Pinewood Derby Raises Money... and Awareness

May 23, 2018

About one-third of children in Harrisonburg live in single-parent homes.  One Valley chapter of the Boy Scouts of America gathered local businesses, community members and scouting enthusiasts on Sunday to raise money, and awareness.  And as WMRA’s Calvin Pynn reports, it was a time-honored scouting event – a pinewood derby.

There’s a lot that goes into turning a little block of pine wood into a race winning car – weight, size, wheel placement – but as long time Venture Scout Carly Watson explains, it’s all about function over fashion.

[Carly Watson opening box and unwrapping her pinewood car]

CARLY WATSON: This is not a fancy looking car, there’s no cool design. We’re going for the science, not the looks. It’s pretty, but not fancy.

That philosophy drove Watson’s car into first place during the Stonewall Jackson Area Council’s first Corporate Pinewood Derby Sunday, but it is also one of many lessons that can be taken for those who participate in scouting. The desire to continue imparting those lessons brought several local businesses and a couple dozen more scouting enthusiasts to Melrose Caverns to celebrate scouting and raise money for the council’s Massanutten District, which covers Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, and Pendleton County, West Virginia.

Michael Alexiou – a Harrisonburg ear, nose and throat doctor and former Boy Scout -- pulled the event together after learning of a growing number of single family households in the area.

MICHAEL ALEXIOU: As a physician I hear from patients  -- a lot of patients -- all the time, the heartbeat of the community. And what I hear is that there are a lot of youth without mentors.

The American Community Survey’s 2018 study, which collected data between 2012 and 2016, shows that 35% of children in Harrisonburg live in single parent households with 22% from Rockingham County and 26% in Pendleton County. Those numbers tend to hold steady, but have gone up slightly since 2011. That prompted Alexiou to act. 

ALEXIOU: I know from a practical standpoint that those parents are working really hard to make ends meet. So there’s not a lot of time to teach children right from wrong. How do you introduce them to different things in the world that they can learn about or even become involved in an occupational setting?

Local business owners and other attendees raised more than $27,000 for the Massanutten District, in part through participation in the derby. As any Scout will tell you, it's a time-honored tradition, but this race was a little different.  Adults usually only help build the children’s cars. This time though, the grownups got to race.

[Crowd chants “5, 4, 3, 2, 1!” with the sound of cars released running down the track]

ALEXIOU: Whoa! That was smokin’ fast!

The Stonewall Jackson Area council covers thirteen counties across the Shenandoah Valley, with more than 3,500 scouts and more than 1,800 individual adult volunteers, and just like the Boy Scouts of America overall, is self-funded. The money raised will help cover a wide range of expenses – from new docks and a dining hall expansion at Camp Shenandoah, to covering registration fees for scouts who couldn’t afford them otherwise. For children lacking mentorship, the money raised will also fund outreach efforts for families unaware of scouting as an option for their children.

JIM BATTAGLIA: We’ve always been steadfast in our relationships with single parent families where they need that role model; they need that character leadership building segment.

Jim Battaglia is chief operating officer for the Stonewall Jackson Area Council.

JIM BATTAGLIA: We subscribe to the principle that the role model determines how a child will develop their character over time. It really depends on the family, and individual, and what they’re looking for.

The Corporate Pinewood Derby followed a significant announcement for the Boy Scouts of America earlier this month, as the organization will change its name next February to Scouts BSA, to reflect girls’ inclusion in the organization. Girls can already participate in the co-ed Venture Scouting and Cub Scouts program, but will be able to earn merit badges and climb the ranks to become Eagle scouts next year. 

Joe Reisinger is a scout leader currently serving as the Council’s Vice President of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, and wants to clear up the misconception about girls being allowed in the Boy Scouts.  

JOE REISINGER: It was a push from parents of scouts who for many, many years have been taking the little girl along with the little boy, the brother and sister that is, off to the scout meeting, and the girls participates just as much as the little boy does, and we were asked what we think about this, and we said of course! Why would you not allow girls in the program?

Reisinger’s example closely parallels Watson’s experience. She, as a Venture scout, got into the program following her three older brothers.

Watson: I’ve learned so much. Not only outdoor skills, but leadership skills, and I’ve been able to be confident and able to find a job and get into school. It makes you ten times more confident as a person.

For those involved in scouting, those lessons amount to more than just earning merit badges -- or, in Carly's case, winning first place in the Pinewood Derby.

[Sound of cheering]