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By Mike L Walton
Friday, March 29, 2002
(This is a chapter from a book I'm writing tentatively called "Wreathless". It's the story about a group of college students employed by the Boy Scouts in Kentucky and Tennessee and is based loosely on my own experiences doing the same while in college. Enjoy!)
The first one was the hardest, but the most rewarding. For if everything went right with the first one, every single one afterwards would be easier, for the secrets were exposed and the hazards revealed.
Lee's first was in Danville, Kentucky. The section eight housing complex needed a recreational program and Lee just happened to fall right into the timing to give them one.
The first step was to examine the prospect. Lee read in the morning's paper that a new housing complex was being completed and was about to open up. She then called the housing office and inquired if they had a parks and recreation office or if the city would handle the recreational needs. The man on the other end thought Lee for a playground salesperson and referred her to the city's Parks and Recreation Director.
Lee had talked with Clifford Choate before, when she was first introduced as the District's Paraprofessional. She reintroduced herself over the phone and later, with a little chitchat, she was given the name of the director of the complex.
The second step was to meet with the client and to establish yourself as one who can assist the client. Not only by providing the programs of citizenship, character and personal fitness development, but by using your resources -- those numerous business cards everyone wants to slip you as if to say "throw some business OUR way!" -- the Paraprofessional may be able to find a printer or a person who does clown acts. Lee did this on the following Monday morning. She was on time, was dressed appropriately -- in the BSA's field uniform.
"I wish that I had more badges to go on this plain shirt, like some of the others do." Lee was nervous but confident. As the door opened and the Director emerged, she smiled and extended her right hand.
"Lee Hamilton, with the Boy Scouts," she introduced herself, "we talked on the phone."
"Wow. I didn't know that the Boy Scouts employed women; come on in and have a seat." Lee waited for the Director to retreat into his office, and then followed him in and found a seat.
After some small talk about how Lee got to become a Parapro, the two then entered the pitch part. Each pitched to the other what they wanted to see happen in the Danville MicroCenter, the name of the complex. Lee stressed that even though she may not be around to see the results, others will be around to provide continued support and assistance. The local BSA Council in Lexington would have a full-time professional to work with volunteers in Danville to further assist the residents if they needed it.
"So, we do agree that the community needs a Cub Scout Pack and a Boy Scout Troop, right?" The Director nodded his head.
"So where do we go from here, young lady?" The Director stopped Lee for a second. Then, as if she remembered it from memory -- which she did -- she explained that the next step is to hold a community meeting with the residents and get their buy-in.
And some adult volunteers. They agreed that the meeting would be held a week from Tuesday.
The Community Action agency set up the meeting. On the evening of the meeting, the room was packed with present and potential residents, as well as residents and some kids living on the fringe of the complex.
One boy walked up to Lee in all of the hubbub and asked, "Are you the Cub Scout leader?" Lee shook her head.
"No, I'm not the leader. The leader will come from one of the parents or adults in this room. My job is to help train and coach them."
"I should have known," the boy spoke, "you don't have enough badges on your shirt to be a leader!" The boy then turned and walked back to a group of his peers, pointing out to them that he found out that the pretty girl in the khaki and green uniform is not "in charge."
"Then why's she here?" another boy asked. "Yeah. If she's not the leader, what is she doin' wearin' the Scout thing and all?"
The meeting started eventually, and the Community Action Director introduced Lee and her Peer Coach, Maurice Adams. Maurice, or Mo, as he wanted people to call him, stood in the back of the room. Part of his job was to be Lee's backup and part of it is to evaluate her presentation. They had a good working relationship, but they always did it the same way: Lee organized, Mo extended. Lee would do the presentations to the communities and Mo would pick up the checks and money and turn it in at the Council office the following morning. Lee's back-end would be on the line, but Mo would get the credit for the units.
Maurice was the District Executive, a full-time BSA employee working out of Boyle County. He was responsible for the development and growth of 59 units and more than 1200 youth and adults. Normally, the Boy Scouts would employ two professionals to manage the four county District. That's where Lee came in. Instead of the Council having two full-time employees, they bump Mo's salary upward by 2 grand. Then one of the nine Regional Paraprofessionals was hired to work alongside Mo as his Associate District Executive until the District can either be split or a fulltime Associate could be managed in the Council's personnel budget. Lee was holding down that job, although she didn't carry the title. Nor the benefits, which included merit raises when the number of people in the District exceed what the BSA says "should be for a District of that type and size."
