This article first appeared in the St Louis Beacon, Feb. 27, 2009 - Two 19-year-old St. Louis students expect to find themselves inside the Oval Office during the coming week as they present the Boy Scouts of America’s annual report to President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Washington officials.
Jack O’Neill, an Eagle Scout from Troop 169 at Assumption Catholic Church in South St. Louis County, and Amanda Vogt, from Venture Crew 2783 at Salem-in-Ballwin United Methodist Church, are in Washington, D.C., on a weeklong trip that includes meetings with government leaders and tours of federal facilities.
Both are attending the trip as the Boy Scouts’ top youth officers. It’s the first time two national offices have been held by youth members from the same council, in this case the Greater St. Louis Area Boy Scouts Council.
The trip is especially sweet for Vogt, who found out 18 months ago that she had a brain tumor. That summer, when she was a regional Scout president, she often suffered from massive headaches and multiple seizures a day.
“When we learned about it, the doctor turned to me and asked if I had any questions,” Vogt said. “My first question was, ‘Can I go repelling, and how much is this going to affect scouting?’ I went ahead with activities that were safe, and it made me push harder because I never knew if I’d have the next day to complete the program.”
Vogt said she’s been seizure- and tumor-free for 14 months and is back to participating fully in Scout activities. Now a sophomore at Lindenwood University, Vogt is National Venturing President, a position that involves leading outdoor adventure programs. She became the first young member of the Greater St Louis Area Council to be elected to a national Scouts office in May.
O’Neill, a sophomore at the University of Missouri, was elected National Chief of the Order of the Arrow in December, a position that St. Louis Council spokesman Joe Mueller described as “the national honor society for scouting.”
Both students will be representing the 4 million-plus participants in the Scouts program across the country. They are planning to chronicle their experiences through a blog (www.stlbsa.wordpress.com ), twitter site (www.twitter.com/stlbsa ) and Facebook page (http://tinyurl.com/amwf2r ).
O’Neill and Vogt spoke with the Beacon shortly before boarding their planes for Washington.
When did you first get involved with the Scouts program?
O’Neill: I was 5 when I joined the Tiger Cubs, and I started Boy Scouts at 11.
Vogt: I started Girl Scouts in kindergarten. My family is one of those who all go into it. I began Venturing the day I finished eighth grade – the earliest I could get involved.
What sustained your interest?
O’Neill: I love camping, and that’s the reason I stuck with it. Once I got to Order of the Arrow, I saw the opportunities for leadership and friendship.
Vogt: I met the national president two years ago at an event, and after watching what she did and what kind of leadership she showed, I knew I wanted to give something back to the scouting program.
What was your reaction to being elected to a national position?
O’Neill: Immediately afterward it was hard to believe that, wow, I’d come this far to this position. I knew my life was changed – it was a very exciting time.
Vogt: It was a complete honor. My head was floating in the clouds for a day or two until it set in.
And to know you’re one of two Scouts national officers from St. Louis?
O’Neill: I didn’t think about it too much, but I guess it’s a part of history, especially because we’re both going to D.C.
Vogt: It’s a unique opportunity, because it gives us the chance to work together and get good publicity for the Scouts in this area.
Is this your first trip to Washington?
O’Neill: I was there for inauguration – and that was my first time. A friend and I helped pass out American flags, and we watched the ceremony from a few hundred yards away. I came home excited for this next trip. It’s quite an opportunity to be a part of a small group visiting the country’s most historic sites and doing things that tourists won’t be able to see.
Vogt: I’ve been twice before for sightseeing, but that’s doing the touristy stuff, not behind-the-scenes. We’re fitting 12 days of touring into five days.
What would you ask the president if you had the chance?
O’Neill: I know he’s a huge sports fan – I’d probably talk about basketball.
Vogt: I’d ask both (Obama and Pelosi) if they could instill one trait into future generations, what would that be? That would give us an idea of what they believe the youth of this nation need to succeed in the future.
Is there someone other than Obama and Pelosi you’re hoping to meet?
O’Neill: [Defense Secretary] Robert Gates – he’s a distinguished Eagle Scout.
Vogt: I’d love to meet [Senator] John McCain.