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'Hi Brooks,' 'Hi John!'

Meeting special new friends.

by Brooks Gardner
March 28, 2006

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'Hi Brooks,'  'Hi John!'
"Hi, Brooks"; "Hi, John"_Brooks Gardner-Meeting special new friends.Each of us has the special opportunity to meet very special young people. I suppose that I maybe be blessed more than many. For over 25 years, I was a Boy Scout leader. The boys that I met and followed through to their Eagle Scout Award were always “one of my boys’.

About 10 years ago, I spent a summer working on the staff of a Boy Scout camp not far away. One of my duties was to conduct vespers the first three afternoons of each week of camp. The groups were not always what I hope for. This particular week was extra special because I met one of the finest young men that I have had the privilege to know.

The first day of a week of camp was Sunday. This Sunday’s vespers was special because there was a large group of boys and leaders. I tried to ask open ended question to get some feed-back from the boys. This was a good evening for response, especially from one of the boys. He was perfectly dressed in his uniform. At camp we called it a class A uniform. He responded to many of my questions with authority. After the benediction, I went to him and introduced myself and asked his name. His name was John; I never spent much time a camp using last names. Therefore I cannot remember his last name. I suggested that whenever we met in camp that I would say, “Hi, John” and wave and he would respond with “Hi, Brooks” and wave or vice versa.

During the week I made sure that I would be sitting on the side of the dining hall that John’s Troop used to enter the serving line. I became a competition to see could speak first. “Hi, Brooks,” “Hi, John” were heard at each meal and at flag raising, flag retreat, and elsewhere across camp. John was always dressed impeccably in his uniform even in those 100 degree Piedmont North Carolina days.

On Thursday evenings, the camp staff hosted a big campfire and parent came and shared a pot luck supper with the members of the individual campsite. Needless to say, John invited me to supper in his campsite. When I got to the campsite, he was waiting. “Hi, Brooks”, “Hi, John”; he excitedly took me to meet his mom. John introduced his mom to his new friend.

I learned more about John from one of his leaders. John had Down’s syndrome and loved being a Boy Scout. Something that was very special about him was that he was proceeding through the Boy Scout Advancement Program as a regular scout when he could have taken a program designed for handicapped scouts. His fellow scouts in his troop were his protectors and could educate unknowing scouts about Down’s syndrome in a heartbeat.

It was a sad Saturday morning when John and I bid each other a fond fair well. I heard a couple of years later that John had completed the requirements for his Eagle Scout award.

Life is a learning experience. John learned than he could meet new friends at special places and form a bond with these people. It taught me more about love. I learned that people with Down’s syndrome are not to be pitied, but accepted and cared about. Today, I make every effort to speak to these special people. I hope you do too.

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