The only girl among her brothers and cousins, Lauren Hopper grew up as a Boy Scout tagalong, always envious that she couldn’t fully participate. As an adult, she has gotten that chance, following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, both of whom were BSA volunteers. (Her father and grandfather were active Scouters, too.)
For the past six years, Hopper has volunteered with Troop 4, chartered to the Nativity School of Worcester, a tuition-free private school that serves boys from low-income neighborhoods. Thanks to the school, the Mohegan Council and other supporters, Troop 4’s program rivals those of troops with far more resources. Six of its members have become Eagle Scouts so far.
What’s it like taking inner-city kids camping for the first time?
For most, it’s their first time out of the city. We have a mentor system in place where a high school Scout picks a middle school Scout to work with. This gives new Scouts the support of someone who was in the same situation a few years ago. A couple of them on their first trip needed the noise of the city. One of the older Scouts downloaded city noises to his phone, and they were able to fall asleep.
Your Scouts don’t come from families with a Scouting tradition. How does that affect you?
There’s not that automatic trust and respect for Scouting that a lot of communities have. You have to be patient and flexible until you can create that trust level and that bond with the family.
What’s one way you’ve done that?
A lot of our families are very religious, so we decided on our camping trips that we would hold nondenominational church services. That way, the parents feel comfortable letting their kids come and miss church. It’s a privilege for the Scout who gets to lead the service.
How many languages do your families speak?
Over the years, we’ve had French, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Burmese, Creole, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish (Puerto Rican and Dominican dialects), Igbo, Twi, Swazi, Ga and Swahili. There are so many different languages, it’s hard to reach all of the parents. A lot of the families can’t help their Scouts with bookwork at home because they don’t understand what they’re reading.
What other barriers do you face?
None of our Scouts know how to swim when they come to us. The YMCA has been wonderful at partnering with us for the use of their pool. We do so many water activities. That’s a huge motivator.
When did you really understand these Scouts’ home situations?
My first year, I asked a Scout in a board of review what he’d learned in Scouting that he used in his everyday life. He said: how to give first aid for bullet wounds and how to remain calm while you’re applying first aid. We know he had to use that Scouting skill.
But they’ve overcome those challenges?
The first year at summer camp was what you’d expect it to be for the first year. The past two years, I’ve had Scouts come up to me asking to switch into our troop. Our Scouts have so much fun, everybody looks up to them and they win all the activities. It’s just been amazing to see this transformation.
How are your former Scouts doing?
We’ve had 82 Scouts, including our current members. Of those who aged out, all but one have gone on to college. Of our four Scouts who aged out last year, three got full academic scholarships to the college of their choice, and one got a partial scholarship to a very prestigious program at the college of his choice.
So the program has been a success?
It takes a huge community effort, but it’s worth it. If you could take just one kid out of the projects and put him into college because of the Scouts, you would have a success story. And we’ve had all these Scouts who now know what opportunities lie outside the city and can understand the importance of receiving a higher education. I hope what we have achieved can be replicated in other cities.
Fact Sheet: Lauren Hopper
Years as a Scout Volunteer: 6
Current City: Worcester, Mass.
Current Position: Scoutmaster, Troop 4
Day Jobs: Bookseller at Barnes & Noble and direct-support professional for the Seven Hills Foundation
Most Satisfying Moment in Scouting: Taking the troop’s older Scouts to Washington, D.C., where four of them were selected to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Afterward, the adults walked up to find the Scouts “all sitting in prayer, praying for the fallen soldiers.”
Favorite Camp and Why: Treasure Valley Scout Reservation, Rutland, Mass. “I was on staff there (as aquatics director), which was a great experience, and I have all these memories of taking these guys there every year.”