February 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. A conversation between the leaders of a troop in Pensacola, Fla., and one of their most dedicated Scouts reveals the ways membership in the organization touches the lives of both.
Richard and Claudia Coleman are the leaders of Troop 409 — a troop for Boy Scouts with special needs in Pensacola, Fla. Richard joined the troop in 1987. He had two daughters, so his time with the troop became a "night out with the boys." Claudia was the troop's assistant scoutmaster.
Derek Connell, 54, is one of the oldest members of Troop 409. He's an Eagle Scout, which is the highest rank a Scout can earn. While most Scouts have to earn the rank of Eagle by the time they're 18, special-needs Scouts do not.
Derek has been scouting for almost 26 years. "It's hard to believe that our troop's lasted that long," he says. He was also Richard's first Eagle; he attained the honor at 34.
"Why did you stay in the Boy Scouts all these years?" Richard asks Derek.
"Because everybody needs my help," Derek says. "Because some of them are a little slow and some of them can't read and write."
The Scouts all worked together, Richard says. He recalls the time Randy, a Scout who uses a wheelchair, joined the troop at summer camp. But in the panhandle of Florida, that meant there was a lot of soft sand — which made maneuvering a wheelchair somewhat difficult. Richard says the Scouts were very resourceful.
"They came up with an idea that if they harness themselves to the wheelchair, Randy could sit back there and yell, 'Mush!' " Richard says. "It was like a dogsled — they would drag him around camp like this."
Remembering this, Derek laughs.
"We're the 'can do' troop," Richard says. "I try not to pay attention to what their problems are, 'cause when I've got them, they're all Scouts."
"The thing is, if we can't do something right, they don't get mad about it," Derek says. "Some people, if you can't do it right, that's it."
Claudia is proud of the troop — she says it's a huge part of her and Richard's lives.
"I'd just like to thank Derek," Claudia says, "for all the help and all the encouragement you give the new Scouts and the troop. And I told your mom that you carry the spirit of Troop 409 in your heart. And I mean this from the bottom of my heart."
"Thank you," Derek says.
Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo and Nadia Reiman.