The following article originally appeared in Grand Canyon Council’s September 2008 Newsletter. It is reprinted here with permission.
Written By: Nimueh Rephael
When Nancy Welton, with her family’s support, accepted the position of Scoutmaster for Troop 4, at Adobe Mountain School, a state correctional facility for boys, she knew she wanted to give it her full commitment. Scoutmaster Welton has now been leading Troop 4 for over a year – one of the first, pioneering traditional Boy Scout troops “behind bars” in the U.S.
Overlapping with boys’ terms in the correctional facility and jockeying with occasional other, required activities, Troop 4 has had 37 members during this year and regularly has 12-15 youth at meetings, which occur on 3 or 4 Saturdays per month, with no summer break. The boys participate in traditional Scouting activities. They have begun acting as role models for other youth within the facility.
To date, the boys have completed requirements for merit badges in leather working, art, bird study, and swimming, and have also learned basic Scouting skills – flag ceremonies, citizenship, knot-tying and more. Currently, Troop 4 is working on requirements for the Tenderfoot Rank.
As a special highlight, this summer four eligible Troop 4 Scouts were selected to attend day camp for four days (considered “one week” at the camp), 8 hours per day, at the Council’s Lake Pleasant Aquatics and Nature Camp, with a facility security team accompanying (and outstandingly supporting the camp program). There, each of the four young men earned four merit badges, participated in the closing flag ceremony and set a good example for younger Scouts, representing their troop and school well. Their special furlough provides incentive to other troop members, and attracts other youth at the secure facility to join the troop.
On release, Adobe Mountain School youth are welcome to join other troops to continue their involvement in Scouting. Another troop, also in the Thunderbird District, has extended a welcome to any Scout from Troop 4 released from Adobe Mountain School.
Generally coming from low-income families with problems, the boys arrive at Adobe Mountain School after all other court-ordered programs have failed to assist them from repeating the same mistakes. Approximately 40% of Troop 4 Scouts qualify for Special Education, indicating psychological, emotional and behavioral problems. Generally, the boys have not had many experiences that Boy Scouts provides, such as boating, camping, group projects or other structured learning opportunities.
In the words of Ms. Katie Lowy, Special Education teacher, Adobe Mountain School, and Troop 4 volunteer, Troop 4’s young men are “the state’s most challenging boys” at “their last stop”. She stated that seeing these youth, “with their gang tattoos”, yet “so excited to participate in Boy Scout meetings,” and to practice Scout skills and handicrafts, such as leatherwork and knot-tying is to witness very positive growth. Read Adobe Mountain School Special Ed teacher Katie Lowy’s commendation of Scoutmaster Welton.
Many troops, Western Region BSA, and other organizations have supported Troop 4 with donations, grants and endorsements. Catholic Diocese Bishop Thomas Olmsted sent encouraging words of endorsement to Nancy about the BSA troop activities behind bars program, stating, “This is indeed good news. Please extend my thanks and congratulations to the Scout leaders responsible for this wonderful event. God bless, Bishop Olmsted”
Nancy’s work has already inspired other similar programs by representing BSA’s values in a juvenile correctional setting, to other troops both within the Council and outside the state, and to other nonprofit organizations serving youth. Currently, two other BSA traditional unit programs are in the set-up stages with other nonprofit youth service organizations in the Valley.
For her dedicated work as Scoutmaster of Troop 4, Nancy Welton is being recognized with National BSA’s Whitney M. Young Service Award, honoring an individual’s development and implementation of Scouting opportunities for “all youth, regardless of race, religion, economic background, or creed”, in fulfillment of Dr. Young’s dream of justice and equality for all.
Scoutmaster Nancy Welton describes her service work as a faith response to the corporal work of mercy to “visit the imprisoned”, and as a charitable action towards her neighbors, reflecting a great sense of God’s love for all.
Nancy remarked that her “drive, initiative, and willingness to serve as Scoutmaster for incarcerated youth” was a result of having been a Wood Badge participant and Wood Badge Troop Guide. “My experiences with Wood Badge taught me to reach beyond any self-imposed limitations when it comes to serving youth. Wood Badge gave me the confidence, initiative and desire to serve others more in a servant-leader fashion,” she said.
“My first Course Director was Ray Vila, a highly charismatic Scouter who provided great insight into the service of youth and others. My second Course Director when I was a Troop Guide was George Keene, an exemplary Scouter with a vision so broad…, keen insight and dedication to the scouting movement, [which] affected me deeply. Both these men taught me to dig a little deeper to ‘leave a legacy’. Troop 4 is one avenue to do just that,” she stated.
Nancy says that she appreciates the boys, even with their behavioral and psychological difficulties. The boys appreciate the privilege of being a part of Troop 4 – only selected youth are approved by the superintendent for this program. Nancy appreciates the privilege of serving the boys, of growing and learning from them, and of stepping into new personal challenges herself.