It’s right there on the Statue of Liberty for all the world to see: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … ”
But for Michael Nebeker and his fellow Scouting volunteers in Utah, those are more than just words. They’re a way of life.
Nebeker is chairman of the Utah Refugee Scout Program, which introduces refugees families to the value of Scouting.
“Refugee moms and dads are stretched to the max dealing with their new lives in America and have little time and capacity to introduce their sons to the great outdoors,” Nebeker says. “The refugee Scouts love the outdoors, adventure, camping, hiking, swimming — along with the sense of belonging to something important.”
The most recent manifestation of the power of the Utah Refugee Scout Program happened on Sept. 28. On that day, 200 refugee Scouts from 14 different countries were honored at the program’s first combined court of honor. One Scout, born in a refugee camp in Thailand and raised by a single mom, was presented the Eagle Scout Award.
The court of honor recognized Scouts from Burundi, Congo, Iraq, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda and Yemen.
Each refugee family escaped the unique challenges of their homeland to find a new home in Utah. With the help of Scouting, they’re learning the American dream can belong to them, too.
Nebeker says these Scouts “love the Scout Oath and Law and the order and discipline that Scouting brings to their lives. They love being exposed to the world of merit badges and advancement. Scouting has and is preparing them for college, missions, marriage, family and careers.”
With open arms
The Scouting community in Utah has welcomed these refugee families with open arms, Nebeker says.
“Utah is a remarkable and diverse community,” he says. “Scout Troops from around the Salt Lake Valley reach out constantly with invitations to join activities.”
And while the refugee Scouts benefit from joining Scout troops, the opposite also is true.
“These refugee boys bring an enthusiasm and zest for life and adventure that many of our caucasian boys are losing,” Nebeker says.
There’s a lot of rhetoric about refugees these days, but Nebeker and his fellow Scouting volunteers aren’t joining the fray. They’re taking action. Why?
Because “it’s the right thing to do,” he says. “We help transform these boys and they, in turn, have transformed us.”