KENSINGTON — In the last phrase of the Scout’s Oath, a young person promises to “keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” These days, keeping strong and alert are tough to accomplish for Boy Scouts stuck at home since March, avoiding the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Scouts sponsored by parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn are feeling the frustration from postponed adventures like campouts, field trips, and weeklong summer camps where a scout applies physical fitness and mental agility to earn merit badges. These awards, displayed on a uniform sash, test a scout’s knowledge of skills or actual career paths. A scout needs at least 21 of them to achieve scouting’s highest rank, Eagle Scout.
Scouts like Marcus Bueno, 14, have been completing rank and merit badge courses “virtually” with video-conferencing programs like Zoom.
“It has gotten easier and harder at the exact same time,” said Marcus. “Easier, because I can accomplish a bit more while we’re in lockdown but harder because I miss my friends.”
Marcus and his 13-year-old brother, Adam, are in Troop 187, sponsored by the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Their scoutmaster, Sean Rowley, also chairs the advancement committee for the Brooklyn Council, which is part of the Boy Scouts of America Greater New York Councils.
“I’ve sat on Eagle boards of review,” Rowley said, “and when we ask the kids what excites them most about scouting, 98 percent say it’s camping, and going to summer camp, and being with friends.
“This year, with it all done virtually, it worked to a degree, but it just wasn’t the same.”
So Marcus and fellow scouts were denied the aromas of breakfast served in the mess hall, the icy rush of water sports, or the thwack of a well-aimed arrow at an archery target. Instead, summer camp this year was like being an adult mired in teleconferencing at work.
“I found myself jumping from Zoom call to Zoom call, with hardly any time in between,” Marcus said with a chuckle.
Staying motivated was tough, he added, because the weekly troop meeting was where scouts encouraged each other toward their goals. But since March, Marcus, in his quest for Eagle, has earned numerous merit badges, including personal management, cooking, truck transportation, photography, weather, genealogy, and American business.
Marcus also completed the hiking merit badge for which he had to walk 20 miles in a single day. He chose to follow the paths of Green-Wood Cemetery for about six hours. Marcus, who aspires to be a history teacher, enjoyed seeing the graves of famous people, including some Civil War soldiers “but the last five miles were the most tedious I ever walked,” he added.
Marcus also used the time lockdown to vault in rank from Second Class to Star.
As an advancement chair, Rowley oversees the rise in rank of youth in the Breukelen District and the Lenape Bay District, which includes Troop 187.
That’s a lot of merit badges, which makes a lot of recordkeeping for Rowley, considering there’s about 2,500 youth in the Brooklyn Council. The Queens Council serves 11,100 youth.
Parishes in the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Queens sponsor scouting groups in both boroughs.
In Brooklyn, the diocese has 11 Cub Scout packs and 37 Scout troops, “of which five are Girl Scouts,” said Deacon Jim Noble, one of two scouting chaplains appointed by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
Noble added that in Queens, the diocese has 40 troops, including one for Girl Scouts, and 31 Cub Scout packs.
Earning the Eagle rank also requires a service project, Rowley said.
Here, candidates must organize and lead a group of people — frequently other scouts — to improve something in the community, like building a footpath in a park or refurbishing a public playground.
Rowley noted that many Eagle candidates have already finished their projects and are awaiting final evaluations of all their completed requirements for the rank. But while younger scouts like Marcus are unable to start service projects, Rowley said they’re wise to get merit badges out of the way. That way, when the lockdown expires, they can get on with other tasks.
Meanwhile, Rowley said, the community can’t benefit from scouting volunteerism until the lockdown expires.
“The thing that gets me is these boys do a lot of good work,” Rowley said. “For the church itself, they’re into planting, cleaning, and delivering food to pantries.
“The boys recognize the value in all this, and they just haven’t been able to do it.”