February 12, 2017

Editorial: Scout’s honor: ‘I know in my heart who I am’

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Anyone who has ever taken an extra moment to understand someone and give them a chance — happy Valentine’s Day.

A Worcester Boy Scouts troop has served that role for Trevor Huntley.

As reported by Worcester Magazine last week, Mohegan Council Troop 37 in the Quinsigamond District accepted this young man as a member and helped him achieve what would seem an unreachable dream. Using Scouting rules that allow carefully personalized adaptations for Scouts with disabilities, Trevor over the last dozen years has aimed for — and earned — a Boy Scout’s most coveted rank.

Trevor, who was born with cerebral palsy, will be inducted as an Eagle Scout this spring. He’s cleared all the hurdles except for one expected soon — approval by the Boy Scouts’ National Advancement Committee — and has won respect, friends, and a sash full of badges along the way.

Trevor’s path toward the Eagle Scout medal has differences, but none having to do with how incredibly hard he worked. He is 25, while the approximately 4 percent of Boy Scouts who achieve the Eagle distinction must generally complete the requirements before their 18th birthday. And Trevor’s physical condition is severely limiting: He is non-vocal, has limited use of his legs, and has an arm that doesn’t function at all.

But Trevor has much more than he lacks. He has people who believe in him, beginning with himself.

“My disability never gets to me at all,” he wrote in an email to WoMag. “I know in my heart who I am, and my family, friends and whoever know me [know] I never give up on my dreams.”

Troop leaders say that when necessary, they tailored requirements for merit badges Trevor tried for so that the badges would represent comparable levels of challenge, learning and personal growth as for his fellow Scouts. Those who know Scouting know that these badges are tough to get, but attainable with effort, and the troop tried to make that equally true for Trevor as for the others.

Trevor, who joined the troop around 2004, was given extended time to achieve his aim. He ended up earning 36 badges, well over the 21 required for Eagle. For his project, he built four elevated planter boxes for the Seven Hills Foundation, accessible to people in wheelchairs.

“I know in my heart who I am,” Trevor wrote, and now Troop 37 knows who he is, too: a Scout whose dream and determination soar above his disability.

Trevor’s achievement is an example of the kind of societal shifts — generally slow but also generally unstoppable — that lift us all.

Whatever the political conflicts of the day, we are blessed to live in a world getting better.

The Boy Scouts of America has been a leader, making changes in policies and attitudes that are especially admirable because they weren’t easy. Scouts who are gay have been allowed since 2014, and the following year this conservative organization also lifted its ban on gay scoutmasters. Recently, the Boy Scouts agreed to permit transgender youths to join.

Having a young man with severe disabilities achieve Eagle status is obviously very rare — and certainly a first for Troop 37. But Scouting has always accommodated boys with special needs.

The organization’s  “Guide to Working with Scouts with Special Needs and Disabilities,” states: “Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has had fully participating members with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities.” The first Chief Scout Executive, James E. West, became physically disabled — one leg was shorter than the other — after contracting tuberculosis as an orphan child.

“While there are troops composed exclusively of Scouts with disabilities, experience has shown that Scouting works best when such boys are mainstreamed — placed in a regular patrol in a regular troop,” the guide says.

Trevor Huntley’s accomplishment is exceptional, and we salute his troop, family, friends, other helpers and, especially, him for taking up this difficult dream and seeing it through.

Stories like Trevor’s, though seeming to be about differences, show us the things we share.

They remind us that the needs both to fit in and to stand out are universal.

Young people nowadays tend to be naturals at knowing this, and are often quick to insist on a level playing field and to celebrate the human spirit. Instances, large and small, from our area abound. There was, for example, the high school football game in 2011 between St. Peter-Marian and Doherty, when both teams allowed the first student with Down syndrome ever enrolled at SPM to score a touchdown.

Stemming in large part from public school policies of recent decades that value inclusion, people with “differences” and “disabilities” are increasingly part of our daily lives, and seen for who they are within. It’s impossible to say how much, and in how many ways, everyone benefits when businesses, institutions and communities break down walls in favor of welcome.

Times when we help someone belong, and cheer them on, warm hearts and stick in our memory. Great idea: We should all do more of that sort of thing.

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