Dr. Ted Kadet was looking for activities that would help him grow closer to his stepson with special needs when he came across a BSA guidebook on serving youth with disabilities.
“I was struck by the ability to take the Scouting program and accommodate it for a child with special needs,” he says.
Finding no nearby units that he felt would work for his family, he started his own. And more than 25 years later, Troop 419 in Skyway, Wash., is still going strong.
The guidebook Kadet used back then has since been replaced by the BSA’s Inclusion Toolbox, but the message is the same: Scouting is great for kids with disabilities and special needs.
Over the decades, the flexibility of the program — combined with Kadet’s passion and hard work — has helped not only his own family, but also dozens of other families in the Seattle area.
“It just works so fabulously for those with special needs,” he says.
At Troop 419’s Court of Honor in January, the unit’s members, along with representatives from the Chief Seattle Council and Skyway Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9430, which sponsors the troop, officially thanked the longtime Scoutmaster. Families presented an album of photos capturing the Scouts’ activities over the years.
He was also presented with the Special Needs Scouting Service Award.
“His approach is that everybody can learn — everybody,” says longtime Troop 419 committee chair Cathy DeLeon. “They might need a little different accommodations. But everybody can learn. That’s why we’ve stayed in the troop all these years.”
Kadet is an optometric physician specializing in vision therapy, as he describes it, “rebuilding the ability of the eyes and brain to work together,” perhaps for a child who is underachieving at school or has suffered brain trauma.
You can say he knows a few things about helping people with special challenges. And he says Scouting has been the perfect fit for so many of the families who have joined his troop along the way.
Founding the troop
Colin Silvestri was 12 years old when his mother and Kadet were married. Kadet had an older son who had been active in Scouting and had a positive experience in the program, but Kadet felt that Colin would struggle to thrive in a traditional troop.
Colin suffered from seizures early in his life. Physically, he’s fine. He’s an advanced downhill ski racer for the SKIHAWKS, a Special Olympics ski racing team. But he is challenged in some aspects of intellect and reasoning.
Kadet began recruiting other families from Colin’s special-needs school, and Troop 419 was born.
According to the BSA’s Guide to Advancement, Scouts with special needs may be allowed to participate as youth members beyond the age of eligibility by submitting a Request for Registration Beyond the Age of Eligibility form that must be approved by the local council.
Colin, now 39, has been in Troop 419 from the beginning and is still active. Many other families choose to stay active in the troop for more than a decade.
DeLeon, her husband, and her son David have been members for more than 20 years.
“We had a sense that Scouting could be positive for kids growing up,” Cathy says. “But I don’t think we ever had any intention that David would be in Scouts for years and years and years.
“It has become one of those really foundational things in his life.”
Kadet runs the troop similar to how Cubmasters run modern Cub Scout packs. Every activity is a family activity. There are no patrols. Scouts work on merit badges and advancement with the entire troop and their parents.
Sometimes Kadet serves as the merit badge counselor. Many times, other parents lead activities.
If you stay in the troop long enough, there’s a chance you might work on the same merit badge twice. That’s OK. All the better to review that knowledge so it stays fresh in your mind.
Over the years, three members of Troop 419 have earned the rank of Eagle.
Summer camp fun
The BSA encourages special-needs units to participate in Scouting activities at the district, council, area, regional or national levels alongside other youth.
One of the highlights of Troop 419’s annual program is summer camp at Camp Pigott, a Chief Seattle Council camp. They participate in merit badge classes and other programs with the rest of the campers. Sometimes, camp staffers have questions for Kadet about how his Scouts can meet certain requirements. Without exception, the families and camp staffers work out a solution.
“Their programs work really well not only for our Scouts, but also for the older Scouts who are running the camp programs,” Kadet says. “They have to figure out how to make their program work for Scouts with special needs, and we are able to help them through it.”
The only aspect of camp that Kadet avoids are the patrol competitions.
“Colin learned to tie his shoes at a late age,” Kadet says. “The last thing he needs is to be in a contest to see who can be the fastest to tie a square knot.
“Competitive activities just don’t sit well with our guys. And I’ve never had a problem with not participating in something that we don’t think is appropriate. The program has been terrific finding other things we can do to make up for some activity that isn’t appropriate for us.”
Not slowing down
Tom Kerr has two sons who earned the rank of Eagle in traditional Scout units. His youngest son, Jadon, has Down syndrome and struggled to find his place in traditional troops.
Then, Tom found Troop 419. Jadon has advanced from Tenderfoot to Star and has earned nearly 30 merit badges since.
“He loves going to Scout meetings and activities and attending summer camp with Ted and his fellow Scouts,” Kerr says. “Scout meetings and activities are tailored for the boys to make things fun and productive for them.
“This troop has been a godsend for Jadon and our family.”
Kadet, a talented ukulele player, has made music an important part of the group’s activities.
At the end of their week in summer camp, the Scouts and their parents perform a song in which they poke fun at a camp staffer. Kadet says the tradition has become so popular that the staff members consider it an honor to be chosen as the subject of a Troop 419 song.
Kadet has found that many of the Scouts respond well to singing.
“We’ve had some Scouts over the years who could sing better than they could talk,” he says. “For some of the Scouts, it’s really been a major breakthrough.
“As a result of singing, they learn to verbally communicate better.”
Kadet, now 79, says he has no plans to stop leading Troop 419. The coronavirus pandemic slowed the troop — they missed summer camp for the first time, and virtual meetings just don’t work for this group — but things picked up again this spring as the troop continued its progress on the Woodworking merit badge, working as a team on an S-shaped bookcase that will stay at the VFW building once it’s done.
“It’s been a rewarding experience to be doing this,” Kadet says. “It’s been terrific fun over the years. I think we’ve had a definite impact on some Scouts who have gone on to do whatever they’re doing with their lives.
“The Scouting experience was meaningful to them.”
Click here for more information on serving Scouts with special needs and disabilities.
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