WINDSOR TERRACE — Growing up in Iowa, Todd Schweikert loved being a Boy Scout, and he even made it through the rigorous process of becoming an elite Eagle Scout.
Schweikert wanted his 7-year-old son to have the same positive experience, but he was turned off by the Boy Scouts of America's anti-gay policies.
So, like any self-reliant scout, Schweikert took matters into his own hands and started his own troop — one that welcomes both boys and girls, doesn't discriminate against gays and doesn't have a religious component.
He's hoping to attract other families who want their kids to know the thrill of camping overnight and exploring the woods with only a compass to guide them, but don't agree with the Boy Scouts of America's official policy banning gay members and gay adults from serving as leaders.
"I think the need and the want is there," Schweikert said. "A lot of people want their children to be in scouts, but a lot of people have issues with their policies."
Some Boy Scout troops turn a blind eye to the national organization's official policies and admit girls or gay members. A California Boy Scouts troop this week recommended a gay member for Eagle Scout status.
But Schweikert said even if he could find a lenient troop, he wouldn't want to join an official Boy Scouts of America group because his dues money would go toward supporting its discriminatory policies.
Schweikert, a 33-year-old Windsor Terrace resident whose son goes to P.S. 154, researched several alternative scouting options, including groups like Camp Fire. He settled on the Baden-Powell Service Association to be the parent organization of his troop. Like other traditional scouting groups, BPSA teaches "woodcraft," or how to survive outdoors. BPSA troops also use what's called the "patrol method" to divide scouts into teams that each have a leader nominated by other scouts.
BPSA troops are open to both boys and girls, and unlike the Boy Scouts of America, there is less talk of God and religion in official scouting laws, Schweikert said. The troop welcomes kids as young as 5 years old, who are known as Otters. At age 8, scouts graduate to Timberwolves.
Schweikert's troop, to be called the Fifth Brooklyn Scouts, will meet weekly at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture on Prospect Park West. The location is well-positioned for excursions to Prospect Park for "nature observation," but scouts will also embark on overnight camping trips and weekend hikes. The troop will learn classic scouting skills like knot-tying and community service projects, and they'll earn badges after they accomplish specific goals.
So far, more than 40 kids have expressed interest in the troop. Schweikert said he's excited to introduce scouting to a new generation.
"It really builds character," he explained. "It prepares them for leadership roles. It's not just running around in the woods with knives."
To learn more about Fifth Brooklyn Scouts, attend an open house at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, 53 Prospect Park West, on Wednesday, Jan. 9, from 6 to 8 p.m.