NARROWSBURG, N.Y. — Merit badges? Check. Sloppy Joes for lunch? Check. Mid-afternoon Mass? Check.
On August 3, roughly 230 scouts from the New York City area — including the Diocese of Brooklyn — received a special treat when Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio visited them during their week-long stay at Ten Mile River Scout Camps in upstate New York. It was the first time the troops and the bishop could gather together since the pandemic canceled last year’s activities.
Bishop DiMarzio traveled nearly 120 miles to Sullivan County for his sixth visit to the Camp Keowa site, where New York City scouts visit during summer. He greeted the Scouts BSA troops and their leaders at lunchtime and celebrated an outdoor Mass at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Chapel.
“It teaches young people how to lead, how to find ways to improve their lives, to make sure that they learn things [through] merit badges,” Bishop DiMarzio said about the Scouts BSA program. “It’s a life program that teaches them that life is about learning and taking responsibility.”
Bishop DiMarzio can personally attest to this as he was a former Boy Scout himself, earning the title of Life Scout — the organization’s second-highest rank after Eagle Scout. He was also a Scout troop leader before entering the seminary.
“You learn a lot from scouting that really does stay with you for the rest of your life,” the bishop told the troops before saying grace at lunchtime in Michael Friedsam Memorial Hall. “So, enjoy this time.”
“I know Scout camp was one of the highlights of my life,” he added.
Victoria Pena, a member of Troop 253 from Flushing, Queens, appreciated the bishop taking time out of his day to say hello to all the troops.
“I’m really grateful for that because he traveled all the way over here just to see us and be with us,” she told Currents News.
It was Pena’s second year at Camp Keowa; she first attended in 2019 — the first year girls were invited.
Cory Van Huele, another Troop 253 member and a St. Francis Prep junior, said he looked forward to returning to the campsite for a second year.
“What I’m most excited about this year is trying to see the new areas I haven’t experienced, such as the waterfront,” Van Huele explained. “I didn’t experience that before since I was preoccupied with land activities.”
Emily Mussalli, a sixth-grader at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Academy, and her older sister Kristen, a freshman at Archbishop Molloy High School, are new members of Troop 253. Both girls wanted to come to Camp Keowa to hang out with their friends from home and make new friends.
“I also get to do things I don’t normally do at home, like swim in the lake, go tubing, and jump on the trampoline,” Emily added, “and even learn things in class like making a wallet.”
Typically, all four camps at Ten Mile River Scout Camps would see 4,000 children on the grounds during the summer. However, due to the pandemic, between 1,400 and 1,500 children will visit Camp Keowa over the six weeks of summer.
Paul Romain, who joined the Boys Scouts in 1984 and is currently the committee chair for both Troop 333 (sponsored by Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Cambria Heights, Queens) and for Troop 144G (sponsored by Presbyterian Church of St. Albans), emphasized the importance of being back after a year of social distancing and isolation.
“It’s great to be back in camp, to be out of the house, and to hopefully get rejuvenated for a new year in scouting,” Romain said. “We get to see Scouts from all over and that the scouting program is still alive and well and interesting.”
Though membership for the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts plunged 62% and nearly 30% respectively nationwide since 2019, the Diocese of Brooklyn has seen some increases in the past year.
Since last summer, 15 additional Cub Scout packs and two BSA Girl Scout troops have been chartered in Brooklyn and Queens respectively. This year, Brooklyn has 34 Scout troops (including one BSA Girl Scout troop) and 26 Cub Scout packs, while Queens has 38 troops (including three BSA Girl Scout troops) and 19 Cub Scout packs.
Brian Long, scouting director for the Diocese of Brooklyn, emphasized the importance of keeping the Scouts BSA program active and engaging for current and future troop members.
“It’s important to myself and the other people involved in the Catholic Committee on Scouting to keep it thriving,” Long said. “The program stands the test of time because of the values and virtues it teaches kids, which can’t be taught in school.”
Looking ahead, Long says the committee plans to launch more remote programming for local troops, including religious emblem programs in the fall.