Photo By: Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier
Zach and Sophia Abrams ran back and forth across Loyola School’s field at twilight last week, tussling and racing with classmates still drizzled with tie-dye pigments and pizza sauce. They’re brother and sister, a second-grader and a kindergartner, yet they’re scouting together.
Boys and girls, from fiery kindergarten sprouts to temperate fifth-graders, gathered with their parents behind the elementary school’s science building as part of Northern California’s first Navigators chapter.
“It seems to me that a lot of people, for any number of reasons – for curriculum or other reasons – might be interested in a different kind of scouting. A lot of people don’t know that it’s available,” said Tony Porterfield, a Loyola parent and the chapter’s organizer.
Navigators chapters are co-ed, secular and open to all – and that inclusiveness was a founding part of the organization’s doctrine. Of the 24 children who gathered with their parents’ at Los Altos’ inaugural meeting, some were new to the world of scouting, others had left Cub Scouts looking for an alternative, and some planned to participate in both at the same time.
Alternative to Boy Scouts
Navigators was born of a Boy Scout troop in New York City. In 1989, a group of volunteers formed Troop 103 in East Harlem to serve children in need, operating out of a welfare hotel that served homeless families. Robin Bossert, now executive director of Navigators USA, was scoutmaster of the troop in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Boy Scouts of America could exclude gay participants from its organization. Bossert and other volunteers from Troop 103 decided to create Navigators as an alternative “experiential education” program, combining outdoor exploration with community service.
This spring, Los Altos became the 41st chapter to form, closely followed by another in Palo Alto. Interested parents must gather a minimum of five children to apply for an initial charter from Navigators USA and must then seek out a local sponsoring organization such as a church or service club. Local sponsors can help with oversight, recruitment and chapter stability over time, and participate in joint community projects.
The Los Altos group gathered last week for a first tie-dye “icebreaker” meeting, creating group shirts and learning about the Navigators “Moral Compass”:
“As a Navigator I promise to do my best to create a world free of prejudice and ignorance. To treat people of every race, creed, lifestyle and ability with dignity and respect. To strengthen my body and improve my mind to reach my full potential. To protect our planet and preserve our freedom.”
The local group of Navigators plans to visit Hidden Villa later this spring for a night hike, to volunteer at Redwood Grove with Acterra and to head out for kayaking, a campout and other community service projects. Porterfield said the goal is to meet twice a month.
“There is a lot of communication among the chapter leaders where we share ideas for activities and what has worked well for different chapters, pose questions, ask for advice and so forth,” he said. “It is fun to be part of something that is still growing and developing.”
Porterfield grew up as a Boy Scout but said he hoped for something different for his sons Even, 7, and Jake, 5.
Boy Scouts of America has a membership policy in flux. Historically, gay and lesbian participants have been excluded, as have those not willing to declare a religious belief. Over time, groups of many faiths have formed and the organization is considering making a change to its policy on gay members. Some individual scout troops – including one based in Los Altos Hills – have struck out on their own to publicly adopt inclusionary policies of nondiscrimination. However, many local parents express leeriness at joining the organization.
Porterfield and his wife Erika looked into starting something new, researching the Baden Powell Service Association – a revival of the UK’s earliest scouting groups – and finally settling on Navigators.
“I was looking for an outdoor activity/scouting type organization that was open to everybody,” said Porterfield, adding that the Navigators struck a chord with him, particularly its philosophy of all-gender, all-ages groups in which older children provide leadership and entire families can participate as a group.
For more information on the Los Altos Navigators troop and others, visit www.navigatorsusa.org/all-chapters.