The following article ran in The Daily Herald, 5/21/15. To view click here. 

When Carrie Van Daff first learned her son, Matthew, would be participating in a Boy Scouts troop at Marklund Day School, she cried.

“They were happy tears,” Carrie recalled. “I have gotten so much bad news and cried so many sad tears in the past. I never would have dreamed that one day Matthew would be earning badges and I’d be sewing patches on his uniform. My older son is jealous — now he wants to be in Boy Scouts, too.”

Students, age 3-21, attend the monthly Boy Scout meetings, with activities and curriculum modified to their needs and abilities.

“From the outside, it doesn’t look like a Boys Scouts’ meeting,” said Jenna Olznoi, a recreational therapist at Marklund, and co-leader of the troop. “The adapted activities look so different, but we are following the handbook and meeting the requirements.”

For example, when the meeting calls for reciting the Boy Scout Promise, the boys, many who are nonverbal, hold up a sign inscribed with the oath: On my honor I will do my best To do my duty to God and my country; and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

During a recent meeting at the Bloomingdale school, a local firefighter joined the Scouts as they learned about fire safety. He demonstrated putting on his uniform and gas mask. He told the boys, “If you see someone dressed like this, don’t be afraid — we wear this to help you.”

“Troop activities also incorporate a comprehension piece,” said Nancy Vincej, primary multi-needs teacher at Marklund, and troop co-leader. For example, as they talked about fire safety, leaders walked around the room with pictures of firetrucks, asking Scouts such questions as “What is red?” or “What is large?”

“In response, students used their eye gaze to look toward the correct picture; they then used their voice-output switch to answer,” Vincej said.

“They get the Boy Scouts experience, geared to their skills. They get the socialization that a boy’s club can provide. It helps them feel like they belong. It makes their quality of life better,” Olznoi said.

That means so much to Carrie Van Daff, she said. “As a parent, you always want the best for your kids and for them to be included. Knowing Matthew is included makes my heart overflow with gratitude. It’s like icing on the cake.”

“This has been so rewarding,” Vincej said. “The looks on their faces, their body language, the laughter, the eye contact … they are so engaged. We see them come alive. It is something extra that we do and plan. But to see them so happy, it is worth it.”