Scouting couple makes a difference with inner-city troop

mikeelanierossThe first time Mike Ross visited Troop 2012, a new troop predominately composed of Hispanic Scouts in Oak Cliff, an economically diverse Dallas neighborhood, he asked: “Where’s the Scoutmaster?”

“You’re it,” the district executive told him. Thinking quickly, Ross pulled the shoestrings out of his shoes and started teaching knot-tying to the three Scouts in attendance.

Fifteen years later, Ross is still the Scoutmaster. One of those original three Scouts became the first in a string of 15 Eagle Scouts, several of whom are now assistant Scoutmasters.

Ross’ wife, Elaine, joined the troop a decade ago, about the time the couple married. She started out keeping advancement records, but she soon became a second adult
on many outings — and a mentor to troop members and parents alike.

What sells parents in Oak Cliff on Scouting?

Mike: Character development is at the top of the list. Many parents in our community aren’t familiar with Scouting and are just looking for a program offering a safe activity for their sons. But then they see the improvement in their son’s attitude: better behavior and performance in school, a changed disposition toward family members, and exhibiting leadership and self-development skills. We also take a lot of pictures during our campouts and other activities and provide those to the parents at our courts of honor. When they see their son actively involved and smiling during an event, along with the positive personal development, the parents are bought in.

It sounds like success breeds success.

Elaine: Yes. There are times when we’ve been sitting at a restaurant in Oak Cliff, and a random mother will come up and say, “You’re the Scoutmaster. I want my son in your troop.” So obviously the word gets around.

What’s one secret to your success?

Mike: We make sure each Scout receives the opportunity to experience the same type of high-end program that any Scout troop in the country would provide. We go on high-adventure trips and attend national jamborees. We go camping once a month. All the Scouts have a complete and proper uniform; they know how to wear it and are expected to maintain it.

Uniforms, summer camp and high adventure are expensive. How do you manage?

Mike: We have people helping us, both from a distance and close by.  Elaine: Whatever it takes, financially or otherwise, these Scouts know that when Mr. Ross says, “We’re going to the Summit in July,” we are going to the Summit in July.

And your commitment extends beyond the troop, right?

Mike: Several of the parents have had me designated as an academic guardian. We have a young man who recently had knee surgery, and his parents wanted me there to provide moral support.

Do you face a language barrier?

Elaine: We don’t speak Spanish, and a lot of the parents don’t speak English. If you don’t have someone who is really fluent in Spanish to interpret, words get translated differently. Mike: I’ve always found an adult I can trust to translate literally what someone says. If a younger Scout is asked to translate what his parents said, I may get a selective translation.

What do our readers need to know about diversity?

Elaine: You have to understand that diversity doesn’t mean putting all the inner-city kids together to do a function. Diversity means exposing those kids to the kids from the affluent neighborhood or from the next state over. To us, the only time they’re an inner-city troop is when they’re meeting in Oak Cliff. The rest of the time, they’re just another set of Scouts.

Give an example of how you involve parents in the troop.

Mike: Most of our parents work on weekends or have other younger children to care for while we are on our Scout activities. We get the parents involved in any way they can manage. For example, we designate some trips as “blue,” meaning they’re within the Dallas area, and some trips as “green,” meaning they might be two hours away. Parents are supposed to sign up for one green trip and two blue trips each year. That’s how we try to start getting them involved.

You’ve been at this long enough to see your first Scouts grow up, right?

Elaine: The first group of Scouts that made Eagle were then followed by the next group, and that group was followed by school friends, neighbors and more. We’re also growing adult leaders: Several of our original Scouts are now adult leaders in the troop.

Fact Sheet: Mike and Elaine Ross

Years as a Scout Volunteer: Mike: 15, Elaine: 10

Current City: Dallas

Current Positions: Scoutmaster (Mike) and troop advancement chair (Elaine), Troop 2012

Day Jobs: Mike: executive director with Ernst & Young; Elaine: partner with Miller, Egan, Molter & Nelson LLP

Favorite Camp (Elaine): Salesmanship Club Youth Camp, which is owned by the troop’s chartered organization. “It’s just a great facility where the boys can run wild and free.”

Proudest Moment in Scouting (Mike): “When I see that the Scouts who started in the program are leading at an adult level, and younger Scouts are learning from older Scouts.”

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