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Szymanski: What a difference it would make if all teens worked for their communities like these seven

Recently, my husband asked me to accompany him to a Boy Scout event hosted by Troop 483. Troop members had worked on several projects in the Silver Run-Union Mills Lions Park and my husband is the park committee chairman. I hesitated to go along. I had so much to do at home, and I was thinking this would be an event for mostly men and boys. Boy, was I ever wrong!

The event — an Eagle Scout Court of Honor — included lunch, and a ceremony to induct seven young men into the court of honor with refreshments afterward. The room was packed with a host of the men and women who have supported these kids throughout years of scouting. The seven — Austin Arnold, Bradley Cole, Ryan Knarr, Tanner Miller, Jared Muse, Jaden Muse and Jeremy Reynolds — had each worked on multiple projects over the years.

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I recognized every one of them because I’d seen them in the community, serving corn to attendees at the Old Fashioned Corn Roast held at the Union Mills Homestead on the first Saturday of August annually, picking up trash in the park, camping at the Homestead and holding food drives. And I remembered another scout, Alex Dorman, from the dog walking path he built around the pond at the Humane Society of Carroll County. Jaden Muse had built 10 benches and a display box at the Union Mills Homestead. I’d already seen his work on my regular walks.

Jared Muse built compost bins for Camp Hashawha. Ryan Knarr built a retaining wall and benches for the Carroll County Agriculture Center and 4-H Extension Office. Austin Arnold built handicapped accessible picnic tables for our Lions Club park. Brad Cole repaired and painted the decaying walking bridge that links the Homestead to the Lions Park on the other side of Big Pipe Creek. Jeremy Reynolds ran a “Food Stock Concert” to bring food in for the Silver Run Food Pantry and Tanner Miller had built a fire pit and benches around it for his church, Linwood Brethren.

The sheer volume of work from these seven high school-aged boys made me stop to think. What if every teen in our community did something like this? What a difference it would make.

Even more, I was about to learn the depth of meaning behind scouting. Each recipient was given 5 minutes, and as they spoke, I realized what a cohesive group of fine upstanding young men stood before us. I thought about the incredible value of organizations like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H and others that strive to teach kids the value of commitment and the importance of strong morals.

“I remember the first time we went rappelling,” Austin said. “I was terrified.”

But then he shared how his “brothers” had banded around him, offering courage and how the scoutmasters had given him strength. As a scout, he learned to overcome his fears. “Scouting has been physically and mentally good for me,” he said.

Ryan admitted he was winging his speech, but you wouldn’t have known it because passion coated every word he spoke. He recognized the scout leaders, his parents, and the family support he received, but mostly, his brother scouts. “I will share these things with my children one day,” he said.

Jeremy’s story touched me deeply. He said, since first grade, he’d known he was different from other kids, but he didn’t know why until he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. “Asperger’s makes it hard to understand social cues,” he said. “But everyone here understood. I’m proud to be a member of this troop.”

Tanner recognized his parents. “They put so much time into this for me,” he said.

It was good to see a son recognizing all that his parents sacrificed and gave. But he also talked about the camaraderie of scouting. “I remember camping in Harper’s Ferry,” Tanner said. “We were all shivering. But we were shivering together.”

“We worked hard,” Jared said, “but I couldn’t have done it without all of you guys.” He spoke of how they’d grown over the years. “Tanner was a germophobe,” he said. “He carried around antibacterial wipes. I will never forget the day I saw him drop a chip on the ground, pick it up, blow it off, and eat it!”

The crowd laughed, but I knew they were also feeling the depth of what these boys were sharing.

Jaden smiled when he said, “I was born into scouting.” His father is the scout master. Then Jaden remembered his first camping trip, rock climbing, projects and more. “These guys have been with me every step of the way,” he said. “They are my family.”

Brad Cole agreed. Like all the others, he also recognized the commitment of Scout Master, Jeff Muse and Assistant Scout Master, Donny Baker. “Everyone says it is not about the destination. It’s about the journey,” he said. “And they are right. You find good and bad along the way, but there is always someone you can count on. For me, it’s you guys. You are my brothers.” But Brad wasn’t finished yet. “I want my dad, Sgt. First Class Michael Cole to stand,” he said. “My dad wasn’t always there at my events, but he had a good reason. He was out securing our freedom.”

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The crowd applauded. The boys were pinned. Parents were recognized. Commissioner Dennis Frazier was there. Marines from the U.S. Marines Detachment 118 of Frederick spoke. But for me, it was the words of the boys themselves that resonated most. For me, it was a reminder of the kind of great kids we can turn out when we offer them opportunities like scouting. Bonding and growing together, learning the value of hard labor and community service and reliability … this grows upstanding, moral, loving and giving adults.

So, thank you, Troop 483. Thank you to the leaders, the parents, the families, and the boys who worked so hard. You are making a difference in the world we live in.

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