Published 12:00 am Monday, August 5, 2013

SALISBURY — The Rowan District of the Boy Scouts of America has enough Scouts to warrant hiring a second Scout executive to help with local programs.

And so, for the second time this year, a newcomer to Rowan County is starting a new career in the district — acting as liaison and coordinator, working with BSA leadership, volunteers and the Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs.

Tyler Jones started his new job in June. At 22, he’s at the beginning of a new career with plenty of purpose.

“(Scouting) is a solid movement that I can get behind,” Jones said.

Still, it’s different from the career he imagined as a boy, he said.

“I’d wanted to be a cop since I was five years old,” Jones said.

A native of Fairfax, Va., Jones majored in criminal justice at Old Dominion University, with a minor in human services.

Sitting in the air-conditioned quiet of the district office at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Jones said he’d already started looking into police academies. He was doing workouts to prepare for the fitness requirements, and had even taken up firearms training.

But, Jones said, two things made him reconsider.

The first was a lack of law enforcement positions, with many such jobs being taken by veterans who are returning from overseas duty.

The second was a realization that the job might not be for him, Jones said.

“I thought to myself, what job could I have that wouldn’t tire me out or burn me out?” Jones went on. “I just automatically thought of Scouting.”

Boy Scouting didn’t save Jones’ life, but he credits it with helping keep him on track.

“I was, I don’t want to say a bad kid, but I was a crazy kid throughout high school,” Jones said. “I just really didn’t like school. I wanted to be out and having fun with my friends.”

Scouting helped him channel that energy, he said, while still being productive. “It kept me out of trouble, for sure.”

Part of what Jones said he hopes to accomplish in the position is to bring “the promise of Scouting” to more boys and their families.

In a phone interview, his parents, Fred and Laura Jones, said Tyler’s years in Scouting helped him mature.

“The leadership skills they develop are just incredible,” Laura Jones said. She said being in Scouting programs had helped her son build confidence and communicate well with others.

Both parents said they helped encourage Tyler. Fred recalled volunteering with his son’s Cub Scout pack years ago, while Laura helped make sure he stayed involved.

But both Tyler and his parents said that the high school years could have kept him from achieving his goal of becoming an Eagle Scout.

“When you’re that age, it’s difficult to recognize the value of (Scouting),” Fred said.

Later, he said, young men who stay connected to Scouting and make it a priority find the groundwork for leadership.

But as a student at Fairfax High School, Tyler said, other priorities started getting in the way.

He was playing soccer and ice hockey. He had a girlfriend.

Scouting easily could have taken a back seat to those interests.

But family bonds kept him moving forward.

“As parents, we insisted, quite frankly, that if you start something you stick with it, you know, you finish it,” Frank Jones said.

“My family was really there for me, pushing me up to Eagle,” Tyler said. “When you’re 17, you really don’t want to be finishing up your Eagle project.”

The other person Tyler credits with helping him make that goal a reality is his grandfather, Eck Muessig.

Muessig, now 89, was a native of Ohio. During World War II, Tyler said, his grandfather fought in the U.S. Marine Corps in the South Pacific.

When Tyler’s determination seemed to wane, he said, Muessig encouraged him by telling him the value of the experiences he was having in Scouting

Laura Jones said Muessig’s pep talks helped keep Tyler focused.

“My father was 12 when his father died,” she said. “He had a very special bond with Tyler at a young age.”

Facing a deadline of his 18th birthday to finish, Tyler took on his Eagle project — a donation drive to collect supplies for the local Ronald McDonald House.

Over the course of three weeks, Jones led volunteers who worked four to six hours a day, collecting household goods and gift cards at a local grocery store.

“We collected enough supplies to last them for about three months,” Tyler Jones said.

In 2009, at the ceremony for his Eagle Scout award, Tyler broke with tradition.

Eagle Scouts generally receive an Eagle pin, which he said most young men give to their mothers.

Instead, Jones said, “I pinned it on my grandfather.”

It was a surprise for Muessig, Laura Jones said. “He was completely overwhelmed … I think that was what made it most emotional, seeing the tears in my Dad’s eyes, the emotion and excitement.”

Tyler’s journey to Eagle gave him experience that, he said, helped him become a leader in his fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, at Old Dominion University.

There, Jones mentored five “little brothers” and held leadership positions.

As he begins working as one of Rowan’s Scout executives, Jones said he’s glad to be a part of a job “that I can actually get into and feel passionate about.”

“It’s not like a weight on your shoulders,” Tyler said. “It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.”

As one of two Scout executives, Jones and his colleague John Barden help coordinate activities in the Rowan District.

Relocating to Rowan County took some getting used to, but Jones said residents have made him feel very welcome.

“I definitely didn’t know what to expect, when it came to this job and especially moving down here,” he said. “It was definitely a huge culture shock.”

But, Jones added, “Comparing this place to Virginia is like comparing an angel to Mr. Scrooge. People are just so much more warm and welcoming. It’s just a nice place to be.”

One of the challenges that Boy Scouting faces, Jones said, is a need for more volunteers.

As a Scout executive, he said, “people are counting on you to help Scouting succeed in this area.”

Unlike northern Virginia, he said, there are more Scout troops and packs here in Rowan County, although they tend to be smaller in terms of membership than those he knew back home.

“Here, you’ve got a pack or a troop at almost every church,” Jones said.

Finding enough adults to help with those units, as well as Explorer and Venture programs for older youth, can be a challenge, Jones said.

There’s also the cultural challenge of appealing to boys. “That’s why we’ve added so many merit badges,” Jones said.

In addition to traditional outdoors activities, there are badge programs focused on computers and technology, plus activities such as skateboarding and cycling.

New programs, and an emphasis on the fun activities that come from meeting other Scouts, may help increase membership.

But, Jones said, “without parents volunteering, we can’t carry out the promise of Scouting.”

Another issue that has polarized many Americans has been the Boy Scouts of America’s recent decision to allow openly-gay Scouts, although gay adults cannot serve as leaders.

In June, on the heels of that decision, the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution condemning the BSA’s action, and some churches are cutting ties with the troops and packs they have sponsored.

When asked about the issue of gay Scouts and leaders, Jones said it had been difficult.

“The hardest thing right now is just the mainstream media trying to show Scouts in a negative light, when we’re really just trying to improve the lives of Scouts,” Jones said.

Jones said that, traditionally, the focus of Scouting has not been sexuality.

In the wake of the BSA’s decision, Jones said, “we’re trying to make the impact as little as possible. I mean, it’s all about the boys.”

In cases where churches will no longer be supporting troops or packs, Jones said there were efforts underway to relocate those units to other churches — a process he said was going smoothly.

Going forward, Jones said he looks forward to helping bring Scouting’s message to others.

As the summer ends, he talked of programs being organized for the fall — Camporees, watersports activities and more.

The promise of Scouting, Jones said, is helping boys develop leadership skills and abilities, build confidence and a bright future.

The biggest challenge, he said, will be finding parents and volunteers willing to help make that happen for the next generation of Scouts.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.