Boy Scouts Flourishing in New Hall with Community Help

Preparing for an upcoming hike by mixing together the key components of trail mix are these young scouts on Tuesday, October 24th. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson

 

In an age when the news and media are replete with evidence of declining morals across the generations, few things may be more refreshing or inspiring than witnessing a community’s efforts to help its youth become better rounded and more respectful individuals. At 48 Scouting Way in Calais, a new scout hall has been built on previously uncleared land, almost entirely through the donations of time, money, and materials of the extended community. While it previously catered primarily to male children, as a result of a new national policy, girls will be able to join the Cub Scouts on January 1st, 2018 – meaning the outdoors- and ethics-oriented organization will soon be open to all youth in the area.

The process of constructing the new hall has been a long one. According to Scoutmaster Ray Smale, it’s been over eight years in development. Prior to the new building, the scouts were using a former storage building located next to the skate park. The old building had one door, no windows, no plumbing, no insulation, and it was not handicap accessible. “We had to make the decision as to whether we wanted to invest in the old building or start looking for a new location,” Smale explained. 

With the help of City Manager Jim Porter, Smale toured a few potential spots that the city offered to donate to the organization for the purpose of developing and building a new scout hall. When Smale and Porter came to the new location, Smale knew instantly that the scouts had found their new home. “We’re in the woods, but we’re still right in the middle of town,” Smale said. “We’ve been able to do so much with the kids here that we could never do two blocks away.”

The city donated three acres of land to the scouts, and volunteers immediately set about clearing the space necessary for the hall and developing a road to reach the building. The land is heavily wooded, with natural streams and abundant wildlife. Seventeen acres surround the scout hall, providing land for the scouts to hike, camp, perform tree and wildlife identification, and experiment with natural processes such as composting. 

Once the land was cleared and the road made traversable, volunteers built the scout hall from the ground up. The list of donors is impressive, and more continue to be added to it on a regular basis. Richard Mingo Construction did a substantial amount of ground work and put in the septic tank, Sargent Corporation drilled through the ledge to create an area to house the septic tank, Riverside Electric and the students of Washington County Community College helped with the electrical wiring, A & E Plumbing helped with the plumbing, EBS donated sheetrock, Robbins Lumber of Searsmont donated lumber, and many others have made financial or material contributions. Most recently, the scouts succeeded in raising $2,500 for a heating system by giving car washes and doing bottle drives, and Down East Credit Union offered to match that amount to enable them to purchase the heating pump. V.L. Tammaro will be installing the pump next month. “We’ve been very fortunate with the community,” Smale said. “Without the community, we wouldn’t have been able to get this done.”

While most of the structural elements are finished, still more donations are needed to complete the building. Most of the windows are in place thanks to donors such as Dr. Charles McHugh and Dave Peters, but four more windows are awaiting donors before being placed. Every donor has a placard on the window they helped to fund. Approximately $2,200 in insulation is needed to finish the ceiling, a task that, once complete, will enable the scouts to keep the hall open and efficient year-round. Already, the hall utilizes only 140 gallons of heating oil each year, partly due to investing in high-quality materials such as Roxul insulation. 

Once it’s completed, Smale plans to enable organizations around the community to use the scout hall for private events for a small fee. The collected fees will ensure the building is kept in perfect condition and provide an endowment for potentially large repairs. 

Beyond the building itself, the scouts embody what it means to be a contributing member of the community, as Smale explained. 

Looking Ahead with the Scouts of Calais

Since being founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has retained a significant portion of its original creed. Scouts are taught to be prepared, and they are exposed to a range of different circumstances that test their merit and their nerve. 

“We have a ball,” said Smale. “I’ve had these kids out camping in negative eight degrees in the snow. We’ve slept under the stars in snow shelters and built igloos… we did four days on the Machias River one year.” During one white water rafting trip, the whole troop passed by an eagle sitting on a rock just three to four feet from the kayaks. “Where else could you ever say that you were three to four feet from an eagle in the wild?” This year, the scouts are preparing for a trip to Massachusetts where they will spend a night in Battleship Cove on the USS Massachusetts. “Whatever the kids want to do. It’s their program. I say to them, ‘Tell us what you want to do and we’ll see if we can make it happen.”

Aside from myriad outdoor adventures, scouts engage in community service and are reminded constantly about the Scout’s Law – “A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.” In practical use, Smale explains it further. “We teach them patriotism, we teach them pride, we teach them to respect each other. We’re not afraid to talk about the church. All the basic principles of life and of common decency and morals.”

Smale, who has been involved in the scouts for more than forty years, remembers first coming to Calais and finding one engaged adult and three participating children. From that point, the scouts have continued to grow to approximately forty active scouts each year. The scouts of Calais have continually distinguished themselves, with most Cub Scouts earning the highest badge – the Arrow of Light – and three Boy Scouts earning the rank of Eagle in the decade since Smale has become Scoutmaster. Smale sees a great deal of promise in the current group he is working with, expressing that he thinks there will be at least a couple that earn Eagle Scout.

There are complications that interfere with scouting, Smale explains. Around 14 or so, scouts becoming afflicted by “fumes – gas fumes, perfumes, that kind of thing.” The pressure to participate in sports nearly every day of the week can also cause many scouts to drop out. The difference between his own youth and the modern era is pronounced, Smale said. While as a scout in high school, Smale was on the football team, the track team, and he had a job. “Kids today only have a choice of one thing. We’re not making these kids more rounded for their future. We should be giving them as many opportunities as they can get.”

There are fees associated with being a boy scout. The membership fee and dues cover insurance for the scouts at all times. Scouts also have to purchase uniforms and books. With that said, however, Smale said that he is more than willing to work with families on an individual basis to ensure that everyone who wants to join can. “I’m not going to prevent a kid from participating if they can’t afford it,” Smale said. “The program was there for me when I was kid. We were poor. My scoutmaster gave to me when I was kid, so I always feel that I’ve got to pay it forward.”

More and more barriers to being a scout are being removed, including one that has prevented young girls from participating in the program. While that barrier has always been in place, Smale said he has always allowed siblings of scouts to come on their trips. “I’ve never said no,” Smale said. “This is a family program. We want the families along.”

Following a change in the national policy, girls will be able to join Cub Scouts in 2018, and in 2019, they will be able to join the Boy Scouts, giving them the ability to earn the prestigious Eagle title themselves. “The girls will be doing the same exact program the boys do,” Smale said. “Learning how to use the axe, sharpen the knife, everything the boys do.” Female advisors will accompany the girls on any field trips. 

As the national organization embraces a philosophy of equality and continues to emphasize its focus on producing youth that are prepared to meet their futures, it’s clear that the Boy Scouts are an unshakable part of this community’s foundation.

Assisting with the installation of insulation at the new Scout Hall at 48 Scouting Way are, left to right: Eagle Scout Nathan Ingersoll, Bernie Yost, and Mark Barnard. (Photo by Lura Jackson)