Scouting offers troubled boys a healthier alternative

06/14/2014 4:57 PM

03/03/2015 12:24 PM

Isaac Sandoval was 14 and on the brink of trouble in his eastside neighborhood when a friend suggested he check out the Boy Scouts Scouting Through Soccer Program.

Within months of joining, he was forming healthy friendships with other boys and adults in the program, learning leadership and life skills that he says opened his eyes to a bigger, brighter world.

Attending Camp Grimes, the summer camp run by the Mecklenburg County Council of Boy Scouts in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, made his commitment to living a positive, healthy life even stronger.

“It distracted me from stuff that I was doing,” he says.

Now 22, Sandoval hasn’t missed a single summer at Camp Grimes, returning as a volunteer after aging out of Boy Scouts at 18 and graduating from Garinger High School. He is an employee of the Mecklenburg County Council of the Boy Scouts, helping administer programs and shepherding Scouts and troop leaders through the program.

Sandoval runs his own Scouting Through Soccer troop now. He’s hoping that about half of his 10-member troop will go to Camp Grimes with him this summer.

“The experience is overwhelming,” he says. “I fell in love with it.”

The camp, open to Scouts between the ages of 101/2 and 18, costs $260 for a one-week session. To give boys from low-income families a chance to attend, the program makes scholarships available, through donations from the Charlotte Observer Summer Camp Fund and other area groups.

This summer, 57 Scouts will attend Camp Grimes through the Observer’s Summer Camp Fund.

Thanks to the generosity of readers, as well as matching grants and corporate donations, more than 260 kids will attend 14 camps this summer through the Summer Camp Fund. This is the fund’s sixth year.

Because many boys in the Scouting Through Soccer program have never gone away to camp before, convincing the parents is sometimes a tricky task, program organizers say.

But once there, the boys are able to earn scores of merit badges in areas such as swimming and riflery, welding and water-skiing.

Mornings are spent in structured classes and activities, earning badges and working on skills. In the afternoons, there’s free time to swim in the lake and play sports. Scouts sleep on cots in tents or cabins.

Scout leaders who run the program say all boys benefit from scouting, but those who may be at risk for getting into trouble especially do. The Scouting Through Soccer program is designed to make scouting approachable for Latino and other minority youths.

In many Latin American countries, scouting is reserved for financially well-off families, says Hector Abreu, director of the Scouting Through Soccer Program at the Mecklenburg County Council of the Boy Scouts.

Camp Grimes is a big draw for some boys because it gives them a chance to earn multiple merit badges in a one-week span.

“Boys like to prove themselves by accomplishing tasks. So while being able to start a fire in their neighborhood might not be a necessary skill, to be able to do it boosts self-confidence,” says Justin Lewter, director of Exploring & Special Initiatives for the Mecklenburg County Council of the Boy Scouts.

“It boosts your self-esteem to know that you can learn to do things, so you approach the next challenge more courageous and willing to try,” he said.

Kids who attend camp “have a greater sense of camaraderie” with their troop-mates, Lewter says. “Whereas they knew each other as teammates, they now know each other as bunkmates.”

Michael Palma, 15, is about to embark on his fifth summer at Camp Grimes.

He’s excited about showing camp newcomers the ropes and sharing his passion for the place.

“You try new stuff, and you learn about the wild, how to protect wildlife, and how to take care of yourself,” says Palma, an incoming ninth-grader at Marie G. Davis Learning Language Academy.

His mom, Lynn Palma, volunteers with the Boy Scouts by helping get the word out about Scouting Through Soccer in the local Latino community.

“Camp Grimes gives kids the opportunity to get away from the electronic world,” Lynn Palma says. “They get that outdoor experience that in most places of the city of Charlotte, you don’t get.”

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