Scouting October 2000

Filling a Community's Special Needs

By Carolyn Collazo

For more than three decades, a Youngstown, Ohio, troop, like a loving, extended family, has made Scouting available to young men with mental and physical disabilities.

In the late 1960s, Mike Magalotti was unable to find a Boy Scout troop in the Youngstown, Ohio, area that could meet the needs of his brother, Donald, a boy with mental retardation. Magalotti then joined forces with two of his fellow instructors from the Mahoning County program for persons with mental and developmental disabilities and started Troop 3.

With instructor Dave Virtue serving as its first Scoutmaster, the troop welcomed young men with mental, and also, in some cases, physical disabilities. And it wasn't long before Troop 3 began to have an impact on the lives of its Scouts, its leaders, and the northeastern Ohio communities it touched.

A spirit of helpfulness

Through three decades the "special needs" troop in the BSA's Greater Western Reserve Council has become an extended, loving family whose members are recognized as exemplifying the finest traits of Scouting.

Most of the Scouts in Troop 3 are men in their 30s and 40s; some have been with the troop for two decades or longer. And in June 1999, five of them achieved what some had once considered impossible—earning their Eagle Scout Awards. (See the story below.)

During the emotional Eagle court of honor, Tommy Wills, 31, had trouble getting out of his seat to receive his award. Robert Nick and the three other new Eagles hurried to assist him.

Troop leaders noted how the incident demonstrated the way the Scouts of Troop 3 are aware of each other's abilities and disabilities and are always ready to help one another.

This spirit of helpfulness extends beyond the troop's own membership; it is one of many reasons other Scout troops and the community look forward to participating in activities with this special group.

"They are honest about everything they do, and strive to do 100 percent," said Bob Wilson, a Troop 3 assistant Scoutmaster, Silver Beaver Award recipient, and now Whispering Pines District unit commissioner. "They are a loving, caring, and appreciative group that I would rather work with than [almost any other unit]."

In 1968, the troop held its first meetings in Youngstown at the Leonard Kirtz School for students with mental retardation, where Mike Magalotti was a teacher. They later settled in at the Western Reserve United Methodist Church in Canfield, and have met there for the past 11 years.

John Trimboli, secretary treasurer of the Mahoning County Council 233, United Commercial Travelers of America, has held the troop's charter since his son, Mike, joined. Mike, who is now 57, is still an active member.

Timmy Gilboy joined in 1969 and brought along his older brother, Marty, who became Scoutmaster in 1977 and led the troop for 20 years. Marty continues as an assistant Scoutmaster and Tim is one of the troop's five Eagle Scouts.

Walter Wills became active in Troop 3 in 1979 when his son, Tom, then 12, was unable to keep up with a mainstream troop. Walter became an assistant Scoutmaster and, in 1992, committee chairman.

The troop is constantly looking for more members. Walter Wills goes after possible recruits "wherever I see them—at the Special Olympics, bingo nights, the county schools, workshops, and special events for the disabled."

The troops' favorite activities include fishing, bowling, miniature golf, eating, and camping. In 1976 the Scouts traveled to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico; in 1985, they attended the Canadian National Jamboree in Guelph, Ontario.

In summer, they attend a camp in Pennsylvania that offers special accessibility for campers with disabilities. For example, on hikes and other camp outings, Eagle Scout Joe Chiricosta, who walks with crutches, rides a special bicycle which pulls a small trailer that holds the Scouts' gear.

A major troop service project is an annual disability awareness program at the Canfield Fair. Fairgoers learn more about the nature of disabilities by using a wheelchair to navigate an obstacle course or wearing a blindfold and using a cane while walking a balance beam.

Other community activities include marching in area parades, providing an honor guard for the Leonard Kirtz School graduation and Special Olympics opening ceremonies, and assisting the annual Knights of Columbus "Measure Up" campaign in support of adults with mental retardation.

Members of the community, in return, offer their time and help. Some examples: Austintown firefighters conduct sessions on fire safety, while police officers do the same for citizenship; a photographer offers tips on using a camera and a middle-school teacher gives art lessons; Youngstown State University makes its planetarium available.

Troop 3 leaders have guided the Scouts in learning self-confidence and pride. The Scouts know what they can do, how to better take care of themselves; and some are able to live more independently. And the leaders have learned patience and understanding, and to rejoice in each Scout's small but important victories.

Assistant Scoutmaster Bob Wilson recalls a visit to Camp Stambaugh. The Scouts were playing touch football; but upon seeing him approaching, the whole troop broke into a run. Shouting, "Mr. Wilson! Mr. Wilson!" they lavished him with greetings and hugs.

"I was hooked," Wilson recalls.

Later, when Bob Wilson married, his best man was Bob Lash, a Scout from Troop 3. And in 1997, his wife, Patty Wilson, became Troop 3's fourth Scoutmaster.

Carolyn Collazo lives in Warren, Ohio. Part of this article was adapted from a feature she wrote for the Town Crier, a local suburban community newspaper.

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