Tag Archives: Boy Scouts of America

Westport’s Newest Cub Scouts: These Girls Are Great!

Eric Overgard is an avid Scouting volunteer. In nearly a decade in Westport, the technology project manager has moved up the ranks from Cub Scout organizer, fundraiser, pinewood derby head and pack leader to Boy Scouts committee member.

His son Alex was a Cub Scout.

Now his daughter Vanessa is too.

That’s right. This year, the Boy Scouts of America open their ranks to girls.

The official date for Boy Scouts is 2019. For Cub Scouts, it’s this coming fall. But the BSA has granted exceptions to a few “early adopter” Cub Scout packs.

Westport’s Pack 39 is one.

It’s a no-brainer for Overgard. And a natural fit for his daughter.

“Scouting is a family activity,” Overgard — who was a Scout himself in Houston, before graduating from Wilton High School in 1987 — says. “Vanessa had been going on activities with us for years. She was disappointed when we told her girls could not be Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts.”

By coincidence, the Overgards were on an Appalachian Trail hike when the news came that the Scouts would admit girls.

Vanessa was thrilled.

Eric Overgard, with Alex and Vanessa.

Troop 39 cubmaster James Delorey encouraged Overgard to organize a Westport girls’ den. He’s doing that now, with a group of 3rd graders.

Why not Brownies?

“The typical Boy Scout activities are things the Girl Scouts don’t typically do,” Overgard explains. (Just as Cub Scouts is the younger version of Boy Scouts, Brownies is the lead-in to Girl Scouts.)

“Both organizations have been gender-based. In this day and age, we should eradicate that. As a parent, I want my daughter to have the opportunity to explore the ‘masculine’ side as well as the ‘feminine.’ I do beading with her. Now we can do whitewater rafting together too.”

He notes that although the Boy Scouts are accepting girls — and the requirements for activities are the same — Pack 39’s new den will be gender-separate.

That allows girls to choose electives they like. Vanessa and her fellow Cub Scouts have so far chosen critter care (caring for animals, talking to veterinarians) and “bear picnic basket” (cooking and nutrition).

Feedback has been very positive, Overgard says. But, he adds, “I live in Westport. I’m sure some areas of the country are adamantly against girls in Boy Scouts.” He notes that the United States is the only country where Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts have not already been open to girls.

Overgard hopes to expand Cub Scouts to girl dens in grades other than 3rd.

To do that though, he needs something that all Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops everywhere rely on more than anything else: parent volunteers.

(To learn more about Westport’s girl Cub Scout den, click here or email Pack39Westport@gmail.com.)

Mark Mathias: Mixed Reactions At Trump’s Boy Scout Speech

Mark Mathias is many things. He’s the founder and president of Remarkable STEAM, a statewide organization promoting innovation and creativity in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. He founded Westport’s Maker Faire, has served on the Board of Education for 14 years, and volunteers with the Boy Scouts.

In that last capacity, he’s attending this week’s National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. He’s joined by 35,000 Scouts from around the world (120 from Connecticut, including Westporters), and 5,000 adult support staff. Mathias’ role is radio communications.

Mark Mathias and his son Nick, at the Boy Scout Jamboree.

Yesterday was a special one at the sprawling camp. Here’s his report:

This year, we were honored to have President Trump address the Jamboree.

Scheduled to speak at 6 p.m., preparations for his visit started well over a week ago. The venue opened at 2:30, and numerous restrictions were in place. It took nearly 2 hours from the time I got in line and snaked down the pathways until I reached one of 2 entrances.

Restrictions in place for President Trump’s visit to the Boy Scout Jamboree.

All day long, and particularly in line, lots of Scouts and adults wore red “Make America Great Again” hats.

Once inside the venue, box lunches were given to each person. Free bottles of water were handed out to every attendee, since it was very hot and muggy.  Luckily there was some light cloud cover and a brief sprinkle of rain to keep people cool while we waited on the grass.

The scouting organization was good at keeping the crowd entertained, as the Scouts stayed in their troop areas.  Many patches were traded, and ice cream vendors did a land office business.

By 6 p.m. the stage was set. A man placed the presidential seal on the podium.

Around 6:20 we saw the presidential motorcade arrive, winding down the hill to the rear of the stage.  The crowd frequently chanted: “We want Trump!” and “U! S! A!”

Mark Mathias’ view of the presidential stage.

When Mr. Trump came on stage, he received a very warm welcome from the assembled Scouts.  Thunderous applause and chanting of his name was a marvel to hear.

