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From Cub Scout to leader

Scouts: Jeff Prata hopes to expand Cub and Boy Scout participation

Posted: August 7, 2010 5:16 p.m.
Updated: August 8, 2010 4:55 a.m.

The Dearing brothers Alexander, 10, left, and Brendon, of Castaic, look around the inside the Boy Scouts of America store located in Newhall.

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It was one particular Cub Scout meeting Jeff Prata attended that changed the course of his life and career. During the meeting, parents bickered about money matters as a pack of Cubs, boys ranging in age from 8 to 10, sat and listened.

Instead of engaging, Prata halted the conflict.

“We will not have conflict in front of the boys,” he said to the group.

From that point forward, business matters were conducted at parent meetings, Prata said. He played a role in making that change, he said. 

“At a pack meeting, we want to celebrate advancement, reward the kids for doing their best, play a game and go home,” he said. “It’s simple fun as long as parents understand it’s about Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.”

Prata’s success in steering conflict away from Scout meetings signaled a turning point for him, he said. He soon became more involved in the program.

The Canyon Country father, once a Scout himself, wanted to make sure the Cub and Boy Scouts always came first, he said.

That commitment remains a top priority for Prata, 43, who was recently hired as district executive for the Boy Scouts of America Bill Hart District.

From Cub Scout to Cub dad

Camping out, forming new skills, making lifelong friends — all part of the best eight years of Prata’s life — were all granted by his childhood involvement in scouting.

“The 1970s and 1980s were sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll,” he said. “If you weren’t that, you were a geek — so what was the alternative? Boy Scouts gave a great alternative.”

The leisurely trips, the campfires, the camaraderie with other scouts all made for a fun eight years, but scouting had more to offer than a good time. Scouting taught him about honesty and loyalty, he said.

He also looked up to his mentors, men he saw as father figures.

“The main thing scouting really has to offer is leadership and self-worth — knowing you can be the shortest guy, the fattest, the ugliest and still be the guy in charge,” he said. “In scouting, you just have to be your best.” 

Years later, Prata became a father himself. He was proud when his first son came home and asked to join the Cub Scout pack at his school.

“It put a big smile on my face,” Prata said.

Both his sons became Scouts and Prata found himself attending weekly meetings, events and even assisting in starting up new packs — which he led as scout master.

Five years ago, he helped start a Boy Scout unit, Troop 2379, at the Santa Clarita Elks Lodge in Canyon Country.

“It grew to 65 boys in three years,” he said. “They’re still going strong five years later.”

Because the unit grew at such a rapid rate, Prata and other fathers started a second group, Troop 303.

Trained and ready
By profession, Prata sold furniture in the Santa Clarita Valley for more than 11 years. But when he wasn’t on the selling floor, Prata could likely be found leading a troop meeting, helping his boys sell popcorn or planning a community service project.

The thought of taking a paid position as an executive director never really crossed his mind during that time, he said. At least, not until he realized that he could fulfill a need.

The Bill Hart District had filtered through a handful of executive directors in past years. When the position opened up last year, Prata decided to go for it. 

“Since I’d been trained and taught by everyone in this district, I decided to apply,” he said.

As someone who had lived, worked and volunteered in the community for more than a decade, Prata believed he could leverage his local connections and support in the SCV.

After a seven-month application process, Prata accepted the job in April.

Prata knows he has a big role to fill but he’s confident in his ability to fill it.

“For me, to be taking over a district where I was trained, I can hold (my supervisors) accountable to what they trained me to do,” he said. “I can do this. I’ve been doing it for 11 years. I know everyone at the district level.”

‘Won’t do it alone’
The Bill Hart District, for the Boy Scouts of America, serves boys in the entire SCV, including the outskirt communities of Val Verde, Castaic, Acton and Agua Dulce. The district is one of the fastest growing in the local Western Los Angeles County Council, Prata said.

And yet, Prata still believes there are scores of boys who need to plug in. He said he often hears, “I didn’t know there were local Boy Scouts,” when selling popcorn with his sons.

“I’m only serving four percent of the available youth in this community — I have room for growth,” he said. “I won’t do it on my own.”

Prata plans to expand with the help of committees powered by parents, other volunteers and businesses who want to see the local program reach its full potential, he said.

“I know I’m going to be the person that gets us there because I can bring everyone together with my connections,” he said. “Humbly, I’ll earn that trust.”

One of Prata’s immediate goals is to get the local headquarters organized and bustling with activity and scout materials.

The Scouts’ Santa Clarita Service Center, which sits at the corner of 8th Street and Walnut Street in Newhall, hosts a Boy Scout shop.

“We can outfit a band new Scout with a uniform and get leaders all the awards they need,” said Jackie Costanzo, store and office manager.

In the long-term, Prata is aiming to start five new units.

“I need to show 200 new scouts where we’re at and how to get there,” he said.

The Boy Scouts of America’s new website, www.beascout.org, will come in handy with that goal, Prata said. With the click of a few buttons the website allows visitors to find all the local troops in their area.

A man of many hats
As Prata sat at a recent honoree dinner, he observed closely as a group of kids rushed up to Jim Ventress, chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Club of SCV.

As he witnessed that youthful appreciation unfold before him, he thought about the leadership Ventress has modeled in this community for decades.

“Someday I want to be as great as Jim Ventress,” he said. “He’s a legend out here.”

As Prata begin to put his goals in place, Scout parents and volunteers are already expressing excitement over Prata’s new role.

“He’s very excited and enthusiastic and I think it feeds off into the units,” Costanzo said.

Castaic resident Michelle Dearing, mother of two cub scouts, referred to Prata as “the perfect go-to guy.”

“He’s approachable,” she said. “He goes out of his way. He’s there for the kids and he’s a bank of great ideas.” 

He’s also quite the jokester, she said.

Prata turned to Dearing’s two boys: “Hey guys,” he asked, “How many boy scouts does it take to change a lightbulb?”

After a few seconds, he responded to his own question: “It doesn’t need changing, a cub scout put in a good bulb the first time.”

Each day is unique for Prata. Some days he’s a promoter and event planner and other days he is a networker attending luncheons or functions.

Recently he has visited with several school principals, hoping to introduce Boy Scouts to campuses that don’t currently host a troop.

He’s also busy planning the local 2010 Jamboree, a Boy and Girl Scout celebration with entertainment and activities to be hosted Oct. 15 to 17 at Hansen Dam Recreation Area in the San Fernando Valley.

But four days a week you’ll find him driving around the SCV, visiting with the dozens of troops that make up his district.

“The Boy Scouts of America might sign my check but I’m employed by the people,” he said. “I love the fact that I’m part of the positive side of what’s happening here.”

Contact the Boy Scouts of America Santa Clarita Service Center at (661) 284-6330.

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