SLATER RHEA HAS PACKED a lifetime of Scouting into his 24 years. An Eagle Scout at 13, he went on to earn 121 merit badges, all four Roman Catholic religious emblems, and the Venturing Silver Award. He also served three terms as lodge chief of the Ouxouiga Lodge of the Order of the Arrow, where he became a Vigil Honor member and received the Founder’s Award.
Rhea’s involvement continued through college at the University of Oklahoma and beyond. He’s currently active at the local level in the Last Frontier and Indian Nations councils and at the national level through the 411 Team. He’s also working with his home council, the Louisiana Purchase Council, to raise money to buy Camp Attakapas, a property that has long been leased. And if all that weren’t enough, Rhea, who speaks Mandarin Chinese, serves as an adviser to the nascent Scout Association of the People’s Republic of China.
What compels you to remain involved with Scouting? One reason is to honor and remember those great leaders I had when I was a Scout. I was exposed to some great men who I need to repay, still. The other reason is that this organization is so heavily dependent on men and women of good will to take [it] forward.
Have you faced challenges as a young adult in a world of much older leaders? There are many fantastic, positive, open-minded people in Scouting, men who are very accepting and thrilled to have young people involved. But on the other hand, I’ve dealt with some people who weren’t exactly thrilled to have me there. It takes awhile. When I came to Oklahoma, it was difficult to find a troop that wanted some young kid they didn’t know. I eventually got involved with a very good troop that was close to campus and had been used to more college-age leaders.
What else did you do to establish credibility as a young leader? I did an end run by getting in touch with the district executive and taking a district position, where I had some degree of autonomy. I was in charge of several Scoutreach units, basically Cub Scout packs, similar to what I do now.
Talk about the role of Scoutreach Cubmaster. A couple of days a week, I go to elementary schools in underserved areas and meet with boys from first through fifth grades. We learn about our country’s flag and pledge, we learn how to tie knots, and we build pinewood derby cars. Most important, I have the privilege of introducing them to such words as “I promise to do my best” and “to help other people.” There are usually a few snickers when we come to “do my duty,” but then they learn what that word means. Some of these kids come in with a chip on their shoulder, but they leave with a real sense of dignity and self-worth and of the value of cooperation with other students and leaders.
During a recent international trip, you visited with scouts in several other countries. What’s the atmosphere like in Bulgaria, where Scouting was banned under Communism? I gave several speeches a couple of summers ago in Bulgaria, where I was teaching with a program called WorldTeach. While I was in the region, I visited Turkey, and I met with members of the national Scout organization. Those people are so committed to this program. It’s inspiring. As youth, these leaders were put into a Communist Scouting-replacement organization and told about the horrors of Scouting. And yet they’re over there reestablishing it. It’s so exciting seeing them plan around campfires in the same way democracy movements are evolving over there.
Talk about the 411 Team and your role there. The 411 Team is a national task force with a mandate to ensure that Scouting programs are “appealing, exciting, and culturally relevant to today’s youth and families.” My role, as I see it, is to maintain continuity; to realize that Scouting, as we have inherited it, is in many ways a finely made clock; and to approach our programs with extreme care, making slight edits where necessary—but only then. It’s thrilling, and also terrifying, to have some say in the future of our movement. But it is absolutely necessary to the future that we take these steps.
Fact Sheet: Slater rhea
YEARS AS A SCOUT LEADER: 6
CURRENT CITY: Tulsa, Okla.
CURRENT POSITIONS: Scoutreach Cubmaster, assistant Scoutmaster, associate Venturing Advisor, unit commissioner, and member of the 411 Team that’s working on implementation of part of the BSA’s 2011-2014 National Strategic Plan
DAY JOB: Writer/editor
FAVORITE CAMP: Camp Attakapas in Trout, La., out in the middle of a beautiful longleaf pine forest, where I took my first steps in Scouting
PROUDEST MOMENT IN SCOUTING: When I gave a Friends of Scouting talk at a blue and gold banquet at a church in Norman, Okla., and a young Second Class Scout came up and proudly emptied his wallet to give me $4