By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Parents are increasingly concerned with the amount of time children spend in front of screens and yearn for their children to make meaningful connections with peers and Christ, say leaders of local scouting groups.
Scouting, they say, can provide the camaraderie and spiritual growth children need.
Catholic scouting groups are essentially a form of youth ministry, said Karl Dolson, director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Archdiocese of Louisville.
More than 40 parishes and schools in the archdiocese sponsor scouting units. And organizers are encouraging pastors and parish staff to view scouting, in its many forms, as another way of reaching out to youth.
The Archdiocese of Louisville Catholic Committee on Scouting was formed several years ago to serve as a resource for Scouts, units, leaders and parishes to “promote all Catholic scouting as an important element of youth ministry,” Dolson noted in a recent interview.
The Archdiocese of Louisville Catholic Committee on Scouting includes four scouting organizations: Girls Scouts of Kentuckiana, Boy Scouts of America, American Heritage Girls and the Troops of St. George. The ACCS encourages all units to deepen their Catholic identity and keep Jesus at their core, Dolson said.
Father Troy Overton, pastor of St. Edward Church and a scouting enthusiast, said scouting has numerous benefits for young Catholics.
“Scouting captures kids on different levels, some who are of the Catholic faith and some who are not,” he said. “For me, it’s a very important tool in the box in how to reach kids,” he said in an interview last week.
To encourage scouting in his parish, Father Overton said he decided to become personally engaged in the ministry and not just simply sign-off on the charter.
“I try to make scouting Sunday a big deal. I go to the award ceremony at the Cathedral. I
encourage the scout units to do the religious emblems and awards that are offered,” he said.
Father Overton said scouting gives kids a way to connect with a faith community and can reengage adult leaders, as well.
“In today’s society, kids need to have alternative experiences than just sitting at home with some electronic device constantly checking email and social media. They need organized activities,” he said.
Scouting also provides an avenue to promote community service and peer leadership and an opportunity to build leadership skills, he said.
Ann Russo, a member of the archdiocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting representing the Girl Scouts, said she tries to incorporate the faith as much as she can with her kindergarten-aged Scouts.
“We start every meeting with prayer. We start with the Hail Mary,” said Russo, a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Church who has been involved with Girl Scouts for 29 years.
In addition to prayer, Russo said her troop talks about serving others and performs service throughout the year. They make rosaries for people in the hospital and sing Christmas carols for seniors.
Anna Heitkemper, a member of the archdiocesan Catholic Committee on Scoutingrepresenting the American Heritage Girls, said the AHG’s mission is to “build women of integrity through service to God, family, country and community.”
“Because Christ is at the heart of our mission, we integrate our faith into everything we do. For every activity we plan, our first question is ‘How will this bring the girls closer to Christ?’ ” said Heitkemper, who helps lead the AHG troop at St. Martin of Tours Church.
The American Heritage Girls is designed for ages 5 to 18. It was formed in 1995 as an ecumenical, Christ-centered character-building program, Heitkemper said. In Louisville, there are about 13 troops with about 500 girls. The troop at St. Martin of Tours is the only local troop chartered by a Catholic organization and has about 20 girls.
John Sinclair, a member of the archdiocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting, represents the Troops of St. George and leads a joint troop for St. Christopher Church in Radcliff, Ky., and St. Martin of Tours Church in Flaherty, Ky.
“I think it’s integral to the youth ministry program. It’s not separate because we are talking about formation. It’s just a different method,” said Sinclair, a parishioner of St. Christopher.
The Troops of St. George are a Catholic, outdoor group for fathers and sons with a special focus on the sacraments, Sinclair said. The organization was founded in 2013 and has about 50 troops in 23 states. The troop at St. Christopher/St. Martin is the only TSG in the archdiocese.
Charlie Hulsman, chairman of the archdiocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting and longtime Boy Scout organizer, said whether Scout leaders know it or not they serve as mentors and role models to the young people they serve.
“I hope the effect we as leaders have on young men will mold their lives and help make them fine citizens,” he said.
Hulsman said Scout units and parishes can find ways to work together.
“You could work together to promote events. Boy Scouts always host a food drive in November. Perhaps troops could invite youth groups to join in those things,” said Hulsman, who also heads the Boy Scouts’ Catholic Committee of Scouting, separate from the ACCS.
Hulsman noted that the ACCS is considering formation sessions for adult leaders of the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, American Heritage Girls and the Troops of St. George.
To learn more about the Archdiocese of Louisville Catholic Committee on Scouting or the four Scout organizations it includes, visit archlouccs.org.