by Claudio E. Cabrera
Three Boy Scouts will soon embark on a trip many kids in the neighborhood have only heard or read about, visiting places that are a long way from the bustling, busy streets of Washington Heights and Inwood.
The scouts, Feliz Sanchez, 17, George Munjishvilli, 17, and Jason Correa, 14, will spend three weeks with other inner city youth at the Philmont Scout Ranch, the 215-square-mile reserve in the 10,000-foot-high Sangre de Cristo range of the Rocky Mountains in New Mexico. The three will also stop at the Grand Canyon on their way to Philmont.
“This will be my second time at the Grand Canyon, but I’m still as excited about it as if I’ve never been there,” said Sanchez.
In December the Phoenix-area Boy Scouts Council said it had three slots on the trip for inner city youth that they couldn’t fill locally. Troop 729, based in Washington Heights at the Ft. Washington Collegiate Church, was contacted, and the three Northern Manhattan scouts loaded up their packs.
“It’s great for these kids. We’re usually the only inner city kids on these trips,” said Scoutmaster Scott Simpson.
“This is going to be a challenge. It will test our breathing and endurance, but I think we’re prepared,” said Munjishvilli.
The three local youth all started in Boy Scouts at a young age.
“Feliz, who I grew up with, introduced me to the Boy Scouts. His step-father used to be [a scout] and thought it would be a good idea for us to get out and see the world,” Munjishvilli said.
The young men, who need to work to pay for these trips, do so at the Fort Washington Collegiate Church.
“They work 30 hours at $10 an hour and with that they pay off their trip to these sites,” said Simpson.
Simpson, along with Mina Ayoub, a 25-year-old scout from the neighborhood, have taken the young men under their wings.
Mina, who has been a scout since he was 10, saw this as an alternative to hanging out in the city and getting stuck in the routines that many local kids fall into.
Now he is the leader of a troop. Other former scouts often come back to chaperone the trips.
With many fathers missing in inner city communities, and some parents unable to attend trips with their children because of work, Simpson said the importance of former scouts like Mina is huge.
“Without many of these former scouts coming back to lead our young ones, I don’t know where we would be,” Simpson said.
“I know we’re young, but this teaches you survival skills. You are out sleeping in a tent and it shows you how to live off the basics,” said Feliz.
Aside from the survival and independent aspect of being a Boy Scout, above all else Simpson hopes the scouts learn responsibility, saying “The Boy Scouts are no different than working in a corporate environment. You wear a uniform, are expected to arrive on time, and work as a team.”
A team is exactly what these kids are. Among each other they joke and smile talking about past trips and what lies ahead.
“Our troop leaders like to say our treks aren’t as tough as we make them out to be. But they aren’t easy either,” said Feliz with a smile.