“As a council we cannot forget why we’re doing this work,” Harrington said.
Harrington began Scouting as a Cub Scout when he was eight years old in a small town in Indiana. He gained many friends and had a great experience, but in his last year of high school, Harrington dropped out of his troop because of the influence of some bad friends.The trajectory of his life was taking a bad turn until he had a chance to go on a trip to Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. There, he caught up with his old friends in Scouting; an event that would change him for the rest of his life.
“Being immersed in the wilderness, repairing trails, and backpacking, I reconnected with nature and the values of Scouting,” he said.
After seeing the value of Scouting first hand in his own youth, Harrington knew he wanted to be involved in helping young men make the transition in to manhood.
Later, while living in Chicago, Harrington was looking for a way to help the inner city boys he saw with little structure to their lives, surrounded by temptation to join the gangs, and other bad influences. An opportunity came while attending a Black Baptist service. While he was raised Catholic, Harrington often attended the Baptist services to be involved in the community. One day, a boy stood up and said that he wanted to start a Scout troop. As an Eagle Scout and member of the Order of the Arrow, Harrington then knew what he could do.
This little inner city troop consisted of six boys who would meet after school. Harrington organized the boys by taking the trouble makers and giving them leadership responsibilities. He ran the program as if it were a small town in Indiana. He and other amazing volunteers would take these boys on real camping trips outside the city; an experience many of them had never had.
“It was amazing to see these boys coming to troop meeting; they’d take their gang colors off and put the Scout colors on. Pretty soon you could tell that no matter where they live, or their circumstances, boys just want to be boys,” he said.
Scouting began to define his life; becoming a Scout Executive in Kansas and taking on other leadership responsibilities. He even meet his wife in the Scouts when she was a District Executive. But he never forgot—and could not forget—his own experience, or the boys in Chicago, or else he could not be an effective leader.
“Experiences we have shape how we approach our job,” he said to the council professionals and employees.
He urged the council to be concerned with the quality of all programs, to bring the real product to each boy and to be service oriented towards each unit.
Tom Harrington became the director of the BSA Western Region in August of this year and has been touring his area and meeting with western region councils.
Author: Melany Gardner | Marketing and Program Assistant, Utah National Parks Council