Challenger Troop 622 helps Scouts get ready for whatever life may bring their way
Some might think that being 40 or 50 years old is far too old to be pitching tents or biking trails like a Boy Scout. But don't tell that to Scott Prellwitz of Willmar. At the age of 42, Prellwitz has enjoyed the usually youth-targeted traditions...
Some might think that being 40 or 50 years old is far too old to be pitching tents or biking trails like a Boy Scout.
But don't tell that to Scott Prellwitz of Willmar.
At the age of 42, Prellwitz has enjoyed the usually youth-targeted traditions of the Boy Scouts of America on a monthly basis for the past couple years. And when he's not working at Burger King, Prellwitz might be out earning merit badges for fishing, biking or camping.
"I like doing stuff outside like camping and fishing," Prellwitz said.
Prellwitz isn't alone in his Boy Scouting adventure either. He, along with five other men between the ages of 40 and 57, are part of their own Boy Scout troop.
Boy Scout Challenger Troop 622 in Willmar is a special Boy Scout troop for high-functioning mentally disabled men. The troop is fully chartered with the Boy Scouts of America and follows the scout handbook, including guidelines for earning rank and merit badges.
Troop member Nathan Lawrence said the troop has changed his life since he joined in 2003. At 46 years old, Lawrence said he likes fishing and camping, or "anything outdoors."
"They really enjoy it," said Bob Gillis the troop's Scoutmaster. "It gives you some structure to go by, and they're really proud to be involved."
Gillis volunteers as Scoutmaster through the Knights of Columbus Council No. 2764. The Knights began sponsoring the troop about four years ago in April of 2002, Gillis said. He decided to get involved because he had just joined the Knights and wanted to be part of a meaningful project, he said.
So now, the last Wednesday of each month Gillis and his troops don their uniforms for meetings. The men work under the Scouting rules, laws and codes, following everything pretty much by the book, Gillis said. Gillis said he also tries to organize a second monthly get-together where the men go camping, fishing or on a trip.
"I can tell this is something they really look forward to each month," Gillis said.
Gillis had no background in the Boy Scouts when he took on the project four years ago. However, he did have a unique connection to those with mental disabilities in the community.
"My wife works at the high school in the special ed. department," he said.
This also gives his wife a unique tie to the Challenger troop. Along with his wife, Knights of Columbus members Harley Duscher, Wayne Dahlen and Jim Schnell serve on Gillis' Scout committee. The Knights of Columbus pay the Challenger troops' chartering fee each year and provide some money for the group to operate. The American Legion, Eagles and Veterans of Foreign War in Willmar have also eased the financial burden the group faces, Gillis said.
"Because these guys have limited means I don't charge them dues," he said.
Although all of the men live on their own in the community, they receive assistance through programs like Presbyterian Family Foundation and Lutheran Social Services.
Paul Dolby, a program supervisor with Lutheran Social Services, said Lutheran Social Services provides its clients with a little extra help when they need it. The service helps with anything from filling out paperwork to balancing checkbooks to budgeting for a new snow blower.
Dolby has worked for Lutheran Social Services for 11½ years. For 11 of those years, Dolby has worked with one of the men involved with the Challenger troop. For privacy reasons Dolby could not release the name of the client, but she did speak highly of the Challenger troop program.
"I think this is a really good social outlet for them," she said. "They seem to have a good time doing things together," she continued. Dolby said some other clients expressed interest in joining the troop, but a lack of volunteers has kept the group at its current six-member size.
The group seems to be very cohesive, and it provides the men with opportunities they probably wouldn't otherwise have access to, Dolby said. It also provides the men with a way to give back to the community, she said, noting that many of the men probably receive Social Security or other types of government aid.
This year, the troop gave back to the community by raising a pumpkin patch at the Senior Citizen Center. The Challenger troop holds its monthly meetings in the Senior Citizen Center and donated the pumpkins to the center for senior activities, Gillis said.
The six members of the troop aren't the only ones reaping the benefits. Gillis said the group has kept him busy, but "it's been very rewarding.
"I've never done anything like it."
Gillis has coached the men in his troop from the rank of Scout to Tenderfoot, to their current rank of Second Class Scouts. Now, Gillis said the men are working their way through merit badges, reaping rewards for things they love to do and learning life skills they might not have otherwise learned.
And, as always, they stick to the Boy Scout's motto: Be Prepared.
Prepared for any challenge life throws their way.