Overland Park & Leawood

July 9, 2013

Scouting exchange program broadens horizons for Leawood teens

Participants from Leawood and Israel realize they’re more similar than different.

If you want to see change, look to the young.

And you couldn’t have see it in action better than in Leawood recently.

Fourteen-year-old Boy and Girl Scouts from Leawood and the Gezer region of Israel came together for a week as part of a Scouting exchange. They celebrated their week at a picnic in Gezer park at 133rd Street and Mission Road.

The Scouts — three girls, nine boys and two leaders — stayed with host families in Leawood. Gezer is Leawood’s sister city, and this exchange of Scouts is a pilot program.

During the week last month they mixed it up with the Leawood Scouts of the same age at Camp Naish.

The Scouts swam, rappelled and climbed walls. But their most favorite activity, to a teen, was “shopping at the mall!”

“Everything was 40 percent off,” said 14-year-old Rotem, an enthusiastic Gezer Scout with dark hair to her waist.

The teens said they realized how they’re more similar than different.

“People in Israel expect to see cowboys and Indians here in the midst of America, and Americans think we ride around on camels all day,” said Rav, who is from Gezer in Israel. “But we’re more alike than that.”

He said he and his friends all learn most of their English from television, both here and in Israel.

“My English is getting better every day,” said Rav, who wants to be a professional tennis player.

Tom Johnson, the International Scouting Committee chairman from the Heart of America Council, says the pilot program has teens from every faith. The country with the fastest- growing numbers of members is Africa. The most populous faith is Muslim.

“We hope to do this same program with a contingent of Leawood teens next year,” Johnson said.

“We call Scouting the world’s largest peace movement,” said Johnson. “(Scouting) started in the 1900s and that has been the Scouting oath ever since then,” said Johnson.

Johnson said it was an outgrowth of the First World War, when Boy Guides sent messages back and forth between British and American fighting troops.

Now, the Scouting organization hopes to foster international friendships for the young teens to help them in the global economy.

The sister city partnership with Gezer, Israel, has broadened Leawood culturally, Mayor Peggy Dunn said.

“Leawood’s historic founding was based on bigotry — white flight from the central core,” says Dunn.

She pointed out that the homeowners’ associations restricted ownership of homes from Jews and people of color.

“They had to go to court to change” the restrictions based on race.

“It’s nothing to be proud of,” said Dunn.

“But now Leawood is one of the most inclusive communities in the area,” Dunn said.

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