As a boy, Steve Hanna wanted to be a veterinarian. That was before he took a “Dog Care” merit badge class in the Boy Scouts.
During a visit to a real vet’s office, the sights, sounds and smells proved to be too much for the young Hanna.
“I said, ‘Maybe this isn’t what I want to do,’ ” Hanna, 62, said. “So, I teach first grade instead.”
Standing outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward building in Wake Forest, Hanna laughed as he related his childhood experience, one he said he is thankful for. You see, he said, that’s part of what Scouting is all about, experimenting with different trades.
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About 850 Scouts from seven states learned new skills Friday and Saturday at the LDS Merit Badge Clinic in Wake County.
Hanna, who lives near Zebulon, organized the first clinic in 2008, which drew about 50 Scouts from the area. The two-day event has since grown into one of the most popular in the nation. By offering more than 60 badges in one setting – for free – the Wake clinic gives boys a good opportunity to move up through the ranks.
In Scouting, badges are the symbol of a boy’s mastery of the skills needed to advance from the rank of Scout to Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and Eagle. The Boy Scouts of America offers 130-135 badges.
During the clinic, most Scouts will earn three badges, one for each of the three-hour sessions that are offered on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. Some Scouts will earn more, for example in combo classes in entrepreneurship and salesmanship. Others will earn fewer, as some take multiple sessions to complete.
Traditional skills such as woodworking, hiking and camping are all in the badge catalog, as are technology-based activities such as geocaching, movie making, photography and computer training.
Last year, several Scouts going for every badge used the Wake clinic to get the one or two they still needed. Louis Farino was on the same quest this year and traveled from New York to take mining and society, one of two new badges offered this year.
Troy DeSpain, 16, an Eagle Scout from Wake Forest, doesn’t necessarily need any more badges, as he’s achieved the top Scouting rank. This year, though, he still took programming, digital technology and photography.
“You can get a lot of merit badges here in a short amount of time, but you can also learn a lot about some new things,” said DeSpain, who wants to study computer engineering in college.
The Raleigh and Apex Stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsor the badge clinic each year. Most sessions are held at ward buildings in Raleigh, Garner, Zebulon, Apex and Cary. The church, which became the first group to sponsor the Boy Scouts of America in 1913, has the largest number of chartered Scouting troops across the nation.
Robin Covert, a spokesman for the Raleigh Stake, said the badge clinic’s ability to attract qualified instructors has led to its continued growth.
“That’s one of the hardest parts, getting the instructors and the boys together,” Covert said.
An adult volunteer himself, Covert said he grew up around Scouting, starting at age 8. Now 60, Covert, an assistant air operations manager at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, teaches an aviation badge session from time to time.
“One of the requirements is to go out to the airport,” Covert said. “We can take them into our facility and let them look around.”
Staff are volunteers
Earning a badge isn’t as simple as sitting through a class. Each Scout must learn, practice and demonstrate a specific set of skills to pass.
For instance, Scouts earning a pioneering badge on Saturday built A-frames out of ropes and logs. Others who took counselor Brian Laws’ woodworking class did a small project after he talked to them about safety and different types of lumber. When one Scout bumped his finger, Laws took him to the first aid merit badge class down the hall.
“It takes a lot of work, but I enjoy it; I love it,” said Laws, who like the other badge counselors volunteers his time.
It takes hundreds of staff and counselors to run the clinic, and about half of them are Latter-day Saints. Most grew up in Scouting, said Kelden Everett, one of the clinic’s directors.
About five years ago, after Hanna formed the clinic in the Raleigh area, Everett helped him expand it to the Latter-day Saints wards near Apex.
“This is not an easy thing to do, and it teaches boys leadership,” Everett said. “If you go through the scouting program, you not only learn skills, you gain leadership as well as confidence as a young man.”