There's one time of year that Wayne Dawson loves to wake up at 4 o'clock in the morning. It's when he's fishing. No, marlin aren't his aim. "We fish for pot fish like yellowtail snapper, something that we can cook up for breakfast," says Dawson, a former Boy Scout and now Scoutmaster with the Virgin Islands Council of the Boy Scouts of America for the past 16 years. Fishing, along with cutting coconuts to find drinking water, roasting chicken in a stone fired pit built in the sand, and sleeping out on the beach at Hassel Island in St. Thomas' Charlotte Amalie harbor, are what the boys like best about the annual camping trip. "It seems to them like its right out of Survivor," says Dawson, referencing the popular television program.
Hiking and camping are what Dawson most enjoyed as a Boy Scout. "My troop, Troop 100, met upstairs in the Boy Scout building on the waterfront. We'd sometime take hikes where we'd walk up Raphune Hill, along Skyline Drive, into Smith Bay and finally to Vessup Bay where we'd swim and fish. It was great."
Dawson's enthusiasm quickly led him through the Scout ranks. He soon became an assistant patrol leader, then patrol leader and finally acting quartermaster by age 15. He served as quartermaster for three years, when he then turned 18 and became Troop 100's assistant scoutmaster, a position he held for four years.
"In that fourth year, Troop 20 was slated to start at my grade school alma mater, J. Antonio Jarvis School. For a year and a half, I served as assistant scout master for both Troop 100 and Troop 20," Dawson explains. "Then I had the opportunity to take over as scout master for Troop 20, a position that I've held since 1989."
Today, Dawson is also the advisor for Lodge 62, in the Boy Scouts' Order of the Arrow. "Any area with an Indian background can form a lodge. The Arawaks were here in the Virgin Islands, therefore we qualify. The program is an excellent way for Boy Scouts who are honor campers and age 15 and older to stay involved. We perform activities such as reading to seniors, conservation projects such as beach clean-ups, and food drives for the needy," he says.
As a Scoutmaster, Dawson plans and executes a variety of activities throughout the year with Troop 20's 25 to 35 Boy Scouts. "We produce a calendar for each month which has dates for day hikes, overnight hikes where we sleep on the beach in pup tents and even meetings where we take off and go to the movies. Our program is year round, with only breaks at the Christmas holidays and for Carnival in April."
In the past, Dawson and his Troop members have traveled to other Caribbean islands such as St. Maarten and Puerto Rico. "On St. Maarten we visited town, participated in a parade and church services. It's like a mini Jamboree in Puerto Rico. Trips like this offer a great opportunity for the boys to talk to scouts on other islands and exchange ideas," he says.
This summer, Dawson, along with three other adults and thirty-six scouts attended the National Jamboree outside Washington, DC. "We were so excited, I mean really whopping with cheers, when President Bush mentioned the Virgin Islands by name. In the past, he just mentioned 'territories' in a generic form."
A big event each summer is the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament, nicknamed the 'Boy Scout Tournament' since the event is the largest annual fundraiser for Virgin Islands' scouting. "Its important for us to show support. The boys are out for the handline tournament, the flag ceremony, helping to prepare and serve dinner at the docks, passing out tickets and more. We really appreciate that the anglers and crews who are coming here for the fun of fishing also support us and help keep scouting afloat in the Virgin Islands," Dawson says.
Scouting indeed plays a positive influence in many boy's lives, Dawson says. "Some kids are shy, others come from dysfunctional homes. Life can be hard in the projects. They've got to walk by the kids on the corners pushing drugs. Teenage boys also have hormones to contend with and the pressure to have a girlfriend. Scouting builds self-esteem, its builds character and leadership skills."
Dawson adds, "I've had three eagle scouts under my belt and I'm very proud of them. Over the years, our Virgin Islands' Boy Scouts have taken leadership roles in school, church and the Virgin Islands community."