In 1996, the Atlanta Area Council Shoulder Patch bore the World Scout emblem and the slogan “Atlanta Area Council Welcomes the World.” Fast forward twenty-three years and Atlanta again welcomed a bit of the world: Sweden’s Contingent to the World Scout Jamboree. The World Jamboree welcomed over 40,000 Scouters from across the globe to our shores for the Jamboree.
The third-largest delegation, the Swedes, fanned out across the United States to explore our Nation for thirty days before heading to the World Jamboree, located at Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia. A third of the 1,200 Swedes chose to tour the American South, beginning in Atlanta. Our guests received a spirited, warm welcome by our Scouts at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Over two dozen American Scouts greeted them with cold water, bags of Georgia pecans, flags, cheers and World Scout hugs! Over the next five days, the Swedish and American Scouts met, greeted, smiled, laughed, explored, and talked about nearly every imaginable topic.
While visiting with the three Swedish Troops, each with 36 Scouts and 4 leaders, group of Atlanta Scouts became fast friends as they toured the National Center for Civil & Human Rights, the World of Coca-Cola, and the King Center. The Scouts continued their journey with a five-mile hike from the Georgia State University Residence Halls to Ponce City Market via the Beltline, wandered through the Old Fourth Ward and Centennial Olympic Park, and made the culinary pilgrimage to both Waffle House and the Varsity.
Why did our Scouts go out of their way to venture to Downtown Atlanta to see people they didn’t even know? Eliana, Scout from Troop 8810, said it best after spending all five days with the Swedes,
“We started off as just a group of kids, ages 14-17, girls and boys [the Swedish Scouts’ program, “Scouterna,” is 50% girls, 50% boys, Scouting together not only in the same troops but also in the same Patrols] who had only one thing really in common: We’re all Scouts. But as Scouts, that’s a bond like no other. It’s exciting to now have new friends an ocean away! As Scouts, we have the same core beliefs and hold the same values. No matter the language, the Scout Oath & Law hold the same values and morales no matter what country you’re from. We have much more in common than not.”
International Committee Members Dave French and Fontaine Kohler also put their schedules on hold to support fellow International Committee Member, Tom Reitz. Tom coordinated the Welcome Program with the support of Council’s International Representative, Mike Gulledge. The International Committee effort was rounded out by Mechelle Baardson, who helped coordinate the airport welcome and pitched in every day for all activities! Tom Reitz, a leader from Troop 2000, coordinated the Welcome Program, caught up later with some of the same Swedish Scouts while visiting the World Jamboree. They emphasized that they had one priority among all others simply: “to meet Scouts from other countries.”
After Atlanta, the Swedish Scouts continued an extensive tour of important American Civil Rights locations across the South, finally arriving at the Summit in West Virginia, and meeting Scouts from nearly every country in the world. One would easily understand if the Swedes had forgotten about our Scouts from Atlanta, on the contrary, they reiterated their sincere thanks and gratitude for the big welcome they received from our Scouts.
Swedish Scouts Feedback:
“The Scouts were very open and welcoming in receiving us which gave us a great first impression of America.”
“It was very sweet that they Atlanta met us at the airport. We were tired after a long journey and they cheered us on, handing out treats and water which gave us a boost of energy when we needed it the most!”
“Meeting the Atlanta Scouts really got us in the spirit of our journey to the World Scout Jamboree. It has been one of the best experiences of our journey.”
Each second the World continues to turn, so too does Scouting. Next year will bring new opportunities such as a large European Jamboree in Poland, European Summer Camp Staffings, visitors from other nations and more!
The Council’s International Committee is always on the lookout for new ways our Scouts can experience the best Scouting continually offers around the world. Will it be a future exchange program with the Swedes? An exchange