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Scouting Lets Kids Shine

October 30, 2018

Nathaniel Bahan is just like any other Scout. He goes camping with his troop, works on merit badges, and gives back to the community with service projects.

What many people don’t realize is that Nathaniel was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects movement, motor skills, and muscle tone. For Nathaniel, it affects his left side motor skills. Though he sometimes wears braces on his legs to help him walk, he has never let his disability get in the way.

“He doesn’t know any limits,” said Nathaniel’s mom, Kathleen. “He doesn’t limit himself on his disability. He doesn’t look at it as a disability.”

In addition to Scouting, Nathaniel keeps a full schedule with church youth group, serving as a student mentor, and playing percussion— in his high school marching band.

“It’s something when you see the kid who has trouble walking carrying the drum major’s stand across the field,” said Kathleen. “It almost looks mean like, “Why are they making that kid do that?” Well, that kid wants to do that!”

Nathaniel first joined Scouting as a Tiger, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Matt.

“We became a Scouting family when [Nathaniel’s] older brother was in second grade,” explained Kathleen. “The reason we did is because I was a middle school teacher, and the kids that I saw in my room at the time, as an eighth-grade teacher, the boys that were what I wanted my boys to become, were Scouts.”

Being a kid isn’t always easy, but Kathleen firmly believes that Scouting has helped Nathaniel overcome the additional challenges cerebral palsy has thrown his way.

“Through his ability to learn how to be a leader through Scouting, he translates that into school and everyday life,” explained Kathleen. “I think those friendships he has made through Scouting and the Scouts seeing him as a leader, that does carry over into school. So, kids that might not be familiar with Nathaniel and might wonder, ‘Why does that kid walk differently?’ When they get to know him, and when his personality is out there, I think they are very accepting. And I think that those character traits and those leadership skills, he’s learned through Scouting.”

Two years ago Nathaniel wanted to further strengthen his leadership skills so he attended National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT) for a week during the summer.

“NYLT was a great experience,” said Nathaniel “I learned how to form relationships with people I’ve never met before and start working with them right off the bat. I learned leadership skills that I took back to my troop as well as communication skills that I use in my personal life in school.”

The experience was so transformational for Nathaniel, that he eagerly sought out a staffing position last summer, so he could pass along the knowledge and enthusiasm to other Scouts.

Naturally, mom had a few doubts, even fears, as she dropped her son off for NYLT.

“You just worry because things are harder for him,” Kathleen said. “But he doesn’t see it as harder. He just sees that, ‘this is what I have to go do.’ And that’s exactly what I want for him. So, the emotions can be a little bit of being scared for his safety, but also just the pride and amazement of what he can do.

“So all my mom fears, he just overcomes those all on his own. He doesn’t want special consideration.”

Kathleen further proved this point when she shared one of her favorite memories from Nathaniel’s Scouting journey. As the two were packing for a kayak trip, Nathaniel proudly explained a new rope and knot invention to his mother.

“He says, ‘Mom, I made this so if the first-year Scouts get tired, I can tie them to my kayak, and I can pull them,’” Kathleen says with a smile. “Now A) he was a first-year Scout. B) I’m worried that he’s going to get tired because really, only one arm is doing most of the work. And C) I’m pretty sure he made it because he thought I was going to get tired, and he was going to need to save me!

“But that’s Nathaniel. He’s always thinking about how to help someone else. Those first year Scouts, he was going to make it better for them even though he was one of them.”

In Scouting, Nathaniel has found a community that sees past his cerebral palsy and accepts him for exactly who he is. That’s not always the case for his life outside of Scouts.

“Don’t give people with cerebral palsy limitations,” said Nathaniel. “Treat them like others. I wish other people would see me as my personality and myself and not my CP. This isn’t a problem with my friends and my troop, but sometimes people who don’t know me avoid me.”

Although that might be a tough reality for some, Nathaniel is prepared to overcome it stating, “Scouting has taught me to never give up on anything I put my mind to and to always keep building relationships with people.”

It’s these lessons and life skills that show Kathleen the true impact of Scouting.

“I love that Scouting has really given him a place to shine whereas other events might overlook him.”