Future Reflections         Fall 2009

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by Lenora J. Marten

Eric Marten holds a fishing pole with a huge fish on the line.From the Editor: Through the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and other organizations in the community, blind children have the chance to build friendships and develop a variety of new skills. However, negative stereotypes sometimes stand in the way of the child's full participation. Lenora Marten, president of the Florida Parents of Blind Children, describes how her son's perseverance paid off and led him to an invaluable Scouting experience.

When our son, Eric Marten, joined the Boy Scouts, he had to overcome many more obstacles than those imposed by his blindness. He had to persevere despite the stereotypes and prejudices of others in order to take part in the full range of Scouting activities. The first troop he joined saw his blindness as a major limitation. The troop leaders regarded him as a handicapped person with minimal abilities. Assuming that he could not do the work required, they gave him badges that he had not really earned.

In addition to Scouting, Eric was involved in taekwondo, which was a very positive experience for him. When he received his first Black Belt from the American Taekwondo Association, he thought his Boy Scout leaders would finally see him as capable. Much to Eric's dismay, the troop leaders assumed that his taekwondo coach had simply given him the rank of Black Belt because he felt sorry for him. One of the troop leaders looked at me and said, "He can't have a Black Belt--he's blind!"

Scouting was not turning out to be the enriching, leadership-building experience it should have been. Eric, however, displayed what it means to be a true leader. He did not give up. He set out to find people who would see him, and not only his blindness. He approached the North Florida Scouting Council with his concerns. Its members were impressed with the young man before them, and they were eager to help. They pointed Eric toward Troop 333.

Holding his cane, Eric Marten poses with his Scoutmaster and seven other Scouts.The North Florida Council Troop 333 in Jacksonville surpassed our expectations! No one ever once treated Eric in a patronizing way because of his blindness. In the fall of 2007, he and his troop hiked Blood Mountain, the highest peak on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail. Eric has gone whitewater rafting, observed manatees, gone fishing, cooked at campouts, used woodworking tools, and learned to use the Boy Scout knife. That one made us, his parents, pretty nervous. But Scout Master Lewis sent us on our way, assuring us that he knew what to do. He had done research to find out how to teach knife skills to a visually impaired person. He had consulted other Scout leaders, and he said Eric would be just fine.

Eric worked through the ranks of Scouting, fulfilling the same requirements met by his sighted peers. He is known in his troop as the Scout who "tries his best at everything." He has served as Scout Librarian and Patrol Leader. On May 11, 2009, he received the rank of Life Scout. As a Life Scout he has a new job, serving as Scribe for his troop. The Scribe keeps the troop's records. He records the activities of the Patrol Leaders' Council. He also keeps a record of dues, advancement, and attendance at troop meetings--much like an NFB chapter secretary.

This past summer, Eric earned the opportunity to attend the Boy Scouts High Adventure Sea Base Camp for a full week of sailing, snorkeling, and fishing. The program was not a pleasure cruise. Crews were expected to work aboard the vessel. The boys slept on deck, fished, snorkeled, and worked the forty- to fifty-foot sailing boat. They planned their own course to explore the beautiful Florida Keys.

This same troop stepped up to the plate to help out at the 2008 National Federation of the Blind of Florida State Convention in Jacksonville. The boys were there through the entire weekend, only going home to sleep. They helped with directing people and assisted at the breakfast buffet and happy hour. They hung out and played games in the kids' and teen rooms. In the end the Scouts felt that they got more out of the experience than we did. They not only earned their Disability Badge; they gained a greater understanding of the blind community and what Eric's life is like as a blind person.

 Eric will spend this school year working on a project to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. The Eagle Scout service project provides the opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate the leadership skills he has learned in Scouting. He does the project outside the sphere of his Scout troop. As a demonstration of leadership, the Scout must plan the work, organize the personnel needed, and direct the project to its completion. Eric hopes to do his Eagle Scout project at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. He looks forward to becoming a leader, mentor, and motivator for our blind youth as he carries out his Eagle Scout project.

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