It’s Scouts’ Honor to Forge On Despite Pandemic

Photo courtesy Carolyn Thompson
South Pasadena’s Boy Scout Troop 342, in happier times, marches in the city’s Fourth of July parade in 2019.

‘‘Be Prepared” is the motto of the Boy Scouts.
But how do you prepare and stay prepared in a COVID-19 pandemic that has been raging through the country since March?
You improvise.
When I think of Boy Scouts — full disclosure, I never made it past Cub Scouts, although I still have vivid memories — I think of being outdoors, hiking, doing adventurous things and being in a group called a troop.
Boy Scout Troop 342 in South Pasadena is determined that it will not succumb after 94 years in existence.

Liam Serwin put it succinctly when he talked about “creative Scouting.”
“It was a challenge. Scouting was difficult, but we had a lot of creative minds,” said Serwin, who last November became an Eagle Scout, the organization’s highest rank.
Other Scouts and the parents who help facilitate their activities feel the same way.
“I am pretty disappointed, but we’ve found ways to cope with the pandemic,” said Sam Wittman, who got into Scouting at the end of 2018 — when he joined Troop 342 — and now is in South Pasadena Middle School.
Creativity kept one tradition — and source of funds — alive. That was the troop’s 69th annual greenery sale. In a normal year, you might get a knock on the door or a Scout might leave a brochure so you could place an order.
This time around, each Scout had a list of 25 potential customers and took orders over the phone. It wasn’t a great year, but the troop did make some money, which goes toward buying insignias and handbooks, and makes it possible for the Scouts to belong without paying dues.
Instead of camp-outs, the Scouts have developed a kind of camp-in, where they might have some demonstrations in the morning and afternoon. At their fall camp-in, the troop showed off their carved pumpkins and had a “Halloweenie roast.”
As long as you’ve read this far, let me talk a bit about scouting and Troop 342. It is one of four troops that exist to serve South Pasadena. There are about 24 Scouts in the troop, which had been meeting at Oneonta Church. Boy Scouting can begin at age 11 — often in 5th grade. Youngsters can be in Cub Scouts before that time.
In the Cub Scouts, the adults lead. In the Boy Scouts, the adults facilitate, and I recently Zoomed with four adults who are big boosters and help as adult leaders.
They had lots of stories to share.
“It’s about maintaining continuity and tradition,” said Assistant Scoutmaster Chris English. “Sometimes we have children in our group whose father was in our group.”
It’s been a good two years for the troop in terms of people reaching the rank of Eagle Scout. Two to four boys became Eagle Scouts last year and three to four others are working to complete their rank this year.
Sometimes doing the project before achieving Eagle rank was challenging. Troop committee chairman Dean Serwin’s son wanted to do hygiene bags for the homeless. So one family at a time had to come in and put items into the bags, seal them and then put the bag in a box. The 200 bags that were filled went to the Midnight Mission in Los Angeles.
Troop chartered organization representative Carolyn Thompson’s son wanted to build a rock retaining wall, and the health restrictions meant that only one family could help at a time. So Scouts individually helped carry rocks to help their friend complete the project. That’s a lesson in teamwork as well as a way to comply with health requirements.
Samuel Schwartz prepared the “ingredients” to make 500 face shields, and the boys came over, picked up a bag and during a Zoom call learned how to put the shields together.
Sometimes, a project is as simple as a Scout going to a location, getting twine and Zooming a lesson on how to tie knots. Poof. Merit badge.
Recent national scandals surrounding the Scouts don’t seem to have affected this group. Any parent who had doubts about the program probably would not be in touch with the group anyway, Thompson said.
In fact, there are discussions about starting a girls’ group, where the girls would meet in a group at times with the boys and do projects together.
What the adults and the Scouts want to do during the pandemic is to use the computer as a tool to help learn skills for merit badges and hear from guest speakers.
“Boys are physical people,” Thompson said. “We want to make things fresh.”
But nothing replaces the real thing when it comes to camping, hiking kayaking or just being with friends.
“The boys miss camping and hiking, but they also miss Scout meetings,” English said. “It is a diverse group with other boys they may not see in school.”
Thompson said it has always been about the older Scouts helping the next generation learn new skills.
“The Scouts who are now young teach those who have come before,” she said.
Wittman emphasized the friendship aspect when he was telling me about why he was in Scouting.
“I’m able to learn new things that you don’t learn in school,” he said. “It’s also a good way to meet people. I did not know a lot of people when I got in the troop, and now a lot of them are my friends.
“Scouting teaches a lot of life skills.”
It sure does, Liam Serwin agreed.
“People say that I am a responsible person and I think I am because of the things I’ve learned in Scouts,” Serwin said. “I have noticed that I am a good person and I hope to continue that way.”
He said some of his friends tease him about how long he’s been a Scout, but “it’s all in good fun.”
“I just roll with the punches,” he said. “I understand, but I don’t care. I’m a better person.”