Scouting council aims to make a difference in lives of urban youths - Catholic Courier

Scouting council aims to make a difference in lives of urban youths

ROCHESTER — Christian Matos put his Boy Scout life-saving skills to use in early December when a man who had been hurt rang the doorbell at his home in the city.

His mother, Sheryl González, assistant Scoutmaster for Christian’s Troop 444, said that her 14-year-old son let the man in right away. Christian — who has earned First Aid and Life Saving badges as a Boy Scout — instructed the man to sit down, told his mother to apply pressure to the wound and called 911.

"God led him to my house," González said of the wounded man.

Christian, an Aquinas Institute freshman, is very humble about his efforts. Starting out as a Cub Scout at age 6, he said being a Boy Scout has helped him learn discipline, and he would encourage other boys to join.

"It keeps them out of trouble … and (teaches them) not to goof around and get their work done," said Christian, who is working on his Eagle Award.

On Dec. 3 at Tops Market’s Panorama Plaza store in Penfield, Christian and Cristian Martínez led their troop in loud voices as they sang Christmas carols and Boy Scout campfire songs while vigorously ringing bells to encourage donations for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign.

"We do this every year," said Danny Vega, another assistant Scoutmaster for the troop. "It’s good community service. … And they have a good time."

Boy Scout Troop 444 will soon have a new home.

The troop, comprising about 13 Hispanic and African-American boys from the neighborhoods surrounding Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church on Woodward Street, will make a move early next year to Our Lady of the Americas Church on East Main Street. Even though Mt. Carmel closed in October, the boys have continued holding meetings in the church’s basement until their new space is ready, said Head Scoutmaster Earl Knab.

During those meetings, they’ve learned skills they might not otherwise acquire living in northeast Rochester, such as cooking, camping and first aid. They also learn such life skills as leadership, teamwork and respect, Knab said. He added that affirming the need for a strong faith also is part of the mission, and he is currently working with a troop in development at St. Michael Church

"I just think a lot of our kids aren’t exposed to camping and hiking," said Orlando Ruiz, a senior program coordinator for the Otetiana Council of Monroe County. "Life on the block is all they see and all they know. "

In light of that, Ruiz began working for the council last year to boost the number of minority children from the Rochester area joining the ranks of Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

"The unfortunate part is that most of them come from single-parent homes," he said, which provides challenges to the traditional troops and afterschool models. "The majority of these boys don’t have dads."

That’s why increasing the number of adult volunteers is another important component of his work, Ruiz said. More volunteers will lead to more troops being formed, he added.

"We sign up a lot of kids during open houses," Ruiz noted. "Transportation is key. … But the door is always open. If they are in a (traditional) troop, they can show up. No leader will turn anyone away."

"Scouting is about volunteerism," emphasized Sandra Rosado, an Urban Scouting program coordinator for the council’s afterschool programs.

Larry Pritchard, the Otetiana Council’s executive director, said that the council has boys on waiting lists because the council lacks sufficient staff and volunteers, especially in the city where they are most needed. He said that those children face tough choices every day — be they related to violence or drugs or gangs — and the values of serving God and country with respect and reverence would greatly benefit them.

"Every day that goes by is a chance to help them that we never get back," he said. "They need our help, and they need it now."

The Otetiana Council, which covers all of Monroe County, serves 34 traditional troops and 36 afterschool programs. They serve more than 3,000 boys in city out of more than 10,300 boys countywide. More than 100 Exploring posts — affiliated with Learning for Life, a Boy Scout subsidiary — offer worksite-based opportunities for girls and boys in the county, according to Julie Malley, a senior Exploring executive.

Luis Aponte, Monroe Ambulance’s community liaison, explained about how his company’s Explorer post even offers future career opportunities. If the student stays with Monroe Ambulance until he is 18, he will be guaranteed a job following college. About 75 percent of the Monroe Explorer members are Latino, he remarked, which also assists with the council’s efforts to reach more minority youths.

"They have begun to learn responsibility both as individuals and as a group in regards to providing patient care and possibly for saving a life," he said.

The Explorer Post started up just this past summer with 22 youths between the ages of 14 and 20, Aponte added. The ambulance corps sought to expose the youths to potential careers as emergency medical technicians. In that short time, the youths have worked together and undergone group training to assist at such events as the International Air Show and the Rochester marathon.

"It is exciting to see the dynamics of a diverse group who comes together for the purpose of making a difference in another’s life," Aponte remarked. "We hope to build the skills necessary to make these young people the EMTs and paramedics of the future."

Before the Monroe Ambulance program, Ricardo Ramos, 16, did not consider careers in medicine or science. Now, he would like to become an EMT.

"They broke it down for me," he said of the Monroe Ambulance personnel. "They showed how to do it. … I actually like it and (am) thinking of getting a career out of it."

Sylvia Johnson, Urban Scouting director, said that the difference Scouting can make in the life of a child is remarkable. During a Nov. 19 council fundraiser, Johnson recounted a story about a child who had lost his father to violence and his mother to illness. His grandmother signed him up for Boy Scouts in order to give him a chance at a better life. During a ceremony, the boy explained that each badge he earned didn’t just represent the experience he gained.

"It represented a way out for him," Johnson said. "He turned to the crowd and said, ‘Thank you. Because of people like you, I am where I am today. And I have a future.’ It’s really touching that something you do … you are changing a life."

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