Special needs Scouts enjoy the benefits of storied program
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The 2010 U.S. National Jamboree was defined by its variety as Scouts from all corners of the country participated in high-adventure activities that ranged from rappelling to BMX racing.
Counted among the tens of thousands of Scouts who enjoyed a week of summer adventure and camaraderie at Virginia's Fort A.P. Hill that year was a group of LDS Scouts who were eager for a full Jamboree experience. Boy Scout Troop 601, a Church-sponsored unit from Utah's Great Salt Lake Council, included several special needs Scouts that ranged in age from the mid-20s to late 40s. Their senior member was almost 50. Many were veterans of past National Jamborees. They spent that memorable week involved in almost all of the outdoor activities enjoyed by traditional Scouts — including merit badge classes, a 5K race and scuba instruction.
The Church continues to sponsor several special needs Scout troops, which are typically a function of special needs Mutual groups. While young men generally exit Scouting when they turn 18, those with Down syndrome and various other disabilities are allowed to continue in the program for as long as they wish.
There are more than a dozen Church-sponsored special needs Scout troops in Utah alone. Most of the Scouting activities are identical to those found in traditional troops. Scouts enjoy camping, perform community service, learn leadership skills and work on merit badges. Many even earn Scouting's most prestigious honor — the Eagle Award. Some recent LDS Eagle recipients have been in their 40s and even 50s.
Modifications can be made on award requirements depending on a Scout's specific disabilities. But the integrity of the process is strictly maintained. Scouting is designed to be demanding, so special needs Scouts — as with all Scouts — must enlist rigor and dedication to earn merit badges and rank advancements.
Jeremy Campbell of Taylorsville, Utah, recently earned his Eagle Award after fulfilling an Eagle service project. Jeremy and the members of his troop made dozens of infant kits that were then donated to the Church Humanitarian Center. The Eagle project demanded organization, help from his fellow Scouts and plenty of hard work.
Jeremy's mother, Elaine Campbell, said the special needs Scout program is made possible because of special leaders who love the Scouts and want them to have a full Scouting experience. "Jeremy always looks forward to Thursday night because that's Scout night," said Sister Campbell. "Even though Jeremy has earned his Eagle he still continues to earn merit badges."
Serving as Scoutmaster of special needs Troop 828 "is the best calling I've ever had," said Andrew Gunther. "The Scouts have a lot of camaraderie and enjoy everything we do."
Special needs Scouting has helped Jeremy and the others discover new talents and interests. Earning merit badges in, say, swimming or computers, also instills confidence as the Scouts recognize their potential and abilities. Scouting also invites them to try new things.
"Every spring the Scouts have a talent show — some dance and others sing," said Sister Campbell.
Men and women who are called to serve in the Mutual and Scout troops offer their time and love to help others with unique challenges and needs. Many leaders say they have been blessed in their service.
"The kids are so loving and kind," said Sister Campbell, who served as a Mutual instructor for many years while her husband, Delton, was the Scoutmaster. "They are excited to share anything they can offer."
A few programs are designed specifically for the Church-sponsored special needs troops and similar units. Ability Camp, for example, is held each year at Camp Tracy near Salt Lake City. There in the high mountain air, special needs Scouts learn to cast a fishing line, enjoy crafts and compete in games and attend merit badge classes. A special needs Jamborette is also held regularly.