Youth scouting programs have a long history in the United States. Perhaps the two most well known scouting organizations throughout the country are the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. But newer groups like the American Heritage Girls and Trail Life USA are on the rise in recent years.
Many parishes in Alaska and around the country host youth scouting troops and the church has a long history of supporting and ministering to the various scouting organizations.
Thomas Balensiefer is the religious emblems coordinator for the Archdiocese of Anchorage. When it comes to scouting he said the Catholic Church sees it as an opportunity for youth ministry.
Balensiefer noted that the Catholic Church has a national committee on scouting that encourages parishes to form local councils and supports diocesan committees for scouting. It also provides training and programs for youth and leaders.
The Archdiocese of Anchorage has a committee on Catholic Scouting. Its role is to help scouts grow in their faith while earning religious awards and patches. Kim Bakic, secretary for the committee, stresses the importance of the awards because while scouts earn these awards, “they’re learning about their faith walk.”
SEEKING CHRISTIAN FORMATION
Many parents now desire more explicitly Christian scouting groups that prioritize the faith. While local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, which are chartered at parishes, incorporate Catholic principles into their troops, the national organizations have de-emphasized the Christian foundation on which they began.
Some Alaska parents have opted for one of the newer scouting alternatives, which have developed around the country and are growing quickly. Two of the most well known programs are American Heritage Girls and Trail Life USA. Trail Life USA has a chartered troop at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage, and American Heritage Girls has chartered troops at St. Andrew Church in Eagle River and Sacred Heart Church in Wasilla.
Kristyne Montero coordinates American Heritage Girls in Eagle River, where she and her children have been involved since moving to Alaska seven years ago.
“First and foremost, it’s a Christ centered program — a character-building program that focuses on spiritual growth, leadership and skill development,” she said.
Most American Heritage Girls troops are chartered by a church, Montero added.
“So for parents and individuals who are looking for an opportunity for their girls to fellowship with other young ladies and women looking to instill integrity and a sense of community, a sense of patriotism, and skills with people of like-minded values, it would be the program that I recommend,” she said.
This is precisely why Robyn and John Woyte chose American Heritage Girls for their daughters.
“It is a Christ-centered, faith-based organization,” said Robyn, who was a troop leader. “It was important to us to find a group that would reinforce their faith formation and not be a constant challenge to it. We’re already so inundated with challenges to our faith, I didn’t want to further expose them to something I’d have to incessantly filter.”
She also appreciates that the faith aspect reinforces why the scouts do acts of service — because it is a mandate of Christ, who came to serve.
For boys, Trail Life USA is the leader among alternative scouting organizations. A Christian character development group, the organization is now established in 48 states. Their mission is “to guide generations of courageous young men to honor God, lead with integrity, lead others, and experience outdoor adventure.” Like American Heritage Girls, what sets it apart is that the program is intentionally centered on Christian values and faith.
David Syzdek has two sons in the Trail Life group at Holy Family Cathedral, and he will be a leader this year.
Syzdek said it is important that the group reinforces faith, noting “Christian values are permeated throughout the whole program.”
For more information or assistance in earning religious emblems through scouting, contact Thomas Balensiefer at firstname.lastname@example.org.