Taylor Thomas was never a Cub Scout, but he made up for lost time after 81-year-old Scoutmaster Gib Kohr came to his school to recruit for Troop 45. (“It was almost a dare from an 81-year-old: ‘I can do this better than you,’ ” Thomas recalls.)
Thomas became an Eagle Scout in Troop 45. He then found a second home in the Order of the Arrow’s Skyuka Lodge, where he served two terms as lodge chief. Among his accomplishments: increasing the percentage of Brotherhood membership conversions to 73 percent, far above the national average.
While studying at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., Thomas formed the Camp Bob Hardin Promotions Committee to promote Palmetto Council’s camp locally and regionally. He even traveled to Florida to promote the camp in councils without summer programs. As a result, attendance increased 75 percent in the committee’s first year.
After graduation, Thomas became a district executive with the Palmetto Council, where he now serves as field director. And he spends plenty of time in the field, especially at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind, where he volunteers as a leader with the school’s pack and troop.
How did you get connected with the School for the Deaf and the Blind?
My high school, Lockhart High School, played eight-man football in a conference with private schools and the schools for the deaf and blind in North and South Carolina. I remember marching in the band at that time and seeing the students “clapping” by raising their hands.
How does the program work?
We have a pack and a troop, and we meet weekly, generally on Tuesdays. Just like other Scouts, they don’t want to sit in a classroom and learn, so we’ve tried to be as active with them as possible for them to get the feel of Scouting. Our activities have included Pinewood Derby, raingutter regatta, camping, fishing, rockets, sports, first aid, duty to God, Scouting for Food and much more.
What challenges did you face in bringing Scouting to the school?
The hard part was that they couldn’t sponsor the unit. We went to several outside groups that were neighbors to the school, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars post sponsored it. Transportation was a problem for about a year and a half, but now a donor provides transportation, which has made the logistics much easier. The other challenge is that the kids are residential students, meaning most of them are bussed in from around the state every Sunday night and bussed home every Friday afternoon. We don’t have access to them on the weekends, but whatever we can fit in an afternoon, we can do with them.
This certainly doesn’t look like traditional Scouting.
It may not look like a Monday night at a church, but as long as you can find good volunteers that care about children, they can go through the program and receive the same benefits and experiences.
Who leads the program?
Tashma Glymph. She’s a speech therapist and Scout parent who used to work at the school. It coordinates with what she does in her day-to-day job in some ways. She wanted to continue to use her sign language skills that she had learned at the school and continue to help at the school as well.
Are there other leaders?
We recruit other Scouters to help. I love to fish, but I contact Scouting volunteers that are Department of Natural Resources members and they come and run the fishing program. I have a strong faith, but I contact a pastor who’s a chartered organization representative to come lead the duty to God session.
Could you share a success story?
Last winter, one of the school leaders told us Scouting is now a high priority for them. When we asked why, he explained the behavior of all of the boys had significantly improved. Scouting opened many new adventures for these young men to experience, but most important, it was having an even bigger impact on their behavior and character. We even had a Scout recognized as a Palmetto Council Scout of the Month.
Fact sheet: Taylor Thomas
Years as an Adult Scouter: Nine
Current City: Spartanburg, S.C.
Day Job: Field director, Palmetto Council
Most Satisfying Moments in Scouting: Seeing a member of his Order of the Arrow lodge elected section chief in April 2018, making him the first section chief from the lodge in 43 years. “It made me so happy to see this young man break a barrier that had existed for so many years.”
Favorite Camp and Why: Camp Bob Hardin, Saluda, N.C. “If we can surround Scouts with an outstanding, enthusiastic staff, that’s the most important thing. Facilities do not change lives — people do.”