In the fast-moving world today, many parents are searching for activities and opportunities for their children to learn character while making friends, develop leadership skills while still being able to be kids, and grow in their faith while having fun and making memories that will last a lifetime.
Parents seek activities and organizations that are trustworthy, forward-thinking, and for many, are based in the faith that sustains them and is the cornerstone of their family structure. Andy Baker, youth and young adult ministry coordinator for the Diocese of Palm Beach, has been working to highlight and connect families who desire scouting as a method of formation to faith-based scouting experiences.
In 1995, a group of parents gathered in West Chester, Ohio, to create a faith-based youth opportunity for their children that would encourage leadership and character development but also be faith-based. The result was American Heritage Girls, a scouting-type program which, according to its website, is “dedicated to the mission of building women of integrity through service to God, family, community, and country.”
Patti Garibay, American Heritage Girls founder and executive director, said the program for girls, “is rooted in Christ. Through its faith emphasis, (the organization) hopes that girls will grow in their faith and become lifelong Christ-followers. Girls will understand their identity in Christ and seek God’s will for their lives.”
Today there are more than 60,000 members in all 50 states and in 15 different countries around the world. Each girl who joins a troop recites the oath: “I promise to love God, cherish my family, honor my country, and serve in my community.”
Faith-based scouting alternatives aren’t just for girls, either. Since 2013, Trail Life USA has been providing an alternative to traditional Scouting for boys that provides mentoring, guidance, leadership and a chance to grow spiritually. According to the organization’s website, Trail Life USA is based in Christian faith. Larry Wagner, southeast regional team leader from Trail Life USA, recited its Statement of Faith: “We believe there is One Triune God – God the Father; Jesus Christ, His one and only Son; and the Holy Spirit – Creator of the universe and eternally existent. We believe the Holy Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) to be the inspired and authoritative Word of God. We believe each person is created in His image for the purpose of communing with and worshiping God. We believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to live godly lives. We believe each of us is called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We believe God calls us to lives of purity, service, stewardship, and integrity.”
Wagner said the statement personally resonates strongly.
“Being Christ-centered is why I have been enthusiastically a part of this program from the start,” he said. “And it is fortifying to have all the other leaders in it for the same reason. We serve our King in the great commission here.”
Since its inception, Trail Life USA has garnered 30,000 members in 850 troops spread through all 50 states. And because there is a desire for faith-based leadership development activities that parents can trust and support, both organizations are growing both nationally and are about to begin here in the Diocese of Palm Beach. Baker said these groups are gaining in popularity locally because of their focus on faith and fun.
“Our entire mission is to bring young church members and their families to an encounter with and conversion to Jesus Christ, to accompany them into a committed life of missionary discipleship,” he said. “Partnering with like-missioned organizations gives us additional avenues to evangelize the families in our diocese and help us move closer to achieving our goal of a missionary church on fire for Jesus Christ.”
Along with the organizations’ spiritual component, youth participate in fun activities and programs. Trail Life USA hosts concerts, campouts, leadership conferences, camping and outdoor activities, all of which are designed to engage young men, protect youth, and grow the church in vitality and enthusiastic community. American Heritage Girls programs include a host of programs and activities created to celebrate being a girl in every way. There are different age levels for participants, which the organization said are “specifically created to support the physical, mental, social, spiritual and emotional development of girls, 5 to 18 years old.”
A defining characteristic of American Heritage Girls is five program levels to help guide a girl towards pursuing Christian leadership opportunities and becoming a woman of integrity in her own way by exploring life skills, faith, and service.
Baker said both programs are being introduced to the diocese because of their focus on integrity and service, discipleship, and leadership.
“Both of the organizations have awards and accomplishments that help foster the development of young men and women who will become community-focused Christ-centered leaders in the future,” he said. “The foundational characteristic for these organizations is Jesus Christ. He is the center and focus, the beating heart of each organization and everything flows from Him. The strong Catholic connection is an important component in the collaboration of AHG and TLUSA in launching the faith-based scouting endeavor in the Diocese of Palm Beach.”
Bishop Gerald Barbarito is also fully behind the idea of faith-based scouting in the diocese, and offers his enthusiastic support.
“We look forward to participating in this new venture within our Diocese so that our young people may have another opportunity to support each other in their journey of growth with their Catholic faith as an essential part of their lives.”
To learn more about American Heritage Girls or Trail Life USA opportunities in the Diocese of Palm Beach or your own parish, contact Andy Baker at the Office of Marriage, Family Life, Faith Formation and Youth Ministry at 561-775-9559 or via email at email@example.com.