By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
In the early 1980s, Randall Barnett of Asheville, North Carolina, became involved with Boy Scout Troop 85 after a friend asked for his help. The troop served only boys with disabilities.
Barnett said over the telephone, “My friend (the Scoutmaster) also taught special education. One day, I visited his school during lunch, became an assistant Scoutmaster, and soon fell in love with those boys. I learned there was a big difference between 'regular' and special needs boys in Scouting, and the special needs boys were more fun.”
Barnett, 58, who had been Scoutmaster of another troop, eventually headed Troop 85, which today has about 50 members. All the Scouts have a disability, such as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome or a mobility disability. Barnett learned early on that his Scouts cherished more the fun activities and pride of wearing a Scout uniform than earning merit badges and advancing in rank, although over the years he has had one Life Scout, a rank just below Eagle.
Describing one fun activity, he said, “Annually, our local (minor league) baseball team has a Scouting night where they let Scouts spend all night in the outfield camping after a game. At 3 a.m., on one of those nights, and with Scouts asleep in tents or under the stars, the sprinklers came on. The groundskeeper had forgotten to turn them off. I had to scoop up some boys and put them in their wheelchairs and get them out of the water.”
He takes his Scouts to local camporees and the National Jamboree. Scouts from other troops often mention the “cheerfulness” of Troop 85 members, which Barnett said was a quality found in the Scout law.
Barnett said, “We had a troop reunion in the '90s and many boys and parents came back. One parent said his son had been in a group home, gone hiking one day, become separated from the group, and been lost for more than four hours. The parent, who was misty-eyed and emotional telling the story, said he felt skills his son had learned through Troop 85 had helped him survive being in the forest alone until his rescue. That meant a lot hearing that from a parent. The parent wanted to make sure I knew Scouting had made a difference in his son's life.”
Barnett, a real estate agent, said he was aware of only one other troop for Scouts with disabilities in North Carolina.
Facebook: Disabilities by Daniel J. Vance. [Sponsored by Blue Valley Sod.]