SEATTLE — Elizabeth and Terry Boyle, of Mercer Island, Wash., were not surprised when their son, Matthew, 15, wanted to be an Eagle Scout — like his older brother. But they knew a regular Boy Scout troop wouldn’t work for their son, who has special needs.
Just like it didn’t work for Bob Hier’s 19-year-old son, Bill, of Maple Valley, Wash.
Nor did it work for Robert Laurenson’s teenage son, Patrick. The experience with a mainstream troop left the Mercer Island father feeling like he was “banging his head on a wall.”
“We’d go to an event and the other boys weren’t really into waiting and taking the time,” Laurenson said. “They’re not set up for special needs and they didn’t understand.”
The three families, however, found a better fit in Boy Scout Troop 419, the state’s only special-needs troop and one of fewer than a dozen in the nation. Because members don’t age out of this troop, it has Scouts who range from 12 years old to 50.
Troop 419 was founded 20 years ago when scoutmaster Ted Kadet was looking for activities to do with his stepson, Colin Silvestri, now 33, who has neurological damage from a seizure disorder.
He was familiar with Scouting and discovered that Boy Scouts of America had already established guidelines for special-needs troops.
So he, his wife and several other parents started the troop and meet every other week at the Veterans of Foreign War Post 9430 in the Skyway neighborhood of Seattle.
“The parents are the most committed Boy Scout parents I’ve ever met, and the guys each have their own unique personality,” said Larry Weldon, the junior vice commander of the VFW post. “They all really love being in this troop and we’re happy to help. “
Campfires and s’mores
At the troop’s first meeting of the year this month, members — dressed in regulation khaki uniforms and sashes covered with badges — begin with a ceremonial procession of the honor guard before saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
As the night goes on, they laugh, clown around, applaud each other, slurp spilled cocoa off a tabletop and play the piano loudly without a self-conscious bone in their bodies.
Or they sit quietly, next to a friend or parent, and watch, joining in as they please.
When asked what he likes about Boy Scouts, Joey Jelly, 22, of Renton, Wash., smiles and says, “Everything.” He declares the s’mores — made that night while learning how to pitch tents, start campfires and carry backpacks — to be “yummy.”
Patrick Laurenson, 15, demonstrates some mixed-martial arts moves while his friend, Jadon Kerr, 19, of Kent, Wash., watches with a big smile.
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As Laurenson explains why he loves veterans, the military, uniforms and the Declaration of Independence, he winds up commenting on politics.
Who does he want to win the presidential election?
“Me,” he says. “I think I could do a better job.”
They close the meeting as they always do, by singing with Kadet as he plays his ukulele.
In the past two years, they’ve earned badges for shooting and archery during campouts at Camp Pigott in Snohomish, Wash., and for birding at a wildlife refuge near Olympia. For citizenship, they wrote letters to presidents and other political figures and framed the letters they got back.
They’ve also earned badges in home repair, space exploration, art, radio, weather and more.
Scout Daniel Anthony Noonan, 23, said his favorite badges to earn were archery and shooting. His least favorite: chess.
Silvestri, who also volunteers at the Veterans Affairs hospital, worked in the kitchen during the troop’s visit to Camp Pigott this year.
“I made sure the camp didn’t burn down, and I got to yell ‘Get the forks,’ ‘Get the spoons,’ ‘Mop the floor,’” he said.
Though the Boy Scouts of America generally recommends including people with special needs in traditional troops, Kadet believes the special-needs Scouting program should expand. He said he’d like to see 25 more similar troops in Washington state alone.
“With minor modifications, Scouting works so beautifully for this population, and the guys love it,” Kadet said.
“There are no agendas, no cliques and nobody is trying to hurt you,” said Matthew’s father, Terry Boyle.
“For us, it was like coming home,” said his wife, Elizabeth. “When you first come here, a lot of times you are not even sure what your child is capable of, but the troop gives them opportunities, put the tools in their hands and, every time, we are surprised by how capable they are and amazed at what they can do.”