- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Julie Stansfield removes a bandage to reveal a not-quite-healed second-degree burn.

“Do you want to see something gross?” she asks a group of kids huddled around her.

The kids scoot closer to take a look.

“Cool,” says one section of the group, mostly boys.

“Eww,” say the rest, mostly girls.

Stansfield’s lesson to the gathering: Exercise caution around open flames, whether cooking at home on a stove or in the wilderness over a campfire, the Columbia Missourian (https://bit.ly/1wDZ1JH ) reports.

Meet Columbia’s Scout Troop 121, ages 6 through 13, the first and only co-ed youth scouting organization in Columbia. Out of roughly 27 members, 20 are girls.

The boys are technically Boy Scouts, but the girls in the troop belong to a relatively new international organization called the Baden-Powell Scouts’ Association, with headquarters in Great Britain.

The nonrestrictive dynamic that defines the troop separates it from the two-dozen Cub, Boy and Girl scouts in town. BPSA believes scouting should be available to everyone, youth and adult, regardless of religious beliefs, gender or sexual orientation.

Columbia’s chapter meets every other Wednesday evening at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. This particular session is centered on first aid, wheelhouse territory for Stansfield, a Columbia physician. She and her husband, John, have been scout leaders for almost 15 years.

The Baden-Powell Service Association is not affiliated with Boy Scouts of America or Girl Scouts, USA. It was founded in 1970 as an “alternative and community-oriented traditional scouting program for youth and adults, boys and girls.” Troops exist in 44 countries.

The overall experience is virtually the same, the Stansfields explained. Members are taught honor, responsibility, service and leadership, just like any other scouting organization.

In fact, these troops still use the original scouting manual crafted by the early 1900s British Lt. Gen. Robert Baden-Powell, considered the founding father of the scouting movement.

The draw for parents with children close in ages is the ability to sign a son and daughter up for the same program.

Lisa Parrish, whose son Evan and daughter Anastasia belong to Troop 121, can attest to the positive benefits of the program. She said it can build confidence and enhance personal responsibility.

“It’s an organized way to teach them skills you probably wouldn’t otherwise,” said Parrish, who volunteers to chaperone with other parents. “It’s interesting how often you actually need those skills.”

During a recent meeting, the scene inside the parish center wasn’t much different from a classroom environment. Everyone worked together, though typical boy-girl behavior persisted.

For example, most boys and girls socialized and gathered separately when given the opportunity.

Boys tended to be more physical and a few turned holding hands into a grip competition. Girls mostly wrote and drew on the chalkboard or played word games.

Nonetheless, the scouts managed to intermingle. They joked around and played tag, told stories about using the Internet or repeated something funny from school.

They talked about their favorite toys and what they had for dinner. They made each other laugh, sweated, listened and cried. The two scout leaders said they can even go camping together with few problems.

Meeting protocol

At a recent meeting, the scouts quickly grew bored with the lecture portion of the lesson on camping safety. They ached for a more hands-on approach. Time to break out the first-aid kit.

For the next half hour, they wrapped duct tape around their fingers and toes, a proven barrier against blisters.

They shoved painless EpiPens into one another’s backs and legs, emergency treatment for an allergic reaction while camping.

They learned about safe swimming and bicycling practices, wildlife and outdoors hazards, and how to approach people who might need help. There always seemed to be a lesson to learn, an opportunity to showcase leadership or a moral decision to make.

The leaders want their scouts to know when it’s acceptable to approach a stranger or intervene if someone is in trouble.

“If we called ourselves ‘the society for the propagation of ethical virtue,’ nobody would want to join,” John Stansfield said. “The goal is to help these young people make ethical decisions for a lifetime.”

Upcoming meetings include working on a communication badge with a tour of the Columbia Missourian newsroom. After that? Maybe fire-building or knot-tying or land navigation or flag-folding.

They also clean up garbage or help with veterans’ events. Sometimes they just host a game night. All traditional youth scouting stuff, as it’s been done for decades.

Love of scouting

Scouting has been part of the Stansfields’ lives since they were kids. John grew up in Festus, Missouri, and hung around with Julie’s older brother in Crystal City, a neighboring town along the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri.

Julie’s gentle voice perks up when she talks about scouting. She said Girl Scouts introduced her to activities she never would have imagined.

“I must’ve been 10 or 11, and our scout leader took us ballroom dancing on roller blades in an old cave,” she recalled. “I couldn’t believe it. Ballroom dancing? In a cave?”

By 1985, both had moved to Columbia; they married a year later. John became an applied mathematics professor at MU. Julie was an internal medicine specialist at Boone and Harry S. Truman VA hospitals. Eventually, they had two boys.

In 2000, when their oldest son was in first grade, they got involved in scouting and never quit. Within a year, John had become a den leader with his son’s Cub Scout pack, as his mother was for his.

Then he started doing work at the district level for the Great Rivers Council, overseeing Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for Boone, Cooper, and Howard counties. Now he teaches adults how to become scoutmasters, serves on counseling and camping committees, and certifies and inspects camps around the country.

Julie chose a similar path of training and leadership, but she focused on improving Hispanic participation at the national and soon international levels. She noticed an increase in the Hispanic population of Columbia and found the growing demographic underrepresented in scouting programs.

When the Boy Scouts of America announced its national Hispanic Initiative in 2007, it became the Stansfields’ collective vision to start a more inclusive troop in Columbia. They began recruiting members of the Latin community to Cub Scouts by staying after Spanish Mass to deliver presentations, offering invitations to anyone who would listen.

In 2012, The Boy Scouts of America-Great Rivers Council recognized Pack 121 as Columbia’s first Hispanic pack, and a year later the co-ed troop was recognized as the 121st Columbia Scout Group by the BPSA after parent leaders completed a weekend training course at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. Three of Troop 121’s members are Hispanic.

Marlon Guzman, his wife and two sons are members of the Sacred Heart Church community. Before moving to Columbia, the Guzmans lived in Puerto Rico, where their sons took part in scouting, and Chicago, where they did not. After hearing some of John and Julie’s presentations and consulting within the Latin community, he signed up his 7-year-old son, Aramis.

“Everybody has to be given a fair opportunity to participate, it’s a continuous announcement and (call for) participation (from John and Julie),” Guzman said. “It was not just a one-time thing.”

And it still isn’t.

___

Information from: Columbia Missourian, https://www.columbiamissourian.com

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