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Leaders Share Troop Project


By: Bartholomew Sullivan
Phone: 202-408-2726

WASHINGTON — Fort Pierce businessman Scott Van Duzer and an entourage from St. Lucie County came away from a meeting with White House officials Wednesday convinced they can “fast-track” their Boy Scout Troop 772 initiative in more than 230 cities across the country.

VanDuzer, perhaps best known nationally as the man who gave President Barack Obama a bear hug and lifted him off the his feet at his pizza parlor in 2012, is bringing his success story with Fort Pierce youngsters to the leaders of the president’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. The White House initiative’s name comes from another term for the good Samaritan mentioned in Luke’s Gospel.

In a meeting with Special Assistant to the President Michael D. Smith, director of the White House initiative, the group said everyone shared ideas and promised cooperation.


1A “We’re going to be lining up with those (230) cities so that we can fast-track what we’re doing,” said Van Duzer on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington after the session. “We were extremely pleased how receptive they were of all the stuff we’ve done, and he told us how proud he is of us for doing all this.”

During the meeting, Smith asked how many Boy Scouts of color are in troops nationwide and was told it’s less than 5 percent, Van Duzer said.

The group, some of whom traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, to help set up seven troops there, will be in Baltimore on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, the group met with U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, and handed him a progress report on the initiative in his district. Already after less than two years, 18 of his Boy Scouts have made the honor roll at Dan Mc-Carty Middle School in Fort Pierce, Van Duzer told Murphy, a Democratic Party candidate for the Senate from Jupiter.

Debuting as spokesman for the group was St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook, who said he was looking for “something to get involved in, a place for kids to get off the street,” after the riots last year in Ferguson, just miles from the Rams’ training camp.

Filmmaker Praheme Praphet gave Murphy a poster for his feature movie “Troop 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions,” which he told the congressman is about a child of a single parent who found a way to avoid gangs and the streets of Richmond, Virginia, through Scouting. Someone joked that Murphy should hang it in his “new office,” to laughter.

Said Murphy: “I’m either going to have a bigger office or no office,” to more laughter.

Van Duzer gave Murphy an update on a program that started with 51 of the toughest cases at the middle school. Later, in an interview in the rotunda of the Cannon Office Building, Van Duzer talked of all the people who have stepped forward to help, including the Boy Scouts national leadership, and local politicians. Van Duzer said a “cornerstone” of the program, state Rep. Larry Lee Jr., had planned to make the trip but could not at the last minute.

Some in Troop 772 have traveled to the state Legislature in Tallahassee, where Lee was their host, and to Congress and to the United Nations to earn three different levels of citizenship merit badges, Van Duzer said, broadening their perspective of what’s out there and what’s possible.

Port St. Lucie Police Lt. Carmine Izzo said part of his interplay with the troop is an effort to persuade young people to be comfortable with the police and be better citizens. Jeff Isaac, CEO of the Gulf Stream Council of the Boy Scouts of America, with 8,000 boys between Boca Raton and Vero Beach, said positive benefits of the Troop 772 program have already been seen in better classroom discipline and in their introduction to community service.

St. Lucie County Commissioner Kim Johnson, who got his own bear hug from Murphy, said the 772 initiative “is creating an opportunity for kids to disallow themselves an excuse to stay the same, or as usual. What it does for them is gives them a way to take responsibility and experience new frontiers that will allow them to fulfill dreams and elevate them to be mentors to new mentees.”

Port St. Lucie Mayor Greg Oravec said the program got underway before he became mayor but he has followed its progress. He said the whole community benefits from it because “what happens in Fort Pierce matters in Port St. Lucie, and what happens in Port St. Lucie matters to Fort Pierce.” He added that gangs “provide family structure in the absence of one,” but so can Scouting.

“The cool thing is that every child’s life changed is a victory for our future,” Oravec said.

The Fort Pierce Fire Department’s vehicles bear the motto “Our Family Serving Yours,” and Fire Chief Ron Parrish and firefighter Rusty Hines say they’re working to show it’s true. “It serves our mission — saving lives,” Parrish said.

Hines was the first leader for Troop 772 and had stories about kids whose lives are being turned around.

They recently helped clean up Spoil Island No. 5 that, although just miles from their homes, they never knew existed, he said.

“I can’t tell you,” he said of his surprise. “The first thing they want to tell me is about their grades.”

After the meeting at the White House, Hines said officials appeared eager to bring the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to Boy Scouts, and let the Boy Scouts inform the White House’s approach to dealing with at-risk youth.


St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook is presented with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., and businessman Scott Van Duzer of Fort Pierce during a meeting of local leaders in Murphy’s office in the Cannon House Office Building on Wednesday in Washington. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY KRIS CONNOR