Published: Saturday, March 10, 2012
WEST JORDAN, UTAH
At first glance, Alex and Colten fit the profile of the thousands of young men in the Church who earn Scouting’s Eagle Award each year.
Colten, 16, enjoys water sports and was drawn to all of the merit badges that allowed him to be outdoors. One day he’d like to own his own business. His 17-year-old friend, Alex, counts the first aid merit badge as a personal favorite and plans to serve in the military or maybe become a psychologist.
But each young man says his personal journey that led them to Scouting’s highest rank included a few painful detours, twists and turns that likely differentiate them from most of the Scouts in the Church. They’ve known trouble in their young lives — trouble that jeopardized their future and even their very lives.
It’s a familiar story for the Boy Scouts enrolled at Utah’s West Ridge Academy — a private boarding school for teens in need. Students come to the school for a variety of reasons. Some struggle in traditional schools or suffer from low self-worth. Others face dramatic, dangerous challenges such as drug abuse and other high-risk behaviors and addictions. Most arrive at the academy wounded by negative experiences and influences.
West Ridge offers a traditional academic curriculum that guides students toward high school graduation. But the sprawling school located in a rural area of west Salt Lake County also provides a variety of athletics and other extracurricular activities designed to teach life-affirming lessons of accountability, hard work and achievement. Scouting — with its commitment to preparedness and performing good deeds — serves as an ideal supplement, said West Ridge Executive Director Ken Allen, a Church member.
The West Ridge troop has enjoyed remarkable success over the past five years. Some 55 young men here have earned their Eagle Award. The Church-sponsored troop is staffed by Scoutmasters, merit badge counselors and other volunteers from across the Salt Lake Valley. Troop members participate in the full Scouting program, including camping, hiking and a wide variety of other outdoor activities and fun.
Sports-minded members immediately recognize 7-foot-6-inch Shawn Bradley as a former BYU and professional basketball player. But Brother Bradley— who serves on the school’s board of directors — also answers to “dedicated Scouter.”
“I’m an Eagle Scout and I come from a long line of Eagles,” said the returned missionary who has become a popular mentor at West Ridge. “I’ve been around Scouting my whole life.”
His experiences working with the young men at West Ridge has only strengthened his beliefs in the value and potential of Scouting. The program’s anchoring principles of leadership, honesty and achievement, said Brother Bradley, are exactly what the students need to improve their lives and realize true happiness.
Many initially balk at the notion of wearing the Scout uniform, gathering for weekly troop meetings and working on challenging merit badges.
“But by month three or four, they catch the vision of Scouting,” he said. “They enjoy the service and the achievement. That’s when Scouting really takes off.”
A large percentage of the young men at the academy have never enjoyed the pleasure that can come from working hard to achieve a worthwhile goal. Scouting provides such opportunities, said Brother Allen. “The boys learn that if you learn to do difficult things [in Scouting], you will be able to do difficult things as an adult.”
Elder David Newton and Sister Sandy Newton are a missionary couple serving at West Ridge. Each week they work with the West Ridge students, offering spiritual support that supplements their academic efforts. “We do whatever we can do to help these young men realize who they are and that they have great potential in life,” said Elder Newton.
The Newtons are grateful the boys can participate in Scouting at the school, and they assist where they can. Elder Newton is a former mayor of West Jordan City, so he recently accompanied several of the boys to the city council meeting as part of their citizenship in the community merit badge.
“Scouting is the perfect situation for leaders and activities,” he said. “The program is dedicated to practical learning; those things they will be able to use in the future.”
Sister Newton said the benefits of Scouting at West Ridge extend beyond merit badges, achievement awards and outdoor adventure. “Scouting helps the boys realize their own self-worth in anything they do.”
© 2013 Deseret News Publishing Company
Reprinted with Permission from Deseret News Publishing Company