Imagine yourself as a young teenage boy at the 2017 National Jamboree. It’s just after dinner, and everyone lounges around the sub-camp, resting from the day’s activities. Shouts of laughter ring in the distance. Someone walks by with their speaker blasting a tune. The heavy scent of rain swirls around you with the wind. Goosebumps appear on your arm as the storm rolling in drops the temperature. Now imagine you’re visually impaired, and you can’t see what you’re sensing.

The Disability Awareness Challenge Course at the Jamboree was a place for everyone to experience what life would be like to have some disability. Twenty stations gave Scouts the chance to learn about special needs and to challenge themselves. In one of the areas, Scouts needed to complete a simple obstacle course with crutches. At another station, visitors could try their hand at wheelchair basketball.

My favorite station to visit was a tent where individuals taught American Sign Language. As I walked in, I witnessed a little special needs Scout who was sitting with his Scoutmaster. He was just soaking it up. The instructors showed him how to say quick and easy phrases such as “I’m hungry.” Sign language isn’t just for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. It is a tool for anyone who needs to communicate.

Days of extra work by special needs commissioners laying wooden sidewalks made it possible for Scouts in wheelchairs to access showers and toilets easily.

At the Jamboree, modifications were made to adapt to those with disabilities. For instance, at one of the base camps,  a man-made ramp allows disabled Scouts to travel with ease to showers and toilets.

Kim Snow, an Indiana native assisting special needs troops at Jamboree, stated, “They are here for a special reason. It’s really great that they can be here, interacting with everybody else. And the special accommodations are made for them so they can really do all the activities.”

We visited Bravo Base Camp which hosted all the Jamboree attendees with a disability. I got the chance to help interview the Director of sub-camp B1, Marc Richardson. He told us about two unique young men within their sub-camp. Both are named Joe. The first Joe, who is highly autistic, went by the nick-name ‘Man Cave Joe.’ Joe earned the nickname because he had a tent that was his own personal quiet space, (a.k.a. man cave). Part of being Autistic is sensory sensitivity. When Man Cave Joe became overwhelmed with the festivities of Jamboree, he could retreat to a safe space to wind down.

When Man Cave Joe was frustrated, only two people were able to calm him– his mom and his Scout buddy. Apparently, no one asked him to do this, but the Scout buddy wanted to be a good friend and was always there with Joe. Joe’s Scout buddy missed a lot of Jamboree events but didn’t mind because he was helping his friend.

Camps everywhere have their legends; at Jamboree it was “Scooter Joe.”

At breakfast,  his commissioner Kim Snow told me about the impact Joe was having, even with his disability. Scouts greeted him everywhere. He earned merit badges, he did the adventures he could and he was personally visited by BSA’s Chief Scout Executive, Mike Surbaugh. So I set out to meet this larger than life Life Scout.

Shortly after arriving, we saw Joe coming up over a hill with his mom trailing behind his scooter. He was excited to tell us about the day’s adventure. Then he stood, examined my left shirt sleeve, and said, ” I want that patch,” pointing to my Council Executive Staff patch. I thought for a moment about patch trading rules and the restriction on badge of office, but this was not a trade. I told him, “I have a brand new one back at my room, I’ll bing it tomorrow.” He would have nothing of it, so the worn patch was cut free. 

I am not sure I saw more pleasure anywhere at Jamboree on any Scout’s face than I did at that moment with Joe.

The second Joe was ‘Scooter Joe’ who we actually had the privilege of meeting. Scooter Joe (Joseph) is a fourteen-year-old Scout from Virginia. It was Joe’s first Jamboree. He said the experience was “good” and “kinda warm.”

Like most of the kids, his favorite part was the BMX trails. His mom nodded her head and added that he even got some air.

Scooter Joe was and is an inspiration. He told us that the front of his Merit Badge sash is full of merit badges (62 to be exact) and that he had already earned two more during the Jamboree. Not only that, when he gets home he’s planning on starting his Eagle project (a memorial garden). 

There was no ‘dis’ in his ‘ability.’ Yes, Joe used a scooter to get around Jamboree, but it didn’t hinder his experience. He did everything that the other kids were doing. He lived Scouting’s adventure!

Scouting is all about learning and gaining experience. That includes learning about others. Jamboree was a resource for Scouts to open their minds about those with disabilities. Scouts became aware of the difficulties and life style changes that are made to live in this world. 

Don’t ever underestimate those with disabilities. I have grown up working with people with special needs, and they are the most outgoing, smart people I know. Their perspective on the world is so unique and refreshing. The Jamboree is an adventure that everyone should have the chance to experience. I am grateful that I was able to witness these amazing people exploring the Jamboree. There was no ‘dis’ in their ‘ability.’

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