"Didn't matter. The Department of Labor is paying $811 per month for what I'm doing and the BSA chips in $119 for gas and food. Not bad for a 20-hour a week job." Lee put it out of her mind as she was being introduced by Mo.
"Good evening," Lee started. "My name is Lee Hamilton. As one young man asked and found out from me, I'm not a leader of the Cub Scouts." She looked over at the almost bald young man, smiled and returned her attention back to the others. "I serve as a Paraprofessional with the Boy Scouts of America, and I am thrilled to be here to assist your community in establishing a Boy Scout Troop and a Cub Scout Pack."
She remembered to breathe. When she was practicing, using her mirror in her dorm room, and later the empty lobby at 5am in the morning, she had to constantly prompt herself to breathe. "I don't want to do all of the talking here, but I did want to explain very briefly what it will take to bring Scouting to your community."
She then took out of her pocket a group of wooden matches all held together with a rubber band. "This is all of us here, together in this room. It's going to take everyone in this community to make this work, because if you don't help out," she started to take matches out from the top. After the third match, she held the matches over a table, and after the fifth match, the rubber band was not stretchy enough to support all of the matches and lots of matches fell out. "...A lot of kids are going to fall out and find other things to do in town."
"Wow. This is like magic," she thought to herself.
She then explained what Cub Scouting is like. She had never been a Cub Scout - girls could never be Cub Scouts. Or Boy Scouts, for that matter. But she had Jake and Robert and Steven and Paul, her brothers, whom were all Cub Scouts and later Boy Scouts, to use as examples. She told instance after instance of how they learned things through Cub Scouts. How they and their parents, both busy people, actually started to take an interest in their boys. For a few moments, as Lee was explaining how her parents would gush over her older brothers, she started to feel a little jealous. They DID have a good time, and she couldn't enjoy any of it. Almost.
"You may be asking, "You're a girl. What did you get out of it enough to start working for the Scouts?" I was asked that same question in my intake interview. When I was these guys' ages," she said, pointing to the posse of boys off to left center, "I had a project to do in school. We had to make a paper mache globe. I'm NOT an artist, not at all, but I remembered that Steven and Jake both built paper mache things for Cub Scouts. I asked them to help me to make the globe. We had the best time, trying to make this globe and painting it with strips of newspaper, flour and water, and a small ball."
She smiled broadly and added, "And I brought this in." She pulled out of a bag on the table a paper mache globe. Crudely designed and colored with watercolors. "I took this to college with me -- it's not to scale." Some of the people smiled and laughed softly. "But I wanted something with me to remind me of the great times I had with my brothers. That's what Scouting did for me."
"I want the same things for you and your families. That's why I'm here, and that's why I'll answer your questions and help you to get started."
She returned the paper ball to the bag and a lady in the back of the room clapped her hands and soon everyone in the room clapped. Lee turned back around and softly stated "Thank you. I'll be happy to take a few questions."
One man asked, "How much does it cost", to which Lee was ready to answer it with a set answer from what she memorized and then she stopped. "Sir, how much do you spend on cigarettes each month?"
The man thought a bit and then said, "About 20 dollars. Why?"
"Half of that is what it'll cost each month to be a Cub Scout. Exactly that much is how much it will cost to be a Boy Scout." The crowd started to murmur a bit. Mo looked at Lee as if to say "Want me to get you outta this??" Lee then explained "Look. I am sure that you want your sons to do the same things that the other Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts do, right? You want them to be able to earn the same badges and to wear this shirt, right?" Some started to nod, "Then it's not cheap.
But it's NOT expensive, no matter what people have told you. You don't have to go out and buy the Boy Scout tent and the Boy Scout flashlight, and the Boy Scout compass. My brothers all got along with just the shirt, belt and money to go do things!"
The man was satisfied and once several more questions were answered, Lee then got to the hardest part of the evening.
The turning point.
