Eagle Scout, 15, hit rank with help from troop for special-needs kids
A legion of supporters and a troop for special-needs boys allowed 15-year-old Ricky Newell to beat the odds and earn the rank of Eagle Scout. Newell had dropped out of Scouts twice before, but in 2006 he joined Troop 5280, then a brand-new troop for kids with disabilities.
After six months, he joined the more traditional Troop 870 and hasn’t looked back.
This month, he was presented his Eagle Scout medal, placing him among fewer than 5 percent of Scouts who earn the highest honor of the Boy Scouts of America.
“It’s very hard to explain — it made me feel very welcomed,” Ricky said of receiving the top honor. “It felt great — it really did.”
Representatives from the Denver Area Council of Boy Scouts said groups such as Troop 5280 ensure that kids of all abilities are included, giving people with cognitive and physical challenges the chance to learn outdoor and life skills and build self-esteem — part of the mission of the BSA. The troop, which meets in Denver, has about 15 members.
Ricky, a sophomore at ThunderRidge High School, has a low IQ, attention-deficit disorder and moderate hearing loss.
“He’s a fighter,” added his mother, Ruth Newell. “Ricky is an amazing, powerful and dynamic spirit, no doubt.”
That spirit was drawn to Cub Scouts early on, but the learning styles within typical troops didn’t work for Ricky, and he dropped out twice. His mother wondered if her son would be able to continue her family’s long Scouting tradition.
Around the same time, Karen Mansfield and members of the Denver Area Council were working on a ground-breaking local program that would affect special-needs Scouts across the nation.
From a brainstorming session, with ideas penned on a lunch napkin sometime in 2006, Mansfield said Troop 5280 was born to help kids who may not learn as quickly as others transition into traditional Scout groups.
“The boys get to do what they like to do on their time — on their wavelength,” she said.
A parent of a special-needs child herself, Mansfield recognized that some kids needed individual attention in Scouts to truly learn.
“We’re not going to rush through and finish something just to say it’s finished,” she added.
What started as a new program with a few boys — including Ricky — quickly grew to more than a dozen with the help of parents and volunteers, who Mansfield said thrive on seeing kids learn during the twice-monthly meetings.
Troop 5280 joined what she called a forward-thinking Denver Council — which serves upward of 53,000 young people in nine counties, including metro Denver — and is one of only a handful of special-needs Scout groups in the nation, said council commissioner Jim Blair.
He said he hopes additional units spring up in each of Denver’s seven geographic districts.
“The parent of a special-needs child in our society is in a fairly lonely spot,” Blair said. “I’m just incredibly proud of what people have done. It’s amazing what volunteers with a little training and a little support can achieve.”
Ricky is proof of that progress.
Eagle Scouts require 21 merit badges that highlight skills in wilderness, medical and citizenship areas.
Ricky has 43.
Eagle Scouts must complete a special project that highlights leadership and teamwork by age 18.
Ricky had his Eagle project — a 12-foot-long horse bridge at the Promise Ranch in Parker, which provides therapeutic riding and hippotherapy to those with special needs — completed in less than five months, at age 15.
“What he did in such a short period of time for a typical Scout is aggressive,” Newell said. “Our evenings are short.”
Most Scouts are allowed to give one mentor pin to someone who helped them through their Scouting journey.
Ricky needed eight.
“It really did take a village,” Newell added. “So many were invested in his success. It really was beautiful.”
Frank Foley was an assistant Troop 870 Scoutmaster and was instrumental in giving Ricky the boost he needed, she said. Through last-minute camping trips or late evenings working through knot-tying frustration, Foley was one of many who were there to help.
“Any boy who comes into the troop is excited about it,” Foley said. “It’s about giving the kids some wins. At the end of the day, he’s a kid just like all the rest.”
Talking with Ricky at his Highlands Ranch home, his personality is irresistible. He touts his musical ability, which includes piano, cello, guitar and drums.
“It’s very relaxing,” he said. “It helps me get my feelings out. It’s very much emotional.”
Ricky said he dreams of being a businessman, counselor and radio personality — all because he likes talking to and helping people.
“I just say, ‘This sounds fun,’ ” he said.
He has traveled to nearly a dozen countries and shows no signs of stopping.
“Watching him travel and navigate the world has been a huge education for both of us,” Newell said. “He’s gotten a whole lot out of it.”
He continues to dream, much like any other high school kid.
“We work well together as a team,” she said, appearing to hold back tears of joy, while turning to her son in his basement music den.
“It’s kind of like a map,” Newell said. “Ricky picks the destination, and together we figure out how he’s going to get there.”
Troop 5280 meets the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at Risen Christ Catholic Church at East Hampden Boulevard and Monaco Street in Denver. For information, contact Karen Mansfield at email@example.com