Boy Scout Troop 802 has embraced all the traditional scouting activities since they began meeting four years ago. They have tied knots, competed in a pinewood derby and faced their fears while scrambling up a rope ladder. What makes the troop unique is all its members are deaf and students at The Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Edgewood.

Troop leader and middle school teacher Gary Freilino witnessed a positive change in the boys almost immediately. He observed them taking initiative at events, helping others and connecting what they learned in scouts to their schoolwork. Eighth grader Antoine Hunter signed that scouting has helped him feel more connected to his classmates.

The Boys Scouts of America have been reaching out to those with special needs for over a century. The Laurel Highlands Council created the TrailBlazer District in 2009 to champion the needs of the disabled and encourage inclusion in scouting in southwestern Pennsylvania. Over 4,000 youths with a wide range disabilities such as Tourette’s syndrome, sight impairment and autism have participated in the program.

“It was our goal to create a comprehensive environment where physically and mentally handicapped individuals could share, participate, and grow, in unison with our other core programs,” says District Director Darla DiGiovanni.

TrailBlazer District Executive Bob Zelleznick has found working with the deaf scouts to be a rewarding experience. He has been taking American Sign Language courses and receives a lot coaching from the boys. “They are just like any other troop you would go to in any neighborhood. Boys are boys,” he said.

Martha Rial

Martha Rial is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who is committed to documenting social justice and finding stories that will inspire others.