Kudos for volunteers

Boy Scouts honor two troop leaders

By Camilla A. Herrera
Staff Writer

March 9, 2008

James Garvin and Debra Parnon volunteered as Boy Scout den leaders to be near their sons.

Years later, they cannot imagine a more prescient decision.

"I had no way of knowing what to expect," says Garvin, who had no Scouting experience until his son, Jim, then 9, joined Darien's Cub Scout pack 161 as a Webelos, the last Cub Scout level before reaching Boy Scouts. "Then I saw everything Scouting could help them become."

Jim Garvin, who turns 27 today, earned the rank of Eagle Scout at 16. Today he is a U.S. Air Force 1st Lt., combat systems officer and navigator aboard a B-52, based at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Last Wednesday, he received transfer orders to Fort Hood in Texas where he will train as an air liaison officer.

Parnon, a former Girl Scout, credits her childhood experience with deciding in 1996 to enroll her oldest, Russell, in Cub Scouts. She saw it as a positive alternative to sports programs that could "broaden his horizons, make him better-rounded."

Now 16, Russell Parnon is a Life Scout, a rank below Eagle. His brothers, Eric, 14; and Geoffrey, 9; are a Star Scout and Webelos respectively.

Over the years, their mother has been their den leader in Pack 161 and now serves as cubmaster of the pack, where Garvin also got his start 18 years ago.

"I've enjoyed working with these kids so much, I can't imagine doing anything else," says Parnon.

Years after Jim Garvin earned his Eagle rank, his father continues to give time to the Boy Scouts as a commissioner (adviser) to members of Troop 53 in Darien and Troop 5 in Stamford.

"I believe so much in Scouting that I stayed with it," he says.

Someone noticed.

Connecticut Yankee Council, the local chapter of Boy Scouts of America, which serves Stamford, Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan and Wilton (known as the Powahay District), among other towns and cities in Fairfield, New Haven and Hartford counties, recently awarded Garvin and Parnon the Silver Beaver Award for their volunteer service to the council.

Since his role as den leader, Garvin has served as assistant scoutmaster, merit badge counselor, troop committee member and a unit commissioner for the council. Other recognitions include the President's Volunteer Service Award and the United States Naval Academy's Director's Award for Outstanding Service, in part for coordinating Scout participation in the annual Eagle Scout Merit Badge College at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

In addition to six years as cubmaster, Parnon has served as assistant scoutmaster, merit badge counselor and organizing staff member of the 2005 National Scout Jamboree. Parnon also has led teen scout camping trips to Cimarron's Philmont Scout Camp in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico, and the Florida Sea Base near Islamorada in the Florida Keys. Other Scouting recognitions include the Wood Badge, considered an honor among Scouting volunteers.

Still, Garvin and Parnon say they are humbled by the recognition, presented to them during an awards dinner in late January.

"I know a lot of people who have gotten it, who have been in Scouting and are devoted to Scouting," says Parnon. "I am humbled to think I have been chosen to be part of that group."

Each jokes about initially thinking news of the award was a prank.

"You don't expect anything," says Garvin. "I know a bunch of people who receive this. They are the backbone of Scouting and are unique in their approach to helping youth. You think to yourself that they deserve it but it's hard to think (I) deserve it, too."

Tony Vogl of the Connecticut Yankee Council says Parnon and Garvin, nominated by peers, were selected from among 4,000 chapter volunteers. Six others were recognized: John Andres and William Hall Jr. of Fairfield, William Calderara of Newtown, Christopher Caruso of Bridgeport, John Meyer Gopien of Meriden and Theodore Langevin of Madison.

Meg Orner, a den leader in Pack 161, says: "Debbie is an inspiring person. She gives so much to the Scouts and to other organizations. Even though she is very busy, she always takes the time to say thank you and to recognize those that help her."

Clayton Cole nominated Parnon because he admires her leadership style. "She's one of these leaders behind the scenes making things happen," he says. "You need leaders like her to get a little attention so they feel good about what they do."

Nathan Newhall, scoutmaster of Troop 5, nominated Garvin because of his dedication to the boys. "The amount of time he puts in is tremendous, especially when you consider his son is no longer in the program," he says.

"He's a guy who is constantly giving back. At first, you don't realize what he does because he does it quietly. He's not looking for the recognition."

As exciting as the recognition is, Garvin and Parnon say the greatest thrill comes from working with the boys.

"When you see a kid who is 10, when he goes from Webelos to Boy Scouts, you see them come in with these big eyes, a little scared," says Garvin. "You get a chance to see them develop as leaders."

Parnon agrees.

"What we do is empower kids," she says.

"Part of the whole Scouting philosophy is to acknowledge volunteerism. I think (the council) does a good job of acknowledging the time volunteers put into the program. But for me? I do it for the satisfaction of working with the kids and seeing them grow."

Copyright 2008, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.