Scouting Responds to a National Crisis
By Cathleen Ann Steg
In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Scout units from coast to coast and around the world went into action to help those in need.
As the country reeled with horror at the sights of the devastating terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 in New York City, Washington, D.C., and rural Pennsylvania, Scouts and Scouters rushed to respond to the call for help.
Their efforts, an extraordinary combination of self-sacrifice, efficiency, and community spirit, not only provided immediate relief for victims and rescue workers, but also helped to heal national wounds.
Within hours of the attack, Boy Scout troops, Cub Scout packs, and Venturing crews across the country asked: "How can we help?" Volunteers near the attack sites took the initiative in their neighborhoods, collecting supplies; helping with emergency preparedness; and offering support to children whose parents had not yet checked in, or were military, medical, or rescue personnel working at the disaster sites.
Helping the helpers
For New Yorkers, another question was "What do you need?" Brooklyn Scouter James Gallo, activities chairman for Lenape Bay District, was an eyewitness to the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers. "I was immediately compelled to help, Scout that I am," he said.
Within days, Scout units in Brooklyn gathered more than 200 truckloads of supplies needed by rescue workers, which were delivered to "ground zero" on Sept. 15 and 16.
On Sept. 16, as Scouts continued the task of sorting supplies, several Brooklyn fire company trucks stopped by to thank them. The firefighters had just been relieved after several days at the disaster site, "Yet they made time to come and see the kids who had done so much to help them," said Gallo.
To help keep rescuers hydrated, theSuffolk County Council in nearby Long Island urged every Scout unit to contribute bottles of water or sports drinks. In just 70 hours, more than 153,000 bottled drinks, enough to fill six tractor trailers, were collected, loaded onto 18-wheelers provided by a local beverage distributor, and delivered to warehouses designated for the relief effort.
"Difficult times bring out the best in people," noted George Fleckenstein, council support services director, "and in Suffolk County, our community rose to the occasion. The response to our effort was beyond any of our dreams."
Raising flags and spirits
In addition to contributing to relief and support efforts, Scout units sought to strengthen public morale in their communities and help counter the tragedy's mind-numbing impact.
The National Capital Area Council asked units throughout the greater Washington, D.C., area to participate in a flag-waving ceremony on Sept. 15. Scouters in Loudon County, Va., responded by creating a Goose Creek District "American Spirit Day," organized by Troop 761 Scoutmaster Wayne Nielsen and district chairman Ed Yarbrough. They mobilized nearly 500 flag-waving participants, with speakers including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, United States Representative Frank Wolf, and Virginia state delegate Dick Black.
Members of the military were touched by the displays of respect for the flag. U.S. Navy Commander Bob Hookswho serves as Troop 1533 committee chairman in Fairfax, Va.was at work in the Pentagon, directly above the impact site, at the moment of the attack.
"The military defends the symbol of the flag daily," said Hooks, "and we appreciate the flag ceremonies and displays immensely. It reminds us of the reason for our sacrifices."
To help relief efforts, many units refocused previously scheduled events. At Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, for example, Scouts from BSA Troop 12 had planned to fund a camping trip with the money they would earn for bagging groceries at the local commissary. Instead, the Scouts dedicated the project to helping the relief effort.
"The response from people was overwhelming," said assistant Scoutmaster Wayne Boswell. "We collected $1,200 in the first hour alone."
Responding to the President
At his Oct. 11 news conference, President George W. Bush called on "school classes, Boy [Scout] and Girl Scout troops, and other youth organizations" to earn or give money to aid the children of Afghanistan. "This is an opportunity to help others, while teaching our own children a valuable lesson about service and character," the President said.
In response, BSA Chief Scout Executive Roy L. Williams sent a letter to President Bush offering the BSA's full support for the relief effort. "The Boy Scouts of America enthusiastically endorses your request for Scouts to earn money and donate it to America's Fund for Afghan Children," Williams wrote.
"Thank you for giving our 4.5 million members and leaders the opportunity to serve. As honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America, you can count on the young men and women of our movement to do their best." In Beaumont, Tex., the Three Rivers Council had a special Veteran's Day rally scheduled for Nov. 10. Upon learning of the President's call for contributions to the fund for Afghan children, Scout Executive Jack Crawford included promotion of the fund as part of the program. The council also designed a special Disaster Relief Team patch to honor units participating in a relief project.
In Sterling, Va., Scouts from Troop 761 decided to extend their friendship to the Afghan children in need as soon as they heard of the President's appeal. Because of the troop's immediate contribution of more than $500, the Scouts were invited to meet with President Bush on Oct. 16.
"The President specifically asked for Scouts to helpneed I say more?" said Scoutmaster Wayne Nielsen in explaining why the Scouts in Troop 761 responded so quickly and with such enthusiasm. Meeting President Bush "was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he added. "The President talked to each boyit was an incredible honor for all."
(Note: Scouts and volunteers who wish to give to the fund should send their contributions to America's Fund for Afghan Children, c/o The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC 20509-1600.)
In the aftermath of the attacks, Scouts played a role in the nationwide effort to promote understanding among Americans of all ethnic and religious groups.
When Scouts returned to their re-opened classrooms in Washington, D.C., and New York City, they felt called to reach out to their fellow students, observed Curtis Pruett, marketing director for the National Capital Area Council.
"They showed that 'a Scout is friendly'to all Americans, regardless of their ethnic background," Pruett said. "By living up to the Scout Oath and Law in this time of crisis, we can truly perform a great service."
Contributing editor Cathleen Ann Steg is an assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 1533, Fairfax, Va., in the National Capital Area Council.
January-February 2002 Table of Contents
Copyright © 2002 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.