The Payoff

Illustration By Tristan Elwell

During the holiday season, advertisers like to tout the "gifts that keep on giving." But the gifts that truly "keep on giving" come when we give of ourselves to others. Scout leaders do that every day. We can't always predict how these "human investments" will pay off. Some days, we may even wonder if our efforts really make a difference.

Consider the story of Star Scout Ashton John Pruitt. Late in the summer of 2005, 14-year-old Ashton joined his Scout troop on a camping trip in Mississippi. There, he learned water rescue techniques and earned his Swimming merit badge.

"My life was good," Ashton recalled later. "But stuff happens and things changed very fast."

Ashton's home was in New Orleans, and just a week later, Katrina struck. His family home weathered the storm with no serious damage, but the next morning, water started to rush into the house. Soon it was waist high, and rising rapidly.

Ashton's emergency training kicked in. He found several pairs of pants and taught family members how to use them as flotation devices. He decided on a plan to get his family out of the house and over to safety on a nearby rooftop. The doors wouldn't open, so he improvised with his martial arts sword and pried open a window.

As the waters continued to rise, Ashton employed the swimming, diving, and rescue techniques he'd just learned. He guided family members, one by one, to the roof of a neighbor's house, including his mother; his uncle; his 72-year-old grandmother, who was partially disabled due to a stroke; and his brother, who is legally blind and fearful of water.

The family waited there, watching as the water rose to 18 feet. Nineteen hours later, they were rescued and taken to safety at the University of New Orleans. There, Ashton volunteered in the Triage Unit, helping with first aid. Eventually the family ended up in Houston. Later, Ashton received the Honor Medal with Crossed Palms "for unusual heroism and extraordinary skill or resourcefulness in saving or attempting to save life at extreme risk to self."

"Without the training Ashton received, we would not have survived," said his mother, Deborah Pruitt.

Ashton's story is a good one to ponder this holiday season. When you give of yourself through the Scouting program, you never know how that gift might keep on giving. It could save lives just a week later. Or perhaps it will simply mean a boost of confidence that will strengthen and encourage a young man in many small, invisible ways throughout his life. Regardless, know that your contribution will make a positive difference.

We'd like to honor the holiday season with our gratitude for the many volunteers, like you, who give in so many ways through the Scouting program. Your work is building lives and, sometimes, even saving lives.

Best wishes for you and your family for a most joyous holiday season and a happy New Year.

Roy Williams
Chief Scout Executive
Rick Cronk

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Copyright © 2006 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.