Web Extra! Slideshow

Click here to see a slideshow of photos from the pinewood derby.

It’s been a while since Ed Sawyer was involved in Boy Scouts. As the 39-year-old father of two girls Sawyer hasn’t exactly had a reason to go looking. But the recent emergence of two small Scouting groups in Forest Park has coincided rather fortuitously with Sawyer’s schedule. He is unemployed. So, about two months ago, Sawyer contacted the Howard Mohr Community Center, where one of the groups holds regular meetings, and got involved.

“I found out they were doing it and since I have the experience in Scouting, I thought I could help them,” Sawyer said.

In 1988, while living in Indiana, Sawyer earned the rank of Eagle Scout. It is the organization’s highest rank.

Finding adults who are willing to volunteer appears to be a critical component of building a sustainable Scouting program in the community. It was only about 18 months ago that a similar attempt began to fizzle, and those Scouts eventually merged with an Oak Park group. Parents who’ve taken an interest in continuing the boyhood tradition of merit badges and camping trips estimate the last decade has brought a spotty and inconsistent level of participation at best.

Steven Knysch is a 22-year-old part-time employee at the community center who accepted the challenge six months ago from director Karen Dylewski to lead a group of younger Scouts, referred to as Cub Scouts under the umbrella organization of the Boy Scouts of America. Participation is limited to kids in grades 1-5.

“We started with seven or eight kids and kept having our meetings,” Knysch said of the early going. “We’ve had kind of a mixed showing, but we’re up to about 12 kids and have parents involved, which is good.”

Activities have been driven largely by a manual that identifies how Cub Scouts can learn different skills and earn badges for their mastery. There was also a trip to Glenview where the kids visited a nature museum. Knysch, however, doesn’t have much experience with Scouting and said the help of parents like Sawyer is a big boost.

“I’m an outdoor enthusiast, if you will, and Scouting is heavily related to that,” Knysch said.

Knysch is talking with parents at St. Bernardine’s, where another group of Cub Scouts was created in just the last six weeks, about joining forces. That effort has a similar number of participants. Pete Shorner, a parent who’s leading the St. Bernardine’s kids, said it makes sense to pool resources if either group is to have a shot at longevity.

“I’m the Cub master and still very new at this,” Shorner said of his own inexperience.


A new opportunity for teens

Police Chief Jim Ryan is gearing up for the start of a new outreach effort that would provide teens and young adults with a chance to learn more about law enforcement.

The Law Enforcement Explorer program has a tangential relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, but is focused on specific activities not found in other Scouting programs. Explorers are given training both in the classroom and in a hands-on setting in the basics of police work. It is open to male and female high school students, and generally attracts teens considering law enforcement as a career.

Forest Park police hope to see upwards of eight teens take advantage of the program initially, said Ryan, with enrollment growing from there.

There are still a number of details to resolve, according to Ryan, but the department is committed to the program. As many as eight officers have expressed an interest in working with kids through Explorer, and two likely candidates to spearhead the effort have been chosen.

“We’d like to get it going sooner rather than later,” Ryan said.