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Boy Scout Troop 15 has been helping boys become men for nearly 75 years
Lovie Smith has been mentoring young African-American boys in Northeast Georgia for 30 years. Smith is a Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 15 in Gainesville, a historically African-American troop.

Trustworthy, hard-working and helpful are traits that troop leaders try to instill into their Boy Scouts.

Lovie Smith may have never been apart of the organization as a kid growing up in Gainesville, but as the leader of Troop 15, he's been helping boys become responsible young men for the last 30 years.

As the leader of what he describes as a predominantly black troop, Smith says his role as a mentor has been an important one over the last few decades.

"A lot of the boys we serve come from single-parent homes," said Smith, whose troop is sponsored by St. John Baptist Church in Gainesville.

"Being a scoutmaster is a great opportunity to introduce a positive male role model into their lives. It's an opportunity to put that element in their life when they might not have had it otherwise."

Over its 75 years, the troop has made — and continues to make - history.

In 1989, Troop 15 produced its first, African-American Eagle Scout, Junior Tanner — just three years after Smith moved up the ranks from Cubmaster to Scoutmaster of the group. Tanner was one of the first African-American youths in Hall County to earn Eagle Scout ranking, Smith said.

Since then the troop has produced three other Eagle Scouts - Victor Reid in 1990, Rickey Nuckles in 1992 and Daniel Varner in 1994.

"We're a small group, so we aren't able to produce the big Eagle Scout classes like some of the larger troops, but the candidates we do have — and all of our scouts — are very hard workers," Smith said.

Although they may be few in number, Smith doesn't allow the troop's size to stop the boys from striving for success.

"Our program is geared towards boys going all the way to the top — to be an Eagle Scout. We may not always reach that goal, but that's what we are always striving for," Smith said.

"From the time the boys join scouts, we tell them that they can make Eagle Scout in three years."

This year, the troop has the remarkable opportunity to boost their Eagle Scout success stories by 50 percent. Both Cameron Drake and Marcquel Woodard — Gainesville High School students — are working towards earning top ranking within the Boy Scouts of America organization.

"It's a little added pressure for us to have two candidates at once, but these boys are very intelligent and leaders in their churches and school, so that makes it easier when you have boys with that type of initiative," Smith said.

For his Eagle Scout Service Project, Cameron is planning to build a playground for St. Paul United Methodist Church on Summit Street, while Marcquel is planning to replace the old sign at Mt. Calvary Church of God, Holiness with a new lit one.

"Depending on the magnitude of a project, it can take anywhere from a month to a few years to finish a project," Smith said.

"The length of time that it takes to finish is also affected by how much money they have to raise and how quickly they are able to raise it."

Raising the funds to complete their projects has proven to be a challenge for his current candidates, but Smith says they are up for the challenge.

Although some parents would balk at a non-family member pushing their child so hard, the guardians of Smith's Scouts appreciate his efforts.

"Mr. Lovie is a good role model. He truly cares about our boys and their futures. And he is consistent — always tells them to see a project through to the end and I admire that about him," said Patrice Westbrooks, Eagle Scout candidate Cameron's mother.

"My son has been doing Boy Scouts for about four years now. It's provided him with a lot of positive life lessons, team building and leadership. When I look at him, I see an independent young man. I'm very proud of him."

Although working with 11-18-year-olds and their ever-changing attitudes can be tough, Smith says he cherishes the time spent with his scouts and helping them learn about the importance of having good morals and integrity.

"I always tell my boys that having integrity isn't just what you do when people are watching, but how you conduct yourself when no one is watching. These boys are far from perfect, but having the chance to mold values in them is a golden opportunity," Smith said.

"A very famous statesman once said, ‘The only thing wrong with Boy Scouts is that it's not enough of them.' My wife and I weren't blessed with a son, we have one daughter, but I've raised a lot of boys."


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