At the Middle Tennessee Council’s Boxwell Reservation, Scouts learn to shoot a bow and arrow, swim, and survive in the wilderness.
Starting next summer, thanks to some generous donors and forward-thinking Scouters, they’ll also learn to fix a leaky faucet, paint a house and change a car’s oil.
Those essential life lessons will be delivered inside a new skilled trades center, set to open in time for summer camp in 2022. The facility will offer Scouts a safe, interactive way to experience skilled trades like welding, plumbing, electrical work, painting and automotive maintenance — and to earn a merit badge while doing it.
“In today’s environment, youth are taught that the only way to a successful career is by receiving a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college,” says Jason Flannery, the council’s camping director and the man who dreamed up this project years ago. “While that is true for many young people, there are those for whom college is not the best path. These youth are often not exposed to the exciting and professionally rewarding arena of the skilled trades.”
The Roy Grindstaff Skilled Trades Center, named after a master electrician who belonged to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union for more than 60 years, aims to change that.
“The skilled trades are not well represented in middle and high schools, and youth are missing out on these skills,” says Flannery, an Eagle Scout. “Personally, I have no idea how to weld, do plumbing or electrical work. I feel that Scouts should be taught those life skills to help them become well-rounded adults.”
Jobs in the skilled trades are in demand, secure and often pay well. But even those Scouts who might not pursue a career in the skilled trades will still benefit from the journey of discovery that’s a fundamental element of earning a merit badge.
At the Skilled Trades Center, Scouts will learn from experts as they earn merit badges like Automotive Maintenance, Electricity, Home Repairs, Painting, Plumbing and Welding. The specialized nature of those merit badges means that Scouts sometimes have trouble finding qualified counselors on their own. That won’t be a problem in the Middle Tennessee Council.
The facility also will include an audiovisual space with two-way video capabilities, enabling merit badge counselors from anywhere in the world to share their expertise for merit badges like American Business, American Labor and Architecture.
‘A generous community’
While some people count down the days until a family vacation, Flannery is counting down to June 2022, when the Skilled Trades Center will open its doors to Scouts.
“I am ecstatic about that day, because like going to Disney, it will be a dream come true,” he says.
Flannery, who grew up going to Boxwell as a Scout in the Middle Tennessee Council, has been hoping for such a facility for years.
Creating this kind of a place costs money, so Flannery and his colleagues were thrilled to see local leaders step up to support Scouting.
At the facility’s groundbreaking last month, Scout Executive Larry Brown publicly thanked those generous donors: The Maddox Foundation in Hernando, Miss., and Drs. Pamela and Philip Pfeffer and the Pfeffer Foundation of St. Petersburg, Fla.
“The reason the Middle Tennessee Council is able to have successful programs and facilities is because of a generous community and capable volunteers and staff,” Brown says.
Recruiting and retention
The merit badges offered at the Skilled Trades Center are designed for older Scouts — young people 13 and up. By offering programs that resonate with this older audience, the council can encourage Scouts to return to summer camp year after year.
“Scouts are already excited about bows and arrows and aquatics,” Flannery says. “This will be yet another activity to look forward to at camp. It may also increase camp attendance, which would be a benefit both to Scouts and the council.”
It’s not hard to imagine the facility having a positive impact on recruiting, too.
“Scouts will hear about these awesome new programs that will be offered in a cool new building at Boxwell,” Flannery says. “This will draw in new Scouts to try new things at camp.”
And maybe, says Scout Executive Brown, the Skilled Trades Center will inspire a future career or lifelong hobby.
“Our country needs people trained in the skilled trades who have also gained the values and integrity taught by Scouting programs,” Brown says. “This will be an important way for the council to help with that effort.”