As he started his speech, Mr. Trump indicated he would set aside political differences for the evening, and instead talk about how to be successful.  He mentioned that 10 of the members of his cabinet were Scouts, and brought on stage Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

Other than the time I went to Washington to see a presidential inauguration with my family, I have not attended a live event where the President of the United States has spoken. I believe that the opportunity to see and hear the president is something everyone in our country should have.  I also believe in respecting the office of the president.

President Trump addresses the Boy Scouts.

Speaking to other scoutmasters in the audience as we waited for the president, I heard that some troops had talked seriously about not attending. Luckily, the scoutmasters I spoke to did not let this opportunity pass by. As I left the venue after the speech however, I saw a handful of troops that elected to not attend.

With a great start to President Trump’s speech, I had high hopes he would use it as an opportunity to inspire this largest collection of Scouts in the United States to do great things, and have scouting be a way to give them the skills they need.

Unfortunately, President Trump moved to subjects of repealing Obamacare, “fake news,” and how well the economy and stock market are doing since his election.

The crowd welcomed most of President Trump’s comments with great cheers, although there was the occasional boo — in particular when President Trump mentioned that President Obama did not address a Jamboree. (Click below for the entire speech.)

I stood in the audience, trying to absorb what was going on around me. Was the crowd responding to the fact that they had the President of the United States speaking to them? Were they truly supportive of the policies being presented to them? A combination of these and other reasons? Am I out of touch with America?

On the walk home and in talking with the people with whom I’m working, the conversations were muted. A few people said they thought Trump did a great job. Others were more critical of his speech. But adults on both sides of the subject were remarkably unenthusiastic. It was almost as though the speech didn’t happen. It surprised me that there was not a great desire to talk about what we had just witnessed.

Mark Mathias, at the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.

The experience for me was somewhat surreal. Being in the audience as the president addressed us is a great honor. Feeling the energy of the crowd — but not the motivation — made me feel out of place. Then, after having experienced what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing the president in person not be ebullient about it, was downright odd.

I hope to have more opportunities to participate in events of this nature, and hear leaders in their own words. I hope to be able to share these experiences with my family and friends. Most of all, I hope that we all grow as a result of these experiences.

BSA Ending Its BS?

Congratulations, Boy Scouts.

After far too long, you’re ready to do the right thing. You’re finally going to live up to your own “law.” You know, the one about being loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous and kind.

You’re going to allow gay people into the Boy Scouts of America.

And only a year after the Marines and the rest of the military said “gay is okay”!

As a gay man, I’ve found it hard reconciling what I know about Westport’s Boy Scouts with the self-serving blather coming out of BSA headquarters in Texas.

BSA 1I know the leaders of our 2 local troops are decent, open-minded men. I know that Troops 39 and 100 are well-organized and compassionately run. Both do many good deeds for our town.

And I know that plenty of gay teenagers have enjoyed being part of those troops. Some have become Eagle Scouts.

Still, I found it uncomfortable supporting those troops. They asked me to buy their candy. They wanted me to announce their Christmas tree pick-up project on “06880.”

Yet by supporting our local Boy Scouts — no matter how welcoming they are — wasn’t I in some way supporting a group that would not support me? One that, more importantly, sends a strong message to young people — gay and straight — that discrimination based on sexual orientation is not only allowed, but demanded?

My dilemma grew when a Staples student invited me to his Eagle ceremony. I’d helped with his project — it involved some of Westport’s oldest cemeteries — and he proudly asked me to witness the pinnacle of his Scouting career.

Eagle ScoutA Court of Honor ceremony is a big deal. I understood its importance to the troop, to him and his family. He’s a great, talented young man. I wanted to be there for him.

But I feared that would be hypocritical. I’d turn my back on the thousands of teenagers who do not live in Westport — and who either hide their sexual orientation from the Scouts, or (worse) are viciously booted out by them.

I went to the ceremony. But the next day, I wrote the new Eagle Scout a letter.

I congratulated him on his very impressive achievement. I thanked him for the invitation. And I said:

You have my utmost respect for your perseverance, skill, enthusiasm and devotion to Scouting.  It is clear you have gained an enormous amount from your years in the Boy Scouts of America, and have given much back in return.

But I would not be true to my own ideals if I did not convey my personal feelings about the BSA.  Please understand that this has nothing whatsoever to do with you.  My issue is with the national organization.

BSA logo

The many wonderful words that were spoken yesterday about Scouting – and I do not disagree with them – were undermined by the fact that, as a gay man, I could never legally be part of your organization.

