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Good Scouts at any age. (Not-for-Profit Report).

One of the challenges for activities professionals is that of creating programs that appeal to a facility's male population. NewCourtland Elder Services, a subsidiary of The Presbyterian Foundation for Philadelphia, in collaboration with the Boys Scouts of America's Cradle of Liberty Council--Western District, has a creative solution to this dilemma. This year, male residents at New-Courtland's Care Pavilion of Walnut Park, a skilled nursing facility in Philadelphia, joined in the pursuit of merit badges with boys in all phases of scouting--from Cub Scouts to Eagle Scouts. This program, a first of its kind in the Boy Scouts of America's 100-year history, is specifically directed at men in long-term care settings. The elder scouts have met the requirements to become Golden Eagle Scouts, a newly created rank equivalent to that of Eagle Scout--scouting's highest honor.

To become a Golden Eagle, each elder scout "buddied" with a young scout to complete one optional and six mandatory merit badge programs. According to Pam Mammarella, director of NewCourtland's corporate communications, the men needed to earn badges in First Aid, Family Life, Communications, Fingerprinting (which was taught by the local police department), Camping and Cooking. For their optional badge, the men chose to create an art project. Participating Boy Scouts earned the same badges concurrently with the men, except for badges in Camping and Cooking. In these two areas the requirements differ from their counterparts in the Golden Eagle program, because the objectives had to be adjusted to meet the physical needs of the elders. To reward their participation in the Golden Eagle program, the Boy Scouts were awarded an additional merit badge for Handicap Awareness. For their involvement, the Cub Scouts were given certificates recognizing their community service.

"Because there was the intergenerational component," explains Mammarella, "we assessed each individual who expressed an interest to ensure that he was a good fit for the program. Physical limitations did not necessarily disqualify someone from joining."

Prior to the first meeting, the Care Pavilion scouts were fitted for regulation scout uniforms, including ties, hats and sashes that were provided by NewCourtland Elder Services. One gentleman had a physical condition that made wearing his uniform difficult, but he insisted on wearing his hat to every meeting.

The first meeting came to order in February of this year, as Golden Eagle candidates began their quest as Troop 6212. And ready and eager they were. The benefits were immediate and ongoing. The seniors enjoyed a social opportunity with a goal; many mentored and advised the young scouts while the youngsters, in turn, gave the gentlemen an appreciation for today's youth by their caring and helpfulness. Each group was focused on the same goal. Care Pavilion resident Elsford Geiger summed it up when he said, "I look forward to being with the guys and the kids. The boys are very intelligent, but I feel like I'm teaching them, too."

At first, according to Mammarella, there was a short period of adjustment. "Socially, the two groups related well. The Boy Scouts, though, needed to adapt from how they would pursue a task with peers and modify it to working with older adults, some of whom have physical limitations. On the other hand, the seniors wanted to be challenged more and not have the boys treat them so delicately." Then as familiarity with each other grew, the two groups struck a balance and began to function as one unit focused on the same goals.

To illustrate, Mammarella explained that although residents could not spend the night outdoors, camping activities were held in an area accessible to the residents just outside the facility. One requirement for the Camping badge was to pitch a tent. The positive intergenerational blend between the old and young scouts was evidenced in how they overcame some of the challenges in accomplishing this task. For example, if a wheelchair-bound scout couldn't bend a pole to reach the ground or pull the tarp over the tent frame, he and his junior partner studied the situation and got the job done--together. As Alfonso Mesete, a resident who was also a scout in his youth, remarked, "It was wonderful to work with the children. I joined because I wanted to be the same help to the children as my leaders were to me. It's fun learning."

Meeting weekly over six months, the men and boys shared stories, solved problems, enjoyed each other's successes and became friends. Resident Lonnie Ford says, "I look forward to this every week. I feel like I am working with my grandkids." Fellow Golden Eagle Samuel Fisher adds, "I like the things I have learned. Getting the badges was interesting, along with getting to know the Boy Scouts. I like that we get a chance to help out with the children."

"Sadly," says Mammarella, "one of the gentlemen passed away before the residents received their Golden Eagle badges. To honor his memory, the Boy Scouts held its traditional Court of Honor ceremony for him. It was an incredibly moving service."

On August 7, the seniors received their Golden Eagle rank at a ceremony held at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. "We needed a bigger venue to hold the family, friends, staff, dignitaries and members of the community who turned out to congratulate these men," says Mammarella. "Citations, awards and letters of congratulation came from Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street, Senators Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum, and state representatives. In his letter of congratulation, Specter said he foresees that the Golden Eagle Scout program will serve as 'a vehicle to instill a compassion and respect for older Americans often lost in today's youth-centered society.' The Cradle of Liberty Council is planning to bring this historical program to its national council and, hopefully, have it initiate pilot programs in other cities.

With the success of this inaugural year of the Golden Eagle program, Mammarella says that there is a new group of men eagerly looking forward to joining. Other than the costs of uniforms, the only other real expense is to provide snacks at the meetings. So with a dedicated leadership team in place, this is a very sustainable program. "Of course," she says, "the ladies are asking about a Girl Scout program.

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Author:Hoban, Sandra
Publication:Nursing Homes
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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