The part of the evening, which determines if the Paraprofessional did her or his job well enough to convince people to form a new Scouting unit. Joe Woodall told them all that many Paraprofessionals do not make it to this point - they get mired in the discussions about the good of Scouting and the cost and the uniforms and the different badges.
"I need five adults to serve as an operating committee for the Cub Scout Pack and the Boy Scout Troop. You don't have to be in charge and you don't even have to wear the uniform!"
Silence. Many of the parents looked at each other, and Lee was a little frightened of this. So she had another trick up her sleeve. Another "magic act", things she learned from Mike and Doug.
"When you came in, each of you were given one of my cards. Five of those cards have a key on the backside. Would you five, holding those key cards, come and return them to me please?" She smiled as everyone looked on the back of the calling cards she handed out with her name, position and how she could be reached. Joe Woodall had everyone to order 2000 cards. This was one of the reasons why.
"Oh my!" exclaimed an older woman, "I don't want to go up there and be in charge! Would someone else want to do this??" A younger man exchanged her card with the key taped on the back for the plain one he held. As he stood, he looked at the woman and said, "She's right. This is all up to us to do. I'm going to come forward. Maybe they'll let me be the Scoutmaster!"
One by one, Lee got the other four -- and three others who didn't have a key card, but who just wanted to help out -- to come forward. She gave each of them a small Boy Scout pin and asked them to put it on their clothing. "Mo and I will be working with each of these people over the next three weeks, and you will have a new Cub Scout Pack and a Boy Scout Troop. Every Cub Scout and Boy Scout unit has a number. Would you like to know what our number will be?"
The boys in the small posse started first, but soon others were curious as well.
"I did some research. The first Black man to be a Boy Scout in Danville was a man named Edwin Starr, III. They called him Trey, and Trey went on to be the first Black man in the Bluegrass Council to take part in something called Wood Badge. It was a special training course for Scoutmasters. Back then, things were different, sorry to say, and Mr. Starr was not permitted to be a Scoutmaster. But he took the training and made himself ready for that instance. He was a part of Wood Badge course number 714. That's the number we are assigning to your Troop and Pack. 714."
Lee once again made a mental note to find out where Edwin Starr III is now.
"We will sign up everyone in three weeks."
The crowd once again acknowledged the young pert woman in the Scout uniform and the Director of the Community Action agency asked for a pastor to lead everyone in a prayer as the meeting closed. The pastor went into how "good it was that the community got together to do something for the chikden of the neigbohood". His prayer went for a good three and a half minutes before he finished "In JESUS name, forever and forever, let's all say...." And the entire room erupted into "A-MEN!"
Lee then turned around and started packing up her props, occasionally turning back around to answer individual questions about how and where to get the shirt and the "outfit like you're wearing." She answered questions about where she was going to school and what she was studying, because "I didn't know that the Scouts had people in college studing to be a Scouting organizer." The crowd eventually thinned out and Mo moved up to talk with his associate.
"You did a great job, kid. I mean it. You did a really good job!"
"Is that all there is to it??" Lee asked. "This was fun. I can't wait to get back here in three weeks!"
"Remember. The unit's not chartered until you get the signatures and the money into the Council office. This is your unit.
I'm going to trust you on this one. You take the paperwork and the checks into the office for this one. See me when you get in."
At that moment, Lee felt like a new born fold on her first big run, unable to stop and hopping on all four hooves. She didn't know whether to cry, jump up and down, or just hug Mo's neck! She opted instead to do her crying outside, in the car.
She didn't jump up and down but rather to shake Mo's hand and tell him "You won't be disappointed. And neither will these people." And instead of hugging Mo's neck, she touched her boss' shoulder and said, "Thank you."
In her car, after all of her things were in the backseat, and while she expected the lights to go out in the community building soon, she sat and cried. Large tears of salted water streamed down both of her cheeks and onto her pants as she sat in the drivers' seat of her small car. "I did it! I really did it. I can do this job!"
"Now", she said, wiping her face with the backside of her hand and sniffing, "How do I explain to Jerri that I can't go to rush?"
She needed a cigarette and a guy. She started her automobile, pulled it out of the parking area, and pointed it in the direction of the city with the large university.
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Mike L Walton