Several years ago, I wrote a book called “Friends and Family: True Stories of Gay America’s Straight Allies.”  One of my favorite chapters was on Steven Cozza.  He was 14 when I interviewed him, and an Eagle Scout.  He loved the Boy Scouts, but he also felt the organization was not living up to its own ideals.  He started an organization called Scouting For All, which for several years has worked to get the BSA to change its policies.  He’s been unsuccessful so far – despite a million signatures on his petitions.

When I asked him why he was doing this – and whether people thought he was gay (he’s not) – he said simply, “It’s the right thing to do.”

I believe the same about you.  Your voice on stage has reached many people.  Now, as an Eagle Scout, I hope you’ll raise your voice on this issue, at an appropriate time.  As an Eagle Scout, your voice will be heard.

BSA rainbow

If I had not gone yesterday, I would not have heard the charge to “do a good deed daily” – to make a difference in someone’s life.  It reminded me of a quote from the anthropologist Margaret Mead.  She said:   “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever does.”

As a recent high school graduate, and now an Eagle Scout, you have a wonderful opportunity to help change the world.  If you do the best you can – if you’re the best person you can possibly be – then you will truly live up to the ideals of the vow you took yesterday.

I’ve got my money on you.

Some time later, he wrote back. He thanked me, and promised to do what he could.

Perhaps his voice was one of those that — half a decade later — made an impact. I’m not sure.

But I do know this: If the Boy Scouts do change their hateful, mindless policy next week, all Scouts — gay and straight; in Westport, and across America — will be one step closer to living up to their beloved organization’s own values.

Feliz Jose!

In a recording and touring career spanning nearly 50 years, Jose Feliciano has been honored in more ways than he can count.

Feliz Navidad” is one of the most popular Christmas songs in the world. His version of “Light My Fire” hit #1 worldwide, and earned him the first 2 of his 8 career Grammys.

He has a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and his hands were cast by Madame Tussaud. New York City named a performing arts school after him. He’s performed at virtually every major venue on earth, and draws enormous, adoring crowds everywhere.

Jose Feliciano

But on Sunday, April 29 (5:30 p.m., Continental Manor, Norwalk), the singer/guitarist/composer — and longtime Weston resident — will be feted in a way that means as much to him as anything else he’s accomplished.

The Boy Scouts of America’s Connecticut Yankee Council has named Jose Feliciano one of its Distinguished Citizens. He’ll join Rev. John Branson of Christ & Holy Trinity Church; longtime Scout leader Alan Stolz, and Santa Energy CEO Tom Santa as honorees for their commitment to community.

Local Eagle Scouts will be honored too. That means a lot: Jose’s son Mikey isthisclose to becoming an Eagle Scout himself.

Growing up on the Lower East Side, Jose’s brothers were involved in Boy Scouts through the Henry Street Settlement. His older son Jonathan was a Cub Scout. Now, through Mikey, Jose and his wife Susan have gotten involved in many Boy Scout projects.

“It’s a great organization for kids,” Jose says. “It teaches them a lot of things, including morality.”

Mikey Feliciano

Mikey joined Westport’s Troop 100 because he loved the outdoors. He earned his Life Scout quicker than nearly anyone in the troop ever had. Now, as quartermaster, he’s helping younger Scouts.

Mikey’s Eagle project is rehabbing Keene Park, on Weston’s River Road. It’s a 100-hour effort — at least — but he’s got some help. Including his family.

The Boy Scouts have given Mikey “a sense of responsibility, and respect for the country,” he says. A recent trip to Washington, DC ws particularly inspiring.

He credits Scouting with making him “more outgoing,” too.

Until last November, Troop 36 met at the Saugatuck Congregational Church. The pre-Thanksgiving fire destroyed much of their equipment — though not their Eagle Scout plaque, or their spirit. They meet now at the Christian Science church on South Compo, and do their CPR training at the Westport police station.

Mikey — a junior — is being home schooled. He also travels with his father. He’s played bass with him on stages as varied as the Kennedy Center, Austria and Korea.

They’ve also appeared at Weston High School, and the Georgetown Saloon’s open mic Thursdays.

Jose Feliciano is an internationally revered star. In Westport and Weston, he’s just as respected for his many community service activities.

His son Mikey is following in those big footsteps.

So will they perform together at the Yankee Council dinner later this month?

“My dad asked me if I wanted to play,” Mikey says. “But I may be too busy working.”

(The 2012 Distinguished Citizens Awards Reception is Sunday, April 29, 5:30 p.m. at Continental Manor in Norwalk. For ticket information, contact Tony Vogl: 203-876-6868, ext. 259; tony.vogl@scouting.org)