Parish Scouting program focuses on families
By Enedelia J. Obregón
A pilot program for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts at Sacred Heart Parish in Austin has grown to 130 Scouts, and its success is leading to the development of other such programs.
Alison Tate, diocesan director of the Youth, Young Adults and Campus Ministry, said Bishop Joe Vásquez last summer asked the Diocesan Committee on Catholic Scouting and her office to pilot an initiative to increase the number of children –– especially Hispanic children –– in Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
“Bishop is a true supporter of Scouting,” Tate said. “Scouting provides a unique opportunity for growth and provides a built-in role for families to be involved.”
Tate said Scouting is not just a ministry for youth but also for parents because they serve as leaders and work closely with their children.
“The diocese sees Scouting as an ally in our efforts in ministering to youth based on values, cultivating leadership and opportunities to learn about faith,” she said.
She added that having parishes sponsor the troops also allows the youngsters to celebrate their Catholic identity.
Father Matthew Kinney, associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Killeen and an Eagle Scout, serves as chaplain for the Diocesan Committee on Catholic Scouting. He said having support from the pastor “is the single most important factor” in the success of parish Scouting programs and it doesn’t just involve allowing troops to meet in parish buildings.
“Scouting is youth ministry,” Father Kinney said. “It doesn’t do everything that catechesis does. But it has many of the elements of a virtue-based system that help youth become better persons.”
Father Mark Hamlet, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, agreed. He fully supports the programs for one reason, “We are changing lives at the family level with parents who care.”
Father Hamlet said his parish is 90 percent Hispanic and more than half are immigrants. Therefore the Scouting program had to be designed to take cultural differences into consideration. What worked for Sacred Heart Parish was reaching out to mothers.
“It’s all about Mama,” Father Hamlet said. The women, who tend to be young and have large families, told him they had difficulty coming to the many separate meetings.
“They needed something for both boys and girls and for parents to give them the knowledge and courage to get involved,” he said.
Father Hamlet also meets with the parish-level Scouting committee, which is comprised of Boy Scout and Girl Scout leaders, on a monthly basis.
Carrie Manongdo Yager is Girl Scout Service Unit Director for the Walnut and Delco-Simond service units that oversee troops in Northeast Austin, including Sacred Heart. She said there are potentially 13,000 Girl Scouts in that area, mainly Hispanics.
Yager faced several challenges in helping the parish and the parents launch the Girl Scout program: she is not fluent in Spanish, materials were not available in Spanish and she was having to deal with a multi-level troop. Troop 276 has Kindergarten-age Daisies to high school Ambassador level girls meeting on the same night.
“It’s not just about training but starting with ‘what is Girl Scouts?’” she said. “But I was not willing to fail.”
She quickly learned that the online training was not going to work because many families do not have computers. So they translated the “Jump Start” training materials, calling it “Arranque” –– or “Start” –– and got to work.
Yager said that Girl Scouts of Central Texas now has a Latino Initiative and is spending more resources –– including staff –– to reach out to Hispanic girls and their families. She meets regularly with the leaders and Father Hamlet to determine what is working and what needs to change.
She said Father Hamlet’s support for Scouting has been contagious and families responded to that.
“The vision of Scouting is something that this community and Sacred Heart really responded to,” she said. “They got it right from the beginning.”
Gisela González, a 31-year-old mother of three, said it was “for the love of God” and Father Hamlet’s request for parent volunteers that encouraged her to get involved.
“When he talked about children being successful and learning to be leaders, I immediately thought of my daughter,” González said. She began with a troop of 12 girls and now oversees the Girl Scout program.
“Girl Scouts will help her future,” she said. “Girl Scouts teaches girls to be independent and to have their own goals and have the desire to reach them.”
One of the aspects of Girl Scouts she likes best is that girls take leadership roles in planning their activities.
“As they get older the moms who are leaders are there to make sure everyone is safe, but the girls make their own decisions,” she said.
Erika García, 31, is a single mother of three, and she has little time to dedicate to activities outside school, so she chose to get into Scouting.
“Convivir” is the word she and other parents use to describe what they do with their children in Scouting. Literally translated in English, “convivir” means to live together, but it carries a deeper meaning more akin to sharing life.
“I want them to learn independence and to value themselves,” she said as her daughter played with her baby brother’s feet. “I want them to be able to do what they want in life and to learn about good and bad consequences.”
While parents focus on their children’s futures, the youngsters focus on the fun they have in Scouting. Camping is popular.
Christy Alba, who is in Troop 276, said she enjoys making s’mores at campouts. She also is learning about being a better citizen.
“We learn about helping the world –– like did you help someone or did you pick up trash,” she said.
Jhovany Alba, Christy’s brother, is 11 and in Troop 408. He wants to become an Eagle Scout. He enjoys camping with his parents and earning merit badges at campouts.
“We learn a lot,” Jhovany said. “You can’t learn anything watching TV.”
Their father, Cubmaster Juan Alba, has seen a change in his children thanks to Scouting. He also has a son, 6, just starting out in Scouting. His wife, Carolina Resendez, is involved with Girl Scouts.
“You can see how children change,” Alba said. “I know this will help them succeed. It opens a door to help them go to college.”
What surprised him also was the growth in himself. Over the last year, he has taken on more responsibilities, learned to set agendas, received training, trained others and planned excursions to the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco and to the Univision studios in Austin. In 12 months they have been on eight campouts.
“I have not been bored,” he said with a laugh.
Erick Olvera, 13, said he wants to become an Eagle Scout because it will help him get into college. The troop has had three Hispanic Eagle Scouts so far.
Cub Scout den leader Albert López said that one of the goals of the unit –– the combined group of Cub Scout dens and Boy Scout troops –– is to have more Eagle Scouts come back and help.
“We’d like for them to give back to Scouting by coming back and serving,” he said.
Jorge Rodríguez, assistant Scoutmaster in Troop 489, also used the word “convivir” to describe what is happening with his 13-year-old son, a Boy Scout who has achieved the rank of Star Scout, is eager to earn his Eagle rank. The elder Rodríguez left home at 17 and did not have a close relationship with his father.
“I have the satisfaction of sharing this with him,” Rodríguez said. “There’s no bigger paycheck than that.”
Scoutmaster Chris Krumrey has been active in Boy Scouts for 35 years –– 10 years at Sacred Heart. He said the support from the diocese and the pastor has made a huge difference in parental involvement.
After the parish school closed in 2002, the Cub Scout program folded although Boy Scout Troop 249 remained active and had three boys before the new recruiting efforts began.
“Parents recognize the value in Scouting,” he said.
The established leadership had to work through cultural barriers with the families of new recruits whose families did not speak much English and worried it would cost them too much money.
“Father Mark makes sure we have what we need,” Krumrey said. “No one is turned away because they can’t afford to pay. We have alumni who help with fundraisers.”