(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2014)
With bated breath, the young men who gathered at the Mather Elementary School’s auditorium Thursday afternoon watched Robert Cline, the cubmaster of Pack 11, demonstrate the rules of the raingutter regatta, which pits the youth head to head to see whose handmade boat is the fastest.
The youth, who range in age from 7 to 11, meet at the space often as part of the Boy Scouts of America’s ScoutReach initiative. Launched close to three years ago, the program aims to bring scouting into the city and connect the neighborhood’s young men with skills and lessons they can use their whole life.
“They give good goals, they teach respect, and they teach more than what sports teach. …They teach stuff he’s going to need on a day-to-day basis for everyday life,” said Deleeanna Beasley, whose son participates in the program. “He loves it. Everything they have to offer he’s with it, everything that they teach him he brings home.”
What Beasley’s son takes from the program is exactly what the designers behind it want to hear.
Just like with the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in the suburbs, the members of Pack 11, which is based exclusively in Dorchester, go camping, participate in community based activities, and learn valuable life and wilderness skills. The urban program, however, is set up in such a way that the scouts, many of whom come from poor families, can earn their uniforms while completing merit badges and other tasks that support and promote the scouting culture.
The program has been getting results, too. The 25 Cub Scout Packs found in Boston and the surrounding urban centers have a 60-percent retention rate, just 10 percent less than their suburban counterparts.
“Nothing teaches character like the outdoors,” explained Chuck Eaton, executive director of the Boy Scouts of America Boston Minuteman Council, which oversees Pack 11. “If I’m going to learn how to cook my own meal over a fire with my buddies, we're all responsible for that. We’ll learn teamwork, how to work together safely, and we’ll learn responsibility.”
Thursday’s race was the highlight of the evening, as the youth cheered wildly for their friends. The pack has close to 65 members, many of whom hail from the Mather, which has partnered with the scouts on the program.
“We felt they would be able to help our boys learn some enriching skills outside of school,” explained Karyn Stramberg, vice principal of the Mather. “Mr. Cline has done a remarkable job bringing resources to our school and giving our students the exposure to all sorts of enriching experiences outside of the community.”
Thursday’s meeting was also a special occasion for a number of the scouts, who received their officials Cub Scout uniforms.
“We want to give them something to work toward and something to work for,” explained Cline. “We want to give them that foundation that they can build on, while also creating structure that helps their development, which is at the core of what we do.”
Cline, who has led the pack since its inception, said he’s not only seeing a change in the boys’ attitudes, but from what the school tells him, his scouts are also doing better in class.
“This unit has been heavily involved in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but we also just have a lot of fun activities, too,” said Cline. “The scouts have done well in our program here, and we’ve really seen them grow.”
For more information about the Boston Minuteman Council and its ScoutReach program, click here.