Arnold Mears credits the Boy Scouts of America with rescuing him from an abusive home life and giving him the skills and confidence to become an effective communicator. He put those skills to use last week when he was part of a sit-down meeting with President Barack Obama.
"I had no knowledge of the great things the program has to offer," said Mears, 19, a graduate of Perry Hall High School who plans to attend Coppin State University in the fall.
Mears was one of the hundreds of Boy Scouts who gathered at the Inner Harbor's Rash Field Saturday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the organization. Many described their experience with the Scouts as crucial in helping them grow personally and professionally.
Mears met Obama after being chosen to represent the organization to present part of the annual "Report to the Nation," which details the progress and statistics of the Boy Scouts.
"He was funny," Mears said of his experience with the president.
Mears knows that the visit and other opportunities have been made possible through his relationship with his den mother, Sonja Lewis, who later became his foster mother.
"She brought me to my first meeting," said Mears, who has lived with Lewis for the past five years. "I've been a Scout ever since."
Mears was joined by some notable fellow Eagle Scouts: Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie; executive director of the Baltimore Area Council of the Boy Scouts Ethan Draddy; and Maryland NAACP President Gerald Stansbury.
The group used the celebration to announce a plan to increase the number of trees in the city by adopting a new initiative "TreeBaltimore." The Scouts also introduced a partnership with the NAACP that aims to increase the number of city youth in the organization.
"The Boy Scouts are more relevant in 2010 than we've ever been," said Draddy, who has led the organization for two years. "We are doing right by parents and helping their sons and teenagers in a tough world. That is why scouting is relevant."
Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts have attracted more than 114 million boys. There are 36,000 members in Central Maryland. Last year, there were 2.8 million members nationally.
Guthrie spoke to the group about the service projects he and his two older brothers did to become Eagle Scouts. "It's fun to work toward those goals and look back and see what you've done," said Guthrie, who made the appearance just hours before he was scheduled to pitch in Saturday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Alex Griffith, a 16-year-old Eagle Scout from Jarrettsville who has raised more than $60,000 to build a playground at the Russian hospital from which he was adopted, also spoke about the benefits of the organization. Alex told the group he learned how to snowboard, rock climb and scuba dive as a result of his experience with the Boy Scouts.
"I can't imagine what my life would be without it," he said. "I've learned to be independent and how to take care of myself. It's taught me the importance of being a good citizen. I've learned that anything is possible."