DALLAS (BP)–Chris sounded bitter and sarcastic as he slumped on the sofa, acting disinterested and not even looking at the circle of boys sitting around Scoutmaster Raymond Harris at Buckner Baptist Children’s Home.
“I don’t wanna be no Boy Scout, and I ain’t wearing no stupid uniform,” Chris spit out to no one in particular. Harris, who was at the residential boy’s dorm proposing the formation of a Boy Scout troop, had to wonder what he was getting himself into.
That was nearly a year ago. Today, Chris stands proud as the leader of Troop 430 on the campus of Buckner Children’s Home in Dallas, and Harris can only shake his head in amazement at the incredible effect Scouting has had on this collection of young men generally regarded as unruly, delinquent, abusive and uncooperative.
For several years, the Boy Scouts Circle 10 Council in Dallas had tried — and failed — to establish a troop on the campus of the 118-year-old children’s home in east Dallas. Finally, after prayer and persistence, Paul Hargrave, Harris’ predecessor, succeeded in chartering Troop 191 at Buckner’s Residential Treatment Center.
Hargrave’s mission was to bring Scouting “to kids who had never experienced anything like it in their lives,” he said. These children, victims of abuse and neglect and caught up in a cycle of repetitive offenses, “need an organization like the Boy Scouts to tell them that they are somebody,” he said.
Rob Hoffmann, a director at Circle 10 Council, said a move to Buckner was “consistent with the mission of Scouting … to be where kids need us.”
“Buckner had historically shown a dedication to helping kids, and that is what we needed — an organization motivated to seeing results in kids’ lives,” Hoffmann said.
With the blessing of Larry Mercer, administrator of Buckner Children and Family Services, Hargrave met weekly with the boys, teaching them first-year basics of Scouting such as knot-tying, cooking and fire-building. Over time, Hargrave said, the pre-teen boys, who undergo counseling and exhibit frequent violent behavior, were taking pride in themselves and what it means to wear a Boy Scout uniform.
However, not long after the troop was established, the residential treatment facility was closed, and the boys returned to their families or were placed in foster homes through Buckner. With that, Troop 191 dissolved. Hargrave, however, knew other boys at Buckner would benefit from the Scouts. After he obtained permission to begin a troop in another Buckner residential unit, Hargrave approached Harris, who was scoutmaster of Troop 890 in Plano, a group of 150 boys and 60 adult volunteers.
“Raymond knew how to run a first-year Scouting program,” Hargrave said. “He had even published a ‘how-to’ manual based on his experience with Troop 890.” Hargrave approached Harris and asked him if he “had a fire in his belly to be a Scoutmaster of a troop of eight-10 boys at Buckner.”
Harris accepted the task but admitted that going from a fine-tuned operation with an extensive volunteer base to Buckner left him apprehensive. “The first meeting was interesting because of the obvious difference between them and what I was used to dealing with,” Harris recalled. “Troop 890 in Plano was generally upper-middle-class kids who had parents who were very supportive of them and the whole Scouting experience.
“These boys at Buckner have had to learn about self-preservation all their lives. Just about everyone in their lives has tried to manipulate them in some way. Either that, or they were completely ignored. I had to gain their trust and be very patient.”
Harris took things slow when the troop started meeting. Although he “never set out to be their friend, but their scoutmaster,” Harris said the boys began responding to his respectful treatment.
“I treated each boy with dignity and approached him as if he were a mature adult,” Harris said. “I would say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’ to them when they would refer to me as ‘hey!’ But eventually, I started getting more ‘sirs’ and ‘Mr. Raymond’s.'” Troop 430 at Buckner Children’s Home took shape.
Harris realized the boys at Buckner may have come from a range of bad situations, but the Scouts were much more attentive than what he was used to through previous Scouting experiences.
“The kids from middle- and upper-class families get away with a lot,” he explained. “They tend to kid around a lot more and have shorter attention spans. With the guys at Buckner, they knew they were already walking a line. They knew that if they messed up — that would be it for them. They didn’t want to waste their chance at something good.”
Still involved with Troop 890, Harris included the Buckner Troop in 890’s activities, including camping trips.
Taking the troop camping for the first time was a “great experience,” Harris said. “It is very rewarding to take a kid who is completely unaware of outdoors and nature and teach him basic survival skills. Once kids are out camping, there is really no difference between them.”
Hargrave, who accompanied the Boy Scouts on the campout, said the performance and behavior of the Buckner troop was stellar and even earned them the campsite award, “which is no cakewalk.”
Both Harris and Hargrave said it was refreshing to see a time-tested formula like the Scouts work at Buckner Children’s Home.
“A lot of programs come and go as fads,” Hargrave said. “Only a few things have lasted and stood the test of time. And one of those things is Scouting. The founder of the Boy Scouts wrote in the early part of this century: ‘We have too many kids in urban areas with nothing to do. They need to get outdoors and learn to be self sufficient.’
“It sounds like he was saying that about the kids of today. Troop 430 at Buckner is a prime example of that.”
Recently, Chris was told he would be leaving Buckner and returning home, Harris said. He had made proper reformations in his life and come a long way since his admittance, “much of that due to the Scouts.”
However, there was a slight problem. Chris, once the angry, rebellious young man mocking the idea of Scouting, didn’t want to leave Buckner “if it meant leaving the Boy Scouts,” Harris recalled. “I think that speaks volumes about the principles to which the Boy Scouts hold dear.”