Dan Neff is hard to miss. On most days you can find him just inside the window of Lake Superior Art Glass, his store in downtown Duluth, working in a white-hot glow to create art with his torch and tools. Passersby watch him build and bend glass in flame. His show is surpassed only by the artistry of the jewelry, sculpture, bottles and bowls he creates. Last spring, Dan was honored for turning his passion into a successful business. He won a Labovitz Entrepreneurial Success Award from the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Center for Economic Development.
But while many know Dan, few know this: He is an Eagle Scout. And he credits a youth growing up in Scouting for helping him gain the knowledge and courage to start his own business, persevere through challenges and seize opportunities.
“Ultimately, it was the experience of Scouting that helped me the most as a small-business owner,” Neff says. “It does a good job of preparing you with broad skills for uncertain situations. And it gives you the courage and confidence to say, ‘I can figure it out.’ ”
Those words are more important now than ever for young professionals starting their careers and for younger generations starting lives that will see more change than the generations before them.
It might be tempting to wonder what is relevant in 2014 about Scouting. It was founded in 1910 and has seen its share of questions and controversies through the years, including many negative headlines in recent years, while confronting change and transition. But scouting today delves into STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math — through pitching tents, hiking and canoeing as well as welding, mining and aviation programs. It teaches the importance of working in teams, being a leader, and representing good citizenship and character. It gets kids off the couch and into the natural world. It gives them the tools to find their way, whether through the woods or through the thicket of life.
As Neff says, “I can figure it out.” Or, as we in Scouting say with a spin on the Scouting motto, “Prepared. For life.”
Dozens of successful business people in our region directly cite their experience in Scouting as having helped prepare them for life. But the story continues to younger generations. Sam Belden, 18, of Hermantown scored a perfect 36 on the American College Test and is off to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall to study chemical engineering. Sam is an Eagle Scout. And Sharon and Tony Yung of Duluth have made a decision to involve their three sons — ages 7, 10 and 12 — in Scouting. They believe it is one way to prepare their sons for life as they learn and have fun.
“Scouting solidifies behaviors I want my kids to demonstrate in their lives,” Sharon Yung says. “And they just love it.”
Not everyone sees Scouting that way. Recently, the United Way of Greater Duluth decided not to continue funding for Scouting in our region. That tells me we still have work to do to share the message, the power and the return on community investment in Scouting.
We remain grateful for the support we continue to receive from individuals as well as groups, including the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota, based on the Iron Range. The loss of United Way funding in Duluth has caused us to recommit to explaining the value of Scouting to our children and our society.
You don’t have to look far to see examples of how an investment in Scouting pays off across our 20-county region of northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. More than 4,000 boys and their families participate in our programs.
But you also can walk down Superior Street most days and find Dan Neff, Eagle Scout. He’ll be hard at work in his shop, creating artwork and building his business based on the lessons he learned in Scouting years ago.
The Boy Scouts of America Communications Department was not involved in the creation of this content. This editorial was written by David Nolle, scout executive and CEO for the Voyageurs Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, based in Hermantown. This editorial was published in the Duluth News Tribune.