Baden-Powell Service Association: Traditional Scouting for Everyone

Young people interested in traditional scouting that emphasizes outdoor activities and interaction with nature had few opportunities if they felt excluded by policy from more widely known scouting organizations. The Baden-Powell Service Association (BPSA) seeks to remedy that by opening its membership without discrimination on the basis of religious views, sexual orientation or gender, aiming to be friendly and welcoming to both those who were themselves excluded, such as atheists and LGBT individuals, as well as those who may have simply felt uncomfortable joining other organizations due to their policies.

According to its mission statement, the BPSA national organization “teaches traditional scouting, presenting it as it was practiced prior to the 1960s… Our aim is to promote good citizenship, discipline, self-reliance, loyalty and useful life skills. Most importantly, BPSA welcomes everyone, male or female, regardless of age, religious beliefs or sexual preference. We are committed to providing an appropriate alternative and community-oriented scouting experience. We foster the development of scouts in an environment of mutual respect and cooperation.”

The BPSA is not affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts USA nor the World Organization of Scouting Movements, but is instead part of the alternative World Federation of Independent Scouts (WFIS).

Granted a charter by the national association in April 2015, the 8th Providence Troop became active in outdoor activities almost immediately and expanded its schedule over the next year. Named after Robert Baden-Powell, a British military officer who became the most recognizable face of the scouting movement that began just before 1910 and gained millions of worldwide followers during the 1920s and 1930s, the BPSA is what adult leader Caroline Mailloux of the Providence group described as “back-to-basics when it comes to outdoor skill building.”

Since its founding, “We’ve grown from one family to nearly 15, including many single and coupled adults without children,” Mailloux said. “Our families are mostly from Providence and greater Providence, but any area family is welcome to join.” She said that people have sought out the group for a variety of reasons, including the group’s policy of inclusiveness regarding religion and gender, as well as simply wanting to participate together in scouting as a whole family. Most also have a “belief that co-ed outdoor education is important to real-world team building,” she said.

Over the past year the 8th Providence Troop participated in service projects such as a food drive with a community food bank and a visit to a senior living facility, Mailloux said. The troop has had “rambles” to explore local parks and trails, including beaches and a nature conservancy, she said, and went on a winter night hike to learn about owls at a wildlife refuge.

The BPSA is divided only by age bracket: Otters (age 5-7), Timberwolves (age 8-10), Pathfinders (age 11-17), and adult Rovers (age 18+). “Because men and women work together in the real world, doing the same sorts of jobs, so do scouts in the BPSA,” the national organization states. “Our program is completely volunteer-run and focused on keeping the cost-barrier to participate in scouting low for all families and participants. We have no full-time or part-time paid staff.”

“The majority of the kids in our our group are in the 5 to 10 range, Otters and Timberwolves,” but there are plans to expand “Chipmunk” (toddler) and “Pathfinder” (teen) programs, Mailloux said. “Interested families, adults or volunteers may visit one of our meetings,” scheduled on July 31 or August 28, from 1 to 4pm, just outside of Providence, said Robert McKay, the scoutmaster for the 8th Providence Troop.

Sir Robert Baden-Powell served with British colonial forces in India and Africa, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-General and coming to be regarded as a military hero especially known for his expertise on reconnaissance – then called “scouting” – having written the definitive handbook in 1899 on the subject addressed to soldiers. To his surprise, his book became a civilian best-seller for use by groups interested in the outdoors, so he rewrote it for a civilian youth audience in 1908 as Scouting for Boys, introducing for the first time what would become fundamental concepts such as the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. By that time, there were numerous youth scouting movements in both Britain and the United States, and there were books from other authors, notably Ernest Thompson Seton and Daniel Carter Beard, from whom Baden-Powell liberally borrowed ideas, particularly their imagined connections with Native American culture and Western frontier life in North America. Frederick Russell Burnham, an American who served in the British colonial forces alongside Baden-Powell in Africa as chief of military scouts, had actually grown up on a Lakota Sioux reservation and worked as a cowboy on the frontier, so much of his knowledge provided to his friend Baden-Powell was authentic. From the earliest days of the scouting movement, separate organizations were established for girls, the Girl Guides in Britain under Baden-Powell’s sister Agnes and several competing groups in America. Knighted earlier for his military service, Baden-Powell was created a baron in 1929 for his services to scouting and as a result became Lord Baden-Powell.

Baden-Powell himself remains something of a controversial figure, having participated in the now-discredited imperial British rule in India and Africa, including in racially segregated South Africa and Rhodesia. His ideas on scouting inspired a wide range of groups, some of which he disapproved – notably the Hitler Youth, founded to replace Baden-Powell’s officially sanctioned organization in Germany that the Nazis regarded as subversive. Baden-Powell had used the swastika on some scouting awards since 1911, copying it from his time in India, but dropped it in 1934 to avoid mistaken associations with Nazism. Since the 1980s, scholarly biographers have generally considered the most serious allegations against his character and record to be unfounded, including his conduct in racially charged military conflicts and the claim that his main purpose in scouting was to prepare young men to be cannon fodder in the World War. Indeed, by the 1920s the highly decorated war hero and former general was using his visibility as the leading spokesman for the ideals of scouting to advocate peace and world brotherhood that, by the time of his death in 1941, had been rendered hopeless by a Second World War.

8th Providence Scouts:

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