All in the family

Den leader’s experience highlights growth, changes in Scouting’s ranks

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The energy was palpable on a recent Thursday night at the hall tucked behind Heritage Christian Fellowship in Warwick Neck.

Lions, Tigers and Bears – and yes, even Unicorns – greeted each other with squeals. The 40 children of den leader Patty Gomm’s Scout Pack 1 Warwick had gathered for the Pinewood Derby awards and merit badges ceremony. From a table at the front of the room, rows upon rows of little gold trophies – pink for the Unicorns – shone under the lights.

The Unicorns are the 15 girls of Pack 1 who decided to differentiate their individual dens from the boys’ dens by naming themselves the Unicorn Lions, Unicorn Tigers, and so on. Their sparkly name was reflected in their hair ribbons – color coordinated with their uniform scarves – and sparkly shoes.

At Patty’s command, the Color Guard advanced as the hall fell silent. Wolf den members Garrett Kinder, Alex Gemma and Billy Mulchahey, bearing the weight of the flagpoles, strode to the front of the assembly carrying the American flag, the Pack flag and the Webelos flag.

Webelos, I learned means “We’ll be loyal Scouts.” I joined in the salute to the flag, and listened as the Scout Oath, Scout Law and Outdoor Code were recited from memory by the Scouts and their parents.

The first order of business was the presentation of the annual fundraiser. The accompanying brochure included a large group photo of the smiling faces of Pack 1, Patty proudly pointed out. In between agenda items and the energetic hum, the meeting was punctuated with songs led by Patty, which included gestures familiar to the Scouts and their parents alike.

One by one, the young Scouts approached the front of the room to receive their awards and handshakes from Patty, her den leader uniform festooned in an array of Scout patches. The night’s badges awarded were varied and included First Aid, Exercise, and Cubs Who Care, which recognizes awareness for the disabled.

First-, second- and third-place plaques were presented to the winners of the Pinewood Derby race – Frankie Cronin, Amber Mello and Caden Crandall, respectively. Rian Williams, who reached the rank of First Class Scout, was honored with the Den Chief cord.

Patty began her journey in Scouts in 2001, but her dreams actually began as a young Brownie. As she advanced in the ranks of Girl Scouts, she envisioned sharing her scouting experiences with her future daughters. After Timothy, Sean, Eric and Ryan Hayes were born, and the family was well established in Scouts, she and her husband, Martin Gomm, learned they were expecting twins. She momentarily considered the possibility of having two little Brownies. Instead, they welcomed two more Cub Scouts, Christopher and Theodore Gomm.

Today, her family includes Eagle Scouts Eric and Christopher, Webelos den leader Martin, with Christopher as his assistant, and grandson Shamus Hayes, a Tiger. Although he wasn’t a Boy Scout in his youth, Martin grew up on a nine-acre farm that included a swamp, which provided for plenty of outdoor camping adventures with his friends.

Yet Patty’s family extends far beyond her husband and six sons. Of her female Scouts, she says, “They’re my girls. In fact, they’re all my kids.” Her area of influence extends to her role as leader of the Cubmaster program.

As the children lined up for their snacks after the meeting, I met Kerran Kent, who recently earned the Arrow of Light and is now a member of Scout Troop 77 Buttonwoods, the first chartered all-female Scouting BSA Troop of the Narragansett Council. She graciously stepped out of the line for snacks to acknowledge me, pausing to accept a hug from a younger girl in her former pack.

Kerran persevered for almost two years to earn the Arrow of Light, which entails completing five Scouting adventures. In the beginning, she admitted, she lacked the confidence to complete it, but after attending Mass-Jam, the 5,000-Scout Jamboree held at the Barnstable County Fairgrounds in Massachusetts, and her first camp out, she realized she was eager and willing to try new things.

Her maturity and poise brought to mind Scout Spirit, following the Scout Oath even when not in uniform. Had I just received a glimpse of a future leader?

Kerran’s older brother Jordan serves as den chief. Her brother Devan assists the den in a volunteer capacity, and her sister Kaylan is a Unicorn Tiger. As we spoke, a young Tiger Scout approached her with an empty water bottle to boast he’d won a water chugging challenge. Perhaps this was a badge-worthy feat.

“That’s my cousin, Shamus,” she smiled.

I added that her den master Patty Gomm had mentioned there were many sets of siblings in the troop.

“Yes, that’s my Aunt Patty,” she glowed.

A scholarship has been created in Scouts so that no child is denied an experience due to a family’s inability to pay. The requirements for earning badges or achieving a rank are based on the Scout motto: “Do your best.”

“You can’t fail,” Patty explained. She also works with the children’s teachers to discover if a benchmark is being met in the classroom. “We can accommodate to make sure a child makes rank.”

As the Scouts cleaned up the church hall after the meeting, the lights were turned out, the final goodbyes were said and the hum of voices disappeared.

But some of that leftover energy seemed to linger. Maybe it was the Unicorns’. Or maybe it was Patty’s.

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