“On my honor, I will do my best….”
Like their fellow scouts all over the world, the members of Cub Scout Pack 600 stand facing the American flag, with seriousness and reverence, and recite the Scout Oath, then the 12 points of the Boy Scout Law, pledging to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind and other important facets of good character.
Also like other scouts, these approximately ten eager boysare proudly wearing their uniforms. Their pack leaders are in uniform, too - but not the Boy Scout kind.
“Scouting instills a sense of responsibility and an opportunity for these kids to feel a part of something great,” says Eagle Scout and West Palm Beach Police Officer Thomas Luttier, who like the other Pack 600 leaders are members of the West Palm Beach Police Department and the City of West Palm Beach Fire Rescue.
Part of Restoring The Village, a unique program by the Boy Scouts of America Gulf Stream Council, the two year-old pack’s aim is to turn this regular, enjoyable interaction between residents and law enforcement personnel into a mutual relationship of respect, particularly at a time of increased tension between police and the policed.
The program takes its name from the African proverb that posits that it takes a village to raise a child. Pack 600 is the second of two Restoring The Village groups within the Gulf Stream Council - the first is in a crime-ridden part of Fort Pierce. These Cub Scouts meet every week at the Salvation Army Northwest Community Center, working toward positive reinforcement in the tiniest members of this sometimes struggling community.
“It’s important to provide a foundation for relationships in this community on both sides, as human beings,” says Mike Pinkney, the director of the community center. “We want them to know who each other are (and to) change their perception at a younger age.”
West Palm Beach Police Chief Sarah Mooney, sitting nearby watching the proceedings, agrees with Pinkney that the weekly structure of a Cub Scout Pack starts “with the real little ones. To see how these kids look up to them provides a real base for mentorship. This is a different kind of service.”
“You do see a lot of negative things on TV between law enforcement” and citizens, Todd Rolle, whose son, also named Todd Rolle, is a member of the Cub Scout Pack. “I’ve witnessed things myself. But the police officers up there (at Boy Scouts) have a good relationship with the kids, and it shines a different light on law enforcement and firefighters. In the relationships that they build, that’s something needed. I definitely see the positive side.”
For the younger Todd Rolle, an accomplished artist at 8 whose work has already been displayed at the Salvation Army and the Norton Museum of Art, Pack 600 is largely about “the field trips, the fun stuff. We build boats and make S’mores. We get to eat the marshmallows. (And) they teach us things, and how to teach others.”
The “learning to teach others” part is where the leadership skills come in, the skills prided by all Scouts worldwide, says Mike McLoughlin, program director for the Gulf Stream Council and also an Eagle Scout. Most of the leaders are taking their dinner break to be here - “It’s a nice opportunity to come off the road for a little while for an hour a week,” Luttier says.
Like young Todd, all of the Cub Scouts were already enrolled in the Salvation Army’s aftercare program, so it’s convenient for them and their families, many of them single parent households. The programs, including the uniforms, snacks and even field trips to the police and fire stations and the Palm Beach County Courthouse, are free to the Scouts and their families.
“This gives us the ability to provide activities not provided here or at school,” the Salvation Army’s Pinkney says. “These kids don’t understand that there’s a world outside of this neighborhood. They trust these guys, and they look to them like brothers or sisters. Some of the parents are working two or three jobs, and don’t have the resources.”
Luttier says he’s seen these enthusiastic kids “come in crazy and screaming and yelling” like kids do, and then commit themselves to the task at hand, as a group.
Organizers say that community response has been overwhelmingly positive, and Restoring the Village was the beneficiary of a recent “Nashville Songwriters in the Round” concert at the Harriet Himmel Theatre, featuring two-time Grammy winning songwriter Shawn Camp (Garth Brooks’ “Two Pina Coladas”) and others. The elder Rolle says that between the programming at the community center and the Boy Scouts, the two organizations have “formed a good partnership where they can show the kids different avenues in life, and helps them see a positive future.”
For those Cub Scouts, the time they spend here is an opportunity to learn new skills and make new friends. “They’re nice,” says Ashton West, 7, determinedly painting his boat bright blue, pink and orange.
But his new friend, Officer Anthony Goindoo, hopes that these craft projects and more are the seeds of a more lasting relationship.
“The potential here is that we’re friends, not enemies. Hopefully when he’s older, I can drive down the street and see him, and shake his hand with respect,” he says. “We want to be present.”