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Boy Scouts celebrate 101 years

20110225_Boy-Scout-troop-84_002MISSION — The skills young men learn as Boy Scouts can help them approach nearly any situation successfully, local scout leaders say.

Vidal Rodriguez, scoutmaster for Troop 83, recalled one incident during a summer camp where a scout became ill.

“The scout started showing signs of hypothermia and my troops picked up on it and stepped up to help, without me saying anything,” he said. “They knew how to react. They didn’t panic or think twice about it.”

Troop 84’s scout training was tested when they witnessed a motorcycle accident. The boys responded quickly, said Scoutmaster David Martinez, taking action to help the injured biker.

“One scout called 9-1-1, someone else got a blanket and another one directed traffic,” Martinez said. “I was very proud of them. They didn’t know who the gentleman was, but knew there was a serious problem and they tried to help.”

The Boy Scouts of America live by 12 Scout Laws, which include trustworthiness, loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness, and obedience, among others. These positive ideals have been instilled in scouts, since the founding of the organization in 1910. Celebrating its 101-year anniversary this month, the group is highlighting its longevity with their ability to adapt to the changing times, and the life lessons they teach young boys, that continue to remain relevant today.

Rio Grande Council Scout Executive Ernesto Carballo Jr. said troops that participate in the program often become successful citizens.

“We have done many studies with parents and scout parents, whether being honest, for example, is relevant in today’s society. One hundred percent agree it is,” he said. “Everything we teach our troops can be applied to their lives in a positive way as they grow up.”

The Rio Grande Council covers all five counties in the Rio Grande Valley and currently has 4,000 youth members and 1,500 adult leaders. The mission of the Boy Scouts of America, as stated on their website, is to “prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetime by instilling in them the values of the scout oath and law.”

“We have fun activities such as, camping competitions, throwing jamborees, hiking and swimming, just to name a few. Those are just basic tools we use to ensure kids learn their lessons,” said Carballo, an Eagle Scout. “It’s fun with a purpose.”

The scouts in the Valley have had a 250 percent growth in participation over the last four years. Carballo said the increase is due to constant updates and additions made to the scouting program.

They’ve added new merit badges for activities such as geocaching, GPS navigating and website making skills. The organization also updated their uniforms. The group also attributes their growth to a new funding program to help scouts from low-income areas.

“There are 200 different merit badges. We have an advancement program that rewards them for having completed activities with patches, emblems, and certificates,” he said. “Every kid can determine what they want to do and what they want to learn.”

Between the ages of seven to10, boys are considered Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts are 11- to 18-year-olds. Co-ed scouting programs Explorers and Venturers, are offered for ages 14 to 20.

In the Mission area, there are three troops of Boy Scouts, Troops 83, 84 and 113.

Rodriguez has been scoutmaster for Troop 83 for about a year. As a young boy, Rodriguez and his two brothers were in this same troop, where all three earned the Eagle Scout rank, and continue to volunteer in the program.

“My brothers and I realized the program had very good values and it taught us how to be leaders and not followers,” said Rodriguez.

However, even with valuable lessons the group can provide, troops in Mission are small. Troop 83 only has 20 Boy Scouts; Rodriguez said when he was a Boy Scout the group had 110 members.

“We have to compete with activities like UIL, church groups and football. Plus many kids are just not interested in being outdoors anymore,” said Rodriguez. “It’s a lot harder also to keep kids in the program.”

Martinez agreed that getting kids interested in scouts is difficult. His 48-year-old troop currently has about 24 scouts.

“Everyone has the capability to be at home playing video games or be on their computer. We try to say everyone can do that, but not everyone can camp out and fix their own meal or shelter. It’s a different type of challenge,” said Martinez. “Once they camp for the first time, they usually want to go again.”

Troop 113 Scoutmaster Jeff Erickson said if kids join the scouts, the ideals and lessons they learn are unique and useful for their future.

“Activities such as scout camping for the summer, shooting a rifle and archery, those are things many kids wouldn’t normally have the chance to do,” said Erickson.

Each scoutmaster instills the scout oath and law, but also teaches the troops lessons they have learned themselves when they were scouts.

Rodriguez said he likes to focus on first aid. The scouts learn CPR and how to properly tend to wounds.

“I also teach them how to cook. I see a lot of kids that don’t know how, and expect their parents to do it forever,” said Rodriguez. “We try to teach them how to cook from a stove at home, at a camp out and even how to barbeque during our fundraising activities.”

Martinez tries to teach his scouts to take pride in their work.

“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.’ Strive to be the best you can be, whatever it may be,” said Martinez. “I think it’s important they learn to be proud of who they are. That they work hard to make something of themselves and their family.”

Lessons taught in the program also promote higher education.

For Carballo, born in Cuba before re-locating to Boston as a child, the Boy Scouts provided a positive outlet from his low-income housing surroundings.

“What kept me alive in a very rough neighborhood was Wednesday nights at a Catholic church, where Boy Scout meetings were held,” he said. “By being part of the Boy Scouts I learned there’s a bigger world outside my neighborhood. That happens on a daily basis to kids today in the program.”

Carballo later graduated from Florida International University with degrees in sociology and anthropology. He now dedicates his life to working with the Boy Scouts of America.

Rodriguez has also experienced the perks that come with being an Eagle Scout.

“I’ve used it on my résumé and it’s been a blessing. Employers will pick an Eagle Scout over a regular Joe, because we embody the values of trustworthiness and 11 other scout laws,” said Rodriguez, a sales rep for Nestle Waters. “It does go a long way.”

Eagle Scout is the highest rank in scouting, earned by working for 21 merit badges, performing a major community service project and committing to the entire program.

Troop 84 has produced Eagle Scouts every year, which is a significant achievement for any troop. And yet, this year they anticipate having not one, but six Eagle Scouts.

Erickson said the moral code taught in Boy Scouts helped him develop good work ethics.

“You learn to work as a team with the scouts,” said Erickson, who owns his own construction company. “This helps you later in life to succeed in the work environment… You don’t realize how useful they are until you are forced to use them in life.”

Boy Scouts offers positive opportunities, but Carballo said stereotypes sometimes discourages boys from joining.

“Many think all we do is camp or don’t even know we still exist…We’re not babysitting and we’re not just camping on weekends,” he said. “We’re teaching kids to be leaders in their communities and good citizens. Camping is just a tool used to give them these values.”

Erickson said parents should consider enlisting their children with all the obstacles kids face today.

“It gives boys an opportunity to succeed, not just now, but in the future,” he said. “The scouts help them become goal-oriented and create the positive mentality that they can accomplish anything.”

Rodriguez’s 12-year-old son Austin, a Boy Scout in Troop 83, said being a scout taught him leadership skills and helped him develop confidence.

“My favorite part of being in the scouts is the different people I get to meet and places I get to visit,” Austin said. “It’s fun and there’s always something to do.”

For 101 years, the Boy Scouts of America has flourished. Carballo said it’s a sure sign of the positive lessons and opportunities the program can offer, even a century after its inception.

“Parents need to be thinking about the future and education of their children. We have actually proven that 89 percent of scout members graduate from high school,” he said. “This is exceptionally good in an area where there are many high school dropouts. Use the scouts as a tool to graduate from high school, go to college and become a good, well-rounded citizen.”

For more information about the Boy Scouts of America, or other scouting programs, visit, or call the Rio Grande Council office at 956-423-0250.

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