CCSO Sgt. Mel Gonzalez reviews the Cub Scout manual with his den Feb. 22. Sgt. Gonzalez has been a Scout den leader for the past five years. Photo by Cpl. Efrain Hernandez/CCSO
Sgt. Mel Gonzalez fondly remembers going on camping trips, selling popcorn, and building and racing Pinewood Derby cars as a Cub Scout in Collier County.
Forty years later Sgt. Gonzalez still camps, sells popcorn and builds Pinewood Derby cars as the leader of his 10-year-old son’s Cub Scout den.
Sgt. Russel Steward enjoyed camping, fishing and hiking as both a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout as a youngster growing up in Maryland. Today, he has two boys of his own, ages 15 and 12, in Scouts and is an assistant Scoutmaster for their troop.
Both men said Scouting gave them life experiences that influenced them as adults and helped lead them to a career in law enforcement. The goal-oriented, hard work-driven ethics of teamwork, loyalty and leadership are traits worth passing on.
“I tell the elementary school kids all the time, ‘Join Scouting. It’s going to change your life,’’’ said Sgt. Gonzalez, of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s Youth Relations Bureau.
Sgt. Gonzalez and Sgt. Steward are among several CCSO members who are currently Scout leaders or who serve in another volunteer capacity with Scouts.
Sheriff Kevin Rambosk was a Scout when he was a boy and other members of his family grew up in Scouts as well. This year has the privilege of serving as honorary Scout roundup chairman for the second year in a row.
“Scouting has had a great influence in helping shape my basic character and outlook on life,” Sheriff Rambosk said. “My involvement made a difference in my life and helped equip me with the skills necessary to succeed.”
Cub Scouts is a family-based program that gives boys fun experiences while developing their character after school hours. Boys can join Scouts starting in the first grade. Many schools will have a
“Scout Night” where volunteers explain the program to prospective members and their parents. The
Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs work together in conjunction with community organizations to deliver a volunteer-led character development and career education program.
“Collier County Scouting has developed a reputation for service to others,” said James Giles, the Collier County district executive for the Southwest Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Scouting units provide countless service hours in the community, Giles said. Many agencies have come to depend on Scouting services for items from park benches to the construction of permanent structures. Last year, more than 30 Eagle Scout projects were completed to benefit nonprofit or governmental agencies, he noted.
CCSO and the Boy Scouts of America have a working partnership that “is integral to Scouting’s ability to reach every youth in Collier County,” Giles said.
“Sheriff Rambosk serves as our honorary recruitment chair and facilitates many boys entering the program,” said Giles. “His leadership demonstrates the community’s dedication to youth and the Scouting movement.”
In addition, he noted the Sheriff’s Office charters law enforcement Explorer posts that have helped many young men and women find a career path of serving others.
CCSO partners with the Boy Scouts of America Program by offering two Explorer posts. The Explorer program is designed for students ages 14 to 19. The program lets students explore the opportunity to learn about and interact with law enforcement and help stimulate further interest in the possibility of a law enforcement career.
“The Explorer program helps us share our mission and vision with young people at a young age and these individuals become some of our most loyal and dedicated employees,” Sheriff Rambosk said.
Giles said the CCSO/Scouting partnership has had an impact on reaching youth in ‘at-risk’ communities. The Explorer and Scouting units throughout the county provide support to youth who may otherwise be on the street, he said. Traditional Scouting activities like camping, nature hikes, conservation and community projects are made available to all participants. These activities teach youth values, he said.
“Recently, one of our Scouts from an at-risk community stated that without Scouting, he could have gotten into gangs, drugs, or become a young father,” Giles said. “Scouting’s core values as stated in the Scout Oath and Law give young people a framework that can help them fulfill their potential in school and in life.”
The Southwest Florida Council’s growing Scoutreach program sent 43 Collier County boys to summer camp, he noted.
From Scout To Deputy
Sgt. Steward said he enjoyed Scouting as a youngster.
“I’ve always been involved in the outdoors – camping, fishing and hiking,” he said.
But Scouting is so much more than outdoor activities, he said. It’s a learning experience.
Scouting teaches discipline, leadership, respect, morals, values, and good citizenship. Added to the mix are lessons on healthy eating habits and physical fitness.
“It’s a great, fun learning experience,” he said.
He said his involvement with Scouts from his youth gave him passion and experience to become a Scout leader.
“We teach Scouts to help people and to do the right thing at all times, and that’s why I’m in law enforcement – to help the underdog,” said Sgt. Steward, who is assigned to CCSO’s Immokalee Patrol District.
Sgt. Gonzalez was involved in Scouts while attending Golden Gate Elementary School. He was a Cub Scout for five years. He got involved initially because his parents thought Scouts would be a good fit for him. They were right. He enjoyed camping, fishing, hiking, archery and learning to tie knots.
He wanted to share the experience with his son Tyler.
“We brought our son to a meeting,” Sgt. Gonzalez said. “As soon as the activities started, he was hooked. He absolutely loves to be a Cub Scout.”
It’s turned into a family affair. His wife is involved too. She’s responsible for all of the pins and badges and organizing all of the documents. Sgt. Gonzalez has been his son’s Cub Scout den leader for the past five years.
He proudly boasts that the majority of the boys in his den are members of the National Elementary Honor Society.
“All these boys play organized sports together and all do well in school,” he said. “All are super good kids and I think that’s the key about Scouting. That it grounds them really well. It gives them a really good solid foundation to do well not only in school but in life.”
Just as the boys in his den have grown with Scouts, so has Sgt. Gonzalez.
“We learn from them and they learn from us,” he said. “If I could do it all over again for another five years, I would. It’s just been a wealth of knowledge and fun. The kids inspire us and they help us become better adults, and we don’t want to go in there halfway we want to go there fully prepared because that’s what they expect.”
Sgt. Steward and Sgt. Gonzalez both said parent involvement is key to a child being a successful Scout.
“I believe my kids have turned out well because they are involved in Scouts and because I’m involved in Scouts,” Sgt. Steward said.
Be A Scout
Finding a Cub Scout unit is simple at www.beascout.org. Parents and families with an interest in Scouting are encouraged to attend their school’s Scout night or call (239) 207-5366 to learn more.
The Southwest Florida Council serves 20,000 youth in seven counties. The mission of the council is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law. Additional information can be found at www.swflcouncilbsa.orgor by calling (239) 936-8072.
To learn more about CCSO’s Explorer program and to download the application, click on the link: http://www.colliersheriff.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=40727
|Sgt. Gonzalez helps his den get their handmade cars ready for the annual Pinewood Derby. Photo courtesy of Sgt. Gonzalez|
|Participants in CCSO's Explorer's Program take part in a Firearms Training Simulator (FATS) exercise. Photo by Sgt.Michael Butcher/CCSO|
Sheriff Kevin Rambosk shows Sgt. Gonzalez's den his office during a recent visit to CCSO Headquarters. Photo courtesy of Sgt. Gonzalez
Sgt. Russel Steward, rear left, is shown after a hiking trip to the Big Rock at Camp Rainy Mountain, a Boy Scout Camp in Georgia, in June 2015. Photo courtesy of Sgt. Steward