It’s been 11 years since Tim Burns first spotted the Eagle Scout badge in his Scout Handbook.
He knew he wanted it — though, like most new Scouts, he didn’t fully understand all the hard work it would take to get there.
He does now. Last month, Tim earned the Eagle Scout Award as part of Troop 263, a troop for Scouts with special needs in the Dallas-based Circle Ten Council.
Tim is 28 and has Down syndrome. Like all Scouts with physical or intellectual disabilities, he was given extra time to complete Scouting’s requirements.
For his dad, Ben Burns, that extra time has made the family’s journey even more special. Rather than hurrying to complete requirements by a certain date, Tim has been able to enjoy Scouting at his own pace.
”Scouting should be fun,” Ben says. “We learned to camp, cook, hike, swim and do so many activities we never would have done without Scouting. So in a way, having a disability allowed us to really relax and enjoy the journey.”
More about Tim and Troop 263
Tim was a founding member of Troop 263, which was formed in 2010. Over the past few years, they’ve taken trips to the Fort Worth Zoo, watched the Harlem Globetrotters and visited the headquarters of Southwest Airlines.
They camp together, earn merit badges (Tim has 44) and enjoy the character-building experiences only found in Scouting.
The Scouts in Troop 263 complete the same or similarly rigorous requirements as all other Scouts with one exception: the time limit.
Section 10 of the BSA’s Guide to Advancement covers this in detail, but it all boils down to this line: “Youth and adults who are developmentally disabled, or youth with severe physical challenges, may be considered for registration beyond the age of eligibility for their program: age 11 or older for a Cub Scout, 18 or older for a Scouts BSA member, or 21 or older as a Venturer or Sea Scout.”
Ben, Troop 263’s Scoutmaster, has also requested and been approved to use alternative merit badges for his Scouts.
Tim’s biggest challenge is his communication skills, and so Ben was given the OK to make some substitutions. Tim earned the Photography merit badge instead of Communication, Gardening instead of Personal Management and Nature instead of Citizenship in the World.
“We always selected badges we felt were just as difficult as the one we were replacing, and every requirement has to be completed,” Ben says. “The important thing is the time. Don’t try and rush things. Take your time and do things one step at a time.”
How Scouting has helped Tim (and vice versa)
Tim has learned to be fairly self-sufficient, Ben says, and “Scouting has played a huge role in this.”
Ben and his wife, Marilyn, still help Tim with money, time management and communication.
“He is extremely shy, partly because of his inability to make himself understood,” Ben says. “So taking charge and being a leader was a real challenge. As Scoutmaster, I usually pair up those who have troubles communicating with those who have that as a strength. So when Tim was senior patrol leader, his assistant senior patrol leader would get direction from Tim and would pass that information along.”
Parental involvement is huge in Troop 263 — and it goes beyond the contributions of Ben and Marilyn. Deb Grimes, for example, runs the kitchen and teaches the Scouts how to handle food, plan menus and cook.
“Many of our other parents were involved in teaching different skills from first aid to basic camping skills,” Ben says.
Tim also got the help from a family friend for his Eagle project. He wanted to do something construction-based, so he recruited Gus Aguire, who has done professional construction, for advice and guidance. For the project, Tim and his volunteers built wooden window valances for Soaring Eagle Center, his day habilitation service.
“He learned the importance of planning, measuring twice for everything and the use of a lot of tools, including some power tools,” Ben says.
Working with Scouts who have special needs
Ben has worked with dozens of Scouts with special needs over the years. He’s seen a range of families: those who want their Scout to earn Eagle in three or four years and those who see the Eagle rank as a nice but secondary goal.
“My recommendation is don’t rush it,” Ben says. “But don’t underestimate them or sell them short. I push our Scouts to the very edge of what I think they can do and then a bit more. If they can’t do something, don’t give up. Figure out how to make it a bit easier for them, or a different approach, but keep trying. If they get frustrated, move on to something else and come back to that later.”
But the most important part: keep it fun and keep them in Scouting. Because the world needs Scouting right now more than ever, and Scouting needs young people like Tim Burns.
“We are losing so much of our heritage every day — the ability to go out and fish, hike, camp, build a fire, survive in the wilderness, cook and so much more,” Ben says. “Scouting teaches youth to respect America and what she really stands for.”