Troop offers haven for scouts who won't give up : News

Troop offers haven for scouts who won't give up : News

Troop offers haven for scouts who won't give up

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Special needs scouting 
Special needs scouting 
Special needs scouting 
Special needs scouting 
Special needs scouting 
Special needs scouting 
Special needs scouting 

Special needs scouting

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David Carson

Troop 724 Assistant Scout Master Nancy Huett (left) and Scout Matthew Waelterman, 27, hula hoop at their camp ground in West Tyson County Park in Eureka on Sunday, July 7, 2013. Troop 724 is a group of Scouts dedicated to special needs Scouting. Photo By David Carson,

13 hours ago  •  Story By HANNAH CUSHMAN 314-340-8072 Photos by David Carson

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There won’t be canoeing or midnight ice cream runs to the commissary, but there won’t be pejorative nicknames, either. For members of Boy Scout Troop 724, one of two special needs troops in the St. Louis area, the opportunity to be themselves is worth the sacrifice.
For the next week, their modest campsite of five tents and a teepee flying a Spirit of ’76 flag in West Tyson Park near Eureka will be a little slice of Scouting heaven.
Joe Vaughan has been Scoutmaster of Troop 724 since 1999. His military background shows as he directs his Scouts around the campsite, intermittently puffing on a cigarette.
The Crestwood-based troop includes Scouts with a broad spectrum of physical and mental disabilities, but its Scoutmaster doesn’t see why that should make them any different from a traditional troop.
“I believe in Scout skills,” Vaughan said.
Those that the boys will practice this week run the gamut, from pitching tents to shooting air rifles. Most of the activities will be a surprise to the boys, but Vaughan anticipates his troop will be most excited about the Indian Lore merit badge.
After all, “there’s only so much I can do to spark up basketry,” Vaughan said, cracking a smile.
Also on the docket is the Disabilities Awareness merit badge. The Scoutmaster said it was an important concept for the boys because they recognize their differences from most people, but they don’t necessarily understand why people may treat them differently.
Vaughan is by no means a severe man, but as he speaks on the subject, his sun-ruddied face turns a deeper shade of fuchsia. He’s got a barrel of stories about exclusion, ranging from camporee fiascoes to full-on bullying.
Nicholas Keim, 17, joined Troop 724 after leaders in his previous troop told him he’d never become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts.
Four years later, he’s not only an Eagle Scout but also a Senior Patrol Leader for his new troop. Keim blushes when asked how long it took to rank up but offers his best estimate with a laugh: “A while.”
“(Troop 724) has really helped me to be more social, to find a part of me that wasn’t brought out in my other troop,” said Keim, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. “There, I didn’t feel safe, happy or respected. Here, I have friends.”
“These boys often deal with low self-esteem,” Vaughan said. To counteract the cycle, he dug into his background in the Air Force. That’s how Troop 724 became the only special needs troop in the country to have its own color guard.
The guard has grown in size from two members to a full 16-flag regiment. Despite the move toward a less formal Scouting uniform, Vaughan dresses his boys in red berets, with plans to introduce golden scarves in the coming year.
Holding the Army flag and dressing to the nines help Keim feel confident. “It shows I can do something big,” he said.
The troop has performed on many occasions. “Last year we were in the opening ceremonies for Veterans Day” at a St. Louis event, Vaughan said. This year, Boeing Co., for which the troop is official color guard, has offered to send the boys to Pasadena, Calif., to march in the Rose Bowl Parade, he added.
Vaughan has received accolades for his work with the troop, but he insists that recognition should go to the boys. “I teach them,” he said, “but they’re the ones who execute.’’
“They’ve reduced jarheads to crying mush,” Vaughan said, glowing with pride.
This week, however, Troop 724 will swap ceremony for outdoorsmanship that is not so different from the experience offered by traditional camps.
As long as it’s safe and there’s proper oversight, Vaughan said, nothing is out of reach for his boys: “Nothing can stand in their way.”


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