Youth take over city for Scouts in Government Day

By being a Boy Scout, Paul Bontrager is learning leadership and practical skills he plans to use to take him far in life.

Maybe even as far as becoming mayor of Seymour one day.

“I’ve always been kind of interested in being the leader and being in charge of everyone,” he said. “I’d like to make Seymour a more friendly place and give younger people more things to do. That way, we could get more families here.”

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On Tuesday afternoon, Bontrager, a student at St. John’s Lutheran School White Creek in Bartholomew County, and 10 other boys were let out of school early to participate in the long-standing tradition of Scouts in Government Day.

The experience is a way to open Scouts’ eyes to how local government operates and meet the people who make it all happen, from the mayor to police and firefighters to those responsible for picking up trash and running other city departments.

“It gives us a chance to walk in their shoes, see what they do every day and appreciate what they do more,” Bontrager said.

Bontrager has been a Scout for nine years.

“It gives me a lot of leadership opportunities,” he said. “It has taught me a lot about life and what I’ll be able to do when I grow up.”

This was his third year to participate in Scouts in Government Day. Last year, he had the opportunity to observe the workings of the city’s water pollution control facility.

Since the early 1950s, Scouts in Government Day has been observed locally, said Larry Meyer, Hoosier Trails Council commissioner. The program helps the students learn about citizenship and gives them the opportunity to earn merit badges in national and community citizenship.

Those participating this year were Bontrager, Sam Chandler, Austin Clark, Eli Downey, Eli Carr, Dylan Peters, John Brockman, Ryan Grice, Carter Murphy, Cooper Murphy and Sam Atwood. They represented Troop 526 and Troop 529 in Seymour.

Dale Siefker, Hoosier Trails Council executive board member, said he hopes by taking part in the annual Scouts in Government Day, the boys gain more of an interest in city government and what it takes to run a small town.

This year, the program was conducted a little differently due to a policy change at the national Scouting level to better protect children when they are with adults.

In the past, boys would “shadow” a department head, having one-on-one time with them to get more in-depth knowledge of their different job responsibilities.

To comply with the new regulations, the group traveled together on the city’s park and recreation bus Tuesday with Mayor Craig Luedeman, making stops to tour the police station, fire station headquarters, Department of Public Works and Freeman Army Airfield Museum.

Chandler, a Seymour Middle School student, said he was most interested in the museum and the city’s airport.

“I just like aviation,” he said.

He has been a Scout since first grade and took part in Scouts in Government Day last year when he was paired with Fire Chief Brad Lucas.

Although they weren’t able to do any hands-on activities Tuesday due to time constraints, some Scouts thought it was better to observe several departments in the course of the afternoon instead of just one.

Chandler said he learned a lot about the city in a short amount of time, and if he was ever elected mayor, his first order of business would impact youth.

“I’d want to clean up our parks,” he said.

Downey, a student at the Seymour Middle School Sixth Grade Center, started as a Cub Scout when he was in second grade and moved up to Boy Scouts last May.

“It’s really fun because you get to hang out with your friends and be social,” he said. “It teaches you life skills on camp trips, like how to cook.”

This was his first year participating in Scouts in Government Day.

“It shows kids different jobs in government, how they do things and how their daily life is,” Downey said. “If you’re interested in getting a job in government, it’s something you should know.”

He said he thought being a police officer or firefighter would be the best government job to have.

“I think it would be fun because you would see a lot of action,” he said.

Many of the Scouts have been involved with Scouts in Government Day multiple times.

Luedeman told the Scouts this would be his last year of involvement with the program because he decided not to run for re-election this year.

He hopes the Scouts will continue to learn about government under the next mayor’s leadership to gain education and experience for a productive adulthood.

“After 12 years of doing this, this will be my last time,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s a good time for you guys. I’ve enjoyed doing this, watching you guys grow up. It has always been fun.”

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Those participating in the 2019 Scouts in Government Day on Tuesday were Paul Bontrager, Sam Chandler, Austin Clark, Eli Downey, Eli Carr, Dylan Peters, John Brockman, Ryan Grice, Carter Murphy, Cooper Murphy and Sam Atwood. They represented Troop 526 and Troop 529 in Seymour.