Scout Master Lionel Jellins and Boy Scout Troop 212 members
Scout Master Lionel Jellins and Boy Scout Troop 212 members

St. James Episcopal Church’s Boy Scout Troop 212 is gearing up for something special. Up to five members will receive the designation Eagle Scout on Jan. 28. But to say they are “receiving the designation” may suggest to some that these scouts are being given something. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. When these young men, come the Jan. 28 ceremony, are called Eagle Scouts, they will have earned what only 5% of all scouts earn.

Their scout master, Lionel Jellins, who at 67 looks closer to 37, is not new to this. Jellins has been involved in scouting since 1978, guiding 11 – 17-yr-old scouts as Troop 212’s scout master for nearly 20 years. And on Jan. 28 he could potentially have facilitated over 40 Eagle Scouts, an almost unheard of number for any scout master.

The Defender spoke with Jellins about the vaunted designation of Eagle Scout and the upcoming Jan. 28 event that will be held at St. James Episcopal Church (3129 Southmore Blvd., Houston, TX 77004).

DEFENDER: How do you describe your participation in scouting?

JELLINS: It’s been a career. It’s been a life commitment for me, and I certainly enjoy it. I’ve been working with scouts for about 45 years. I’ve been scout master of this particular troop at St. James Episcopal for about 18 or 19 years. During that time, I’ve had 36 scouts actually reach the rank of Eagle Scout, which is a big deal. That’s a lot of scouts. We’re one of the two or three largest scout-producing troops in the city.

DEFENDER: What is required of scouts to become an Eagle Scout?

JELLINS: You’ve got to complete at least 21 merit badges. And to complete those 21, you’re going to have to do everything from understanding how to put together a budget, how to manage a bank account, what are investments, what is a loan, how do you take out loan for a car or for family life? What is a family? They will have had to put together a family meeting where the family talks amongst themselves and understand the responsibilities of everyone in the family. Or the Citizenship and Society merit badge, just introduced at Boy Scouts the year before last. It’s a diversity, equity and inclusion merit badge. Scouts together sit down and self-discover what does diversity mean. What does it mean to be excluded from a group of people? It’s one of the most amazing things in the world to see a bunch of scouts, white, Black, Hispanic, Asian, all in the same room, taking this merit badge together, learning from each other and understanding what the value of their diversity is all about. It’s just an example of how scouting is staying relevant to today.

DEFENDER: How many of your troop members will become Eagle Scouts?

JELLINS: As many as five, but I’m guessing there’ll probably be about three or four that’ll actually successfully get all the requirements finished to be awarded their Eagle Scout Award. Eagle Scout is a big deal. I mean, less than 5% of all scouts ever get to be an Eagle Scout. The number is even smaller for African Americans. We’re very blessed in Houston. Houston is the largest council in the country for Boy Scouts of America. We happen to have a number of good, traditional African-American Boy Scout troops thanks to Mr. W.L. Davis back in the 1930s and 40s. Many of those troops are still around today. And because of that, we are able to produce a number of Eagle Scouts. And so, it’s always a big deal in our community when either ourselves or Wheeler or Brentwood actually are able to promote our specific young men into the rank of Eagle Scout, which by the way, is a lifelong thing.

DEFENDER: Lifelong?

JELLINS: It’s not, you get the Eagle Scout, then you’re gone, and that was what you did as a kid. These young men continue to network and connect among themselves for the rest of their lives. You talk to Eagle Scouts about their experiences in life, and they’ll tell you, “Such-and-such I slept in a tent with when I was 12, he’s my lawyer and I’m 50.” And you get a lot of conversations like that, and it’s really cool. We have reunions for my Eagles. I’ll have as many of 41 Eagles soon. We have a reunion every so often, and I’ll get 20 or 30 of them showing up. And they are networking a lot together. They help each other find jobs, girlfriends, help each other with life. And that’s really what we want in our community. We want those networks where young men who are successful are able to reach back and help each other up.

DEFENDER: How have your Eagle Scouts fared in life?

JELLINS: If you look at what’s happened in my Eagle Scout since our first one came out in 2010, one graduated from Purdue. He is a computer engineer. Another graduated from the University of Tulsa. He’s in the Army. One went to Georgia Tech. He works for Meta. Another is an attorney from the University of Chicago. He teaches at Georgetown. One’s a police officer who went to Xavier. One went to Howard. He works for Fannie Mae. I can go down the list. The majority of the boys who’ve been through my program, 80% of them, went and got their college degrees, many of them from major four-year colleges. So, scoreboard, the program obviously works. These young men are making stuff of themselves.

DEFENDER: This almost sounds like scouting should be a requirement for the youth.

JELLINS: I will tell you, if you want to increase the chance of your young man being successful, you can’t go wrong by putting that young man in scouting. And the scouts generally coming to my troop are also the scouts whose parents are having them do other things. They’re going to Sunday School. They’re in the various church programs. They’re playing sports. They’re on debate teams, and what have you. Their parents are getting them involved to expand their horizons. And scouting’s one of those opportunities to expand. You end up with a very well-rounded young man.

DEFENDER: Besides the merit badge work, what is it about the Eagle Scout process that programs these young men for success?

JELLINS: As a scout goes through scouting, he has seven boards of review. In other words, he has to sit in front of a bunch of adults and answer questions in order to get to the next rank. That’s not too different than a job interview. So, by the time he’s an Eagle Scout, he’s gone before seven different boards of review to get to Eagle Scout. He’s had experience as a child, on job interviews, if you will, on how to stand straight, look someone in the eye and use the king’s English in answering questions and responding in a positive manner. So, when he gets out there and he’s now an Eagle Scout and he’s 18, 19 years old and he’s looking for a job, he’s going to knock your socks off when he sits in front of you doing an interview because he’s had that experience. He’s not afraid of adults sitting there blasting him with questions. He knows exactly what that’s all about. It makes a difference.

DEFENDER: What would you tell a young man about the benefits of scouting in general, and the Eagle Scout journey, specifically?

JELLINS: Number one, I would tell you scouting is fun. This is not something your mama’s dragging you to on Saturday morning to do with a bunch of people you really don’t like and you don’t want to be around. This is where you can have friends who are like you and enjoy getting out and camping and doing stuff. So, you may not realize it while you’re spending this five, six or seven years in scouting that what you’re really doing is changing your ability to lead and to make a difference in the community, because it’s so much fun. So, I would tell you, first of all, getting to be Eagle Scout means you’ve spent seven years having a lot of fun, developing a lot of friends, and doing something that you may not care as a 15-year-old, but it’s going to make a difference in your future. Right now, what you care about is you get to get away and go camping once a weekend.