Across the country, parents sign up their children for Boy Scout programs as early as 7 years old.
They grow up spending their summers camping, hiking and doing community service until they become Eagle Scouts, the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scout program. The survival and leadership skills learned throughout the program have helped create successful CEO’s and even U.S. presidents.
But when Roz Hussin, a low-income mother of two boys, wanted her children to have the scouting experience as they were growing up, she faced a lot of financial challenges.
Many parents face similar obstacles, and the Cornhusker Council, which serves three scouting districts in southeastern Nebraska, recognized the issue. The organization has committed to help children join the Boy Scouts — regardless of their circumstances, ethnic background or social class — through a program called ScoutREACH.
Hussin, who has watched both of her sons advance to Eagle Scout, was inspired to help others do the same regardless of barriers, financial or otherwise. Two years ago, she attending a Boy Scouts fundraising event. Although she couldn't contribute monetarily, she was more than happy to volunteer her time.
Her words and actions resonated with the Cornhusker Council. At that time, ScoutREACH was in place but didn't have the resources to effectively reach out to interested would-be scouts, many of who were from diverse communities. It lacked funds, manpower and exposure.
In stepped Hussin, who helped create the ScoutREACH Scholars program. The program helps train university students to lead K-8 students in scouting activities.
Through the program, University of Nebraska-Lincoln students, who are given training and guidance, gain three credits and can earn scholarship money.
The program is a three-way collaboration between the Boy Scouts of America Cornhusker Council Impact District, the UNL Office of Civic Engagement and Lincoln Public Schools.
Akeem Holmes, who now leads the day-to-day program, was not a Boy Scout and understood what it felt like to be excluded because he didn't have the financial means to join. That motivates him today to expand the program to reach as many youngsters as possible.
"We want to impact as many kids as we can," he said. "We want them to experience things like camping and other wholesome activities."
The ScoutREACH program slightly differs from traditional scouting. Its service focuses on taking the mission of scouting to all rural and urban communities so that every youth has the opportunity to benefit from the scouting program.
“Looking at the traditional model of scouting, it automatically deletes access to families who can’t afford it or who aren’t familiar with scouting because of culture,” Hussin said. “Historically it’s been very homogeneous.”
Now the goal is keeping momentum by moving forward, said Hussin, who serves as a program adviser and district commissioner.
“We don’t need to keep reinventing the wheel,” Hussin said. “You just need to find existing structures and work with them.”
When the ScoutREACH program resurfaced two years ago, it started with 40 children and few resources. Today, it serves more than 420 children in Nebraska and continues to expand.
ScoutREACH focuses on leadership and character development, just like any other Boy Scouts program. But unlike other programs, it isn’t bound by geography.
The program isn’t limited to one district. It’s continuously growing, so more children in Nebraska can have the scouting experience, despite their circumstances.
It's proved to be so successful that other states have used it as a model for their ScoutREACH programs.
The program’s growth is due to several factors, but Hussin said the main reason is because everyone involved is personally invested.
They give their time and passion to make sure all children have access to scouting.
Currently, there are 47 University of Nebraska-Lincoln students who serve as ScoutREACH Scholars. They create lesson plans and activities for children and visit elementary schools every Friday.
Joe Contreras, a ScoutREACH Scholar who recently graduated, never had the opportunity to participate in Boy Scouts growing up. He has become passionate about making the scouting experience accessible to everyone because of his involvement in the program.
“I’m going to make sure my kids experience scouting,” he said. “Personally helping children experience scouting made me realize how rewarding it can be."
On Friday, he was one of two scholars to receive the Above and Beyond Scholar award, which is given to ScoutREACH Scholars who go the extra mile for their service.
To keep the program running, ScoutREACH needs more scholars like Contreras.
"Hiring the right people has helped us grow," Hussin said. "We want to continue doing so."