Rep. Mike O’Donnell has long been involved with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) — from a member growing up to sitting on the regional training committee as an adult. Now, he’s joined a new St. Louis-based organization serving as a resource for parents.
BSA Parents, a national advocacy group, was designed to “tell the stories of Scouts and the important role Scouting plays in our communities and in our country,” according to its website. The St. Louis chapter of the nonprofit formed late last month, and O’Donnell said he hopes it can answer any questions parents might have before allowing their children to get involved.
“We can get kids excited about joining the Scouting program, but really who ultimately ends up making the decision are the parents, and a lot of times parents don’t really understand what the program is about,” O’Donnell told The Missouri Times. “It’s a group of parents formed to help incoming or potentially incoming parents make the decision based on our experiences.”
Aside from his own involvement in south St. Louis County, O’Donnell said his two children — both are now in college — were involved with Scouting.
“At the younger level, it looks like just a fun group to do activities with so [parents] are looking for what’s the purpose behind the whole thing. So we get that they’re having fun, but what you don’t necessarily see is the development of some of the character things: leadership, the citizenship, and the physical fitness,” O’Donnell said. “The program has a lot of built-in learning opportunities in it. It’s not just going out and doing the fun stuff.”
The Boy Scouts organization has been rocked with sexual abuse accusations and lawsuits in recent years. Just last month, a group of lawyers identified hundreds of alleged abusers, previously unknown to law enforcement or the Boy Scouts, according to a lawsuit.
“You can’t look at these files and not come to the conclusion that this was a massive problem that was hidden,” attorney Tim Kosnoff said.
But O’Donnell insists the more than 100-year-old organization is safe and encouraged parents to observe and join their kids on camping trips and other activities. He said he underwent extensive youth protection training during his involvement and applauded the organization for being “open” about the abuse.
“The training that the Boy Scouts offer, I have to say as the parent of a member, I know when I went through training, those topics are not easy to talk about. Sexual predators are not something I like to think about when I’m getting my kids involved in a program,” O’Donnell said. “But the Boy Scouts aren’t afraid to broach those topics because they’re serious about the safety of the kids.”
O’Donnell has advocated for the Boy Scouts in his role in state government, as well. During the legislative session this year, the Republican lawmaker sponsored a bill regarding specialty Boy Scouts license plates. It ultimately did not make it through the General Assembly.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a reporter with The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in March 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City. Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S. and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa. She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.