published Monday, January 14th, 2013

Alternative scouting group starting in Chattanooga

Jeremy Pollen, 5, looks over at his 10-year-old brother Nathan Polen's SpiralScouts notebook. The boys' mother, Stephaine Polen, is starting a local chapter of the youth organization, which will be open to boys and girls ages 3 through 18, allowing her sons to participate together.
Jeremy Pollen, 5, looks over at his 10-year-old brother Nathan Polen's SpiralScouts notebook. The boys' mother, Stephaine Polen, is starting a local chapter of the youth organization, which will be open to boys and girls ages 3 through 18, allowing her sons to participate together.
  • photo
    Amber Hoff helps her daughter, Anylia Godsey, 3, create the cover for her notebook. Hoff is among more than 20 families who have expressed interest in participating in the new SpiralScouts group.
    enlarge photo

SPIRALSCOUTS AT A GLANCE

• First group was organized in 1999 in a Wiccan church outside Seattle.

• Groups, or Circles, do not have to adhere to Wiccan faith.

• Nondiscriminatory in terms of religion, gender or sexuality.

• Boys and girls are in included in the same group. Ages range from 3 to 18.

• Family members are encouraged to participate.

• Focus is a "globally-oriented philosophy of religious tolerance and interfaith cooperation, personal responsibility, and ecological education and conservation."

• Leaders must undergo background checks.

• Has groups in all 50 states, plus Canada, Australia and Japan.

Source: www.spiralscouts.org

TO GET INVOLVED

People interested in SpiralScouts are invited to attend a meeting on Jan. 20 at a location yet to be determined. For final details, e-mail Stephanie Polen at scpolen@gmail.com.

Kindergartner Jeremy Polen wanted to be a Boy Scout like his big brother, 10-year-old Nathan, but the Scouts prefer first-graders and up.

So Stephanie Polen, mother to 5-year-old Jeremy, started her own local chapter of SpiralScouts International, an organization she says is an alternative to Boy Scouts. While SpiralScouts has similarities to traditional scouting, including the pursuit of badges, awards and pins, it's also more inclusive, she says, with membership open to girls and boys ages 3-18.

According to SpiralScouts website, it's also "nondiscriminatory in all regards (sexual orientation, religion, gender)."

"A family can have a group, called a 'hearth,' and if several families want to be in a group, it is called a circle," says Polen, 42, a "work-at-home" mom who is a freelance information technology trainer. "My group will be a circle. Right now, the name is Scenic Circle, but one of our first tasks will be for the kids to name their own circle."

Polen says her circle, which will have its first meeting next month, allows her two sons to be active in the same scouting group.

Having heard about SpiralScouting through a friend who started a circle in Atlanta, Polen says she was particularly drawn to the fact that all ages of boys and girls could belong to the same circle and that family members are invited to participate, too.

"I also love that families are involved," she says. "You don't just drop your kids off at a SpiralScout meeting. The family is involved in completing the activities and planning."

SpiralScouts was created in 1999 by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, a Wiccan church outside Seattle, as an alternative to mainstream scouting programs, such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Camp Fire groups, according to spiralscouts.org. The scouting program is adaptable to work with any faith or to be completely secular and, in addition to traditional woodland lore, camping and outdoor living skills, the program includes teaching the many mythologies of the ancient world, the website says.

Polen says that though SpiralScouts has roots in "pagan, earth-based beliefs," each circle and hearth is unique.

"Our circle will embrace the earth and be completely secular," she says.

Potential leaders in the program also are required to have a background check, she says.

So far, more than 20 families have contacted Polen about participating in SpiralScouts.

Chattanooga resident Julia Kurtz-Kunesh has expressed interested in joining Polen's Scenic Circle. The mother of four girls, age 16 months to 14 years old, says she heard about the organization from friends.

"I grew up in the Girl Scout program and still strongly believe that it is a wonderful program that any girl would thrive in, but some of the religious overtones conflicted with my own religion," Kurtz-Kunesh says.

"Also, I know it's been proven that youngsters do well in gender-separate classrooms in an academic situation, but when it comes to having fun and achieving personal goals, I believe it is good to have them socially together, as equals," she says. "SpiralScouts does not separate the genders and I like that."

Polen says that, once her local group meetings gets under way, she hopes to work with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in volunteer and community service projects.

"We can all learn from each other," she says.

An official from the Cherokee Area Council for the Boy Scouts declined to comment and officials with the Girl Scouts of Southern Appalachia could not be reached.

Like traditional scouting programs, SpiralScouts will wear uniforms, Polen says.

"Our uniform will be a dark-green shirt, khaki pants or shorts and a lanyard," she says. "There will be no pre-determined shirt or pants to purchase. It can be a simple T-shirt and pants or shorts."

SpiralScouts also will participate in community service and volunteer activities, Polen says.

"We have many pins and badges to work on achieving," she says. "The list will grow as we grow.

"I would love to see knowledge of SpiralScouts as common as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts locally," she says. "I would like for us to have a presence in local parades, help the community and be a positive influence for all children."

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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