Inclusive Scouts Form Own Organization
Scouts with the Baden-Powell Service Association, including Ian Lin, 6, of St. Louis, from left, Patrick Meehan, 7, of Swansea, Illinois and Frank Santen, 6, of University City, celebrate their tug-of-war win, November 3, 2012, during a hiking expedition in Faust Park in Chesterfield, Missouri. The Baden-Powell Service Association is a scouting group that seeks to include everyone, regardless or religious views or sexual orientation. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT)
Chesterfield, Mo. — On the tail end of a recent morning hike at Faust Park in Chesterfield, second-grader Carter Beuc knelt on the ground and tried to lash a rock onto the end of a twig with a narrow vine. His buddy Gavin Rose knelt next to him.
Was it a tool? A weapon?
“He’s making a golf club,” Gavin reported.
While this seemed like a typical scout outing, these youngsters are a part of a growing group in the United States that’s taking a different approach to scouting.
The children in this group, Otter and Timberwolf scouts, are members of the Baden-Powell Service Association, which has one foot in traditional scouting and another in more liberal ideals. It accepts members and leaders of both sexes, regardless of religious beliefs or sexual orientation.
There are 16 chartered groups nationwide with about 128 members.
If the name Baden-Powell sounds familiar, it’s because Robert Baden-Powell is the founder of the scouting movement and what eventually became the Boy Scouts of America. But the Baden-Powell Service Association isn’t affiliated with the Boy Scouts — it’s a worldwide organization of its own that accepts members of all ages. It formed in the United Kingdom in 1970 after its members felt that Boy Scouts were abandoning the traditional, back-to-basics ideals Baden-Powell had established decades earlier. Its American branch is based in Washington, Mo., the home of software engineer David Atchley.
Atchley, 37, had been involved in Boy Scouts all his life. He earned his Eagle award and became a Cubmaster for his son’s pack. But he was upset with the direction the Boy Scouts organization was taking. The Boy Scout promise includes a duty to God, though uniform emblems of many different religions are allowed, and the organization does not allow openly gay leaders, atheists or agnostics.
Atchley, who is an atheist, thought he could create an inclusion policy for his pack.
He decided to go to the local Boy Scout council to see what they thought. “I was basically told over the phone that if I put that policy in place, they would revoke our charter,” he said.
Atchley later made the difficult decision to return his Eagle award.
He eventually learned about the Baden-Powell Service Association, which formed in the United States in 2006 but had only an adult component. Atchley decided to create a youth branch, and became commissioner in 2009. He issued charters to several new groups within the last few months.
Some groups have formed in reaction to the Boy Scouts of America’s announcement this summer that it had reaffirmed its ban on gays, after a two-year evaluation of the issue. Earlier this month, UPS announced it would no longer donate money to the organization because of the ban. Intel also announced it would halt corporate donations.
The Baden-Powell Service Association isn’t the first scouting group to form as a reaction to traditional Boy Scout and Girl Scout policies. The Christian-based American Heritage Girls began in 1995 as an alternative to Girl Scouts. Other scouting groups, such as Navigators USA, have also formed in recent years.
Baden-Powell is focused on traditional, back-to-basics scouting, such as orienteering, camping and hiking. It also stresses public service, which ranges from something as simple as picking up trash during a hike to organizing a fundraiser for a charity. The BPSA manuals are based on scouting manuals developed more than 100 years ago by Baden-Powell himself. The group has four sections for 5-year-olds through adults — Otters, Timberwolves, Pathfinders and the adult Rover program.
Members are allowed to substitute other words for “God” in the motto. The program is run by volunteers and is focused on keeping costs low: Handbooks are available for free online, and basic uniform shirts can be found at discount stores.
Bridgett Wissinger, one of the organizers of the City Garden group, said she loved the back-to-basics approach of the Baden-Powell Service Association. She is getting involved so her son Leo, 3, has a group to join when he’s older.
“It’s definitely the inclusion policy, instead of an exclusion policy,” she said. “Why would I want to say, ‘We like you as long as you’re straight?’ Why would I hurt somebody who is just trying to figure that out?’ ”
She said many parents loved the idea of a Scouting group that includes everyone but wanted their boys to earn the Eagle award from the Boy Scouts.
“The Eagle Scout award means something on a college scholarship, or military, or a job application,” she said.
She points out that the Baden-Powell Service Association has a similar award, called the George Washington’s Scout badge, though it will take time to gain the same recognition.
Joe Mueller, spokesman for the St. Louis council of the Boy Scouts of America, warns parents that groups such as the Baden-Powell Service Association are often not insured or lack nonprofit status. But the Boy Scouts do not see the groups as a threat, he added.
“Any organization that’s trying to help kids is probably an organization that deserves a chance and deserves people to support them,” Mueller said. “Furthermore, I think that from the last 101 years, competition has made us better.”
While Boy Scouts do offer traditional activities such as camping and hiking, boys might also find something to like in activities now embraced by the scouts such as robotics and BMX racing, he pointed out.
Scott Santen, the Forsyth Scoutmaster of the BPSA group, is an Eagle Scout himself and is still active with the Boy Scouts. He disagrees with the Boy Scout policy on excluding gays, and so do many others he knows who are involved in Boy Scouts, he says. “I think you can belong to an organization and disagree with its policies and look for change within,” he said.
On the recent hike in Faust Park, Santen showed the group how to make a knot to tie trash bags onto backpacks and emphasized the importance of taking only memories from the woods, and leaving only footprints.
“People are enthusiastic about being at the vanguard,” Santen said. “They’re at the beginning of an organization that’s just starting to make a difference.”