (chicken stew with vegetables) and Peruvian papas a la Hu­an­caina (potatoes with peanut sauce) wafts through the air at the Pickleweed Community Center in San Rafael.

Daniel Miramonte, a Troop 2000 committee member, left, and committee chairman Andres Islas help prepare a lunch buffet.

Drumbeats and brass horns resonate against the walls, which are lined with elaborate art, maps, and
flags from Central and South America. Tables bearing arts and crafts, displays of traditional clothing, and large vats of delicious ethnic food are labeled with signs identifying the items as being from “Guatemala,” “Peru,” “Croatia,” “Yucatán,” and “San Salvador.”

Soon a hush falls over the large room as Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts bring forth the colors in a festive display of pride.

“This is our family…a family of many different countries and cultures,” Scoutmaster Willy Coronado announces to the few hundred community residents present.

“Pickleweed Community Center is our home. We have come together to celebrate this and to thank you for the last seven years of your support.”

A Cultural ‘Show and Tell’

Willy Coronado’s amazingly diverse troop, émigrés from 11 countries, could not exist without the help of an extremely supportive community and Scout council. This festival of cultures is the troop’s way of giving back.

Each Scout was assigned to research a particular country or culture present in the troop. Menus were planned for lunch. Fliers were printed announcing the celebration, and everyone in town was invited.

At the tables, “show and tell” items included native instruments, textiles, and dolls. Music from each country played at each station, and mothers stood poised with spoons ready to fill plates and cups with exotic foods and unusual beverages.

A Recruitment Opportunity

Besides being entertained and well fed, visitors gleaned information about Troop 2000 and its activities at a booth the Scouts manned. Visitors learned about all the exciting things Troop 2000 does and the high adventure activities that take neighborhood boys far away from their Canal homes.

Several new recruits signed up to join the unit during the multicultural afternoon.

Willy Coronado summed up the afternoon: “We have shown the boys, their parents, and the community that we could come together and make this event happen, just like we made the troop happen. The wonderful thing is that Scouting is open to all boys, from any family, from any country.”


The International Language of Dance

Troop 2000 Scoutmaster Willy Coronado arranged for three professional dance groups to entertain guests during a multicultural fair presented by the troop.

First to perform was a group of beautiful girls in white lacy dresses decorated with colorful embroidery and strands of gold beads. With huge flowers in their hair, the young women waved bandanas at the crowd and stomped their feet atop wooden cubes to the vibrant sounds of music from the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico.

Next came more Mexican dancers in full swirling skirts, adorned with streaming ribbons. They twirled and dipped to the energetic music of a Mexican brass band.

But the crowd’s favorite performers were the Aztec feather dancers. Summoned to the dance floor by the piercing sound of a performer blowing into a conch shell, muscular men shook their bare feet with rows of rattling shells fastened to their ankles.

The dancers’ heads tilted forward and back, showing off the elaborate feather headdresses that they wore.

One ritual dance depicted a dancer lying prone or “dead” on the floor while the other dancers stepped around him with shaking tambourines. Soon he rose and joined the others in a whirling dervish.

Willy Coronado’s fascination with cultural dance began several years ago when he attended the annual American Indian Scouting Association seminar. He returned to his Canal neighborhood Scout troop eager to assemble an American-Indian dance team.

Today, Coronado and six Scouts are American-Indian “grass, traditional, and straight” dancers. They taught themselves the dances, created and sewed their costumes, and perform in area schools about twice a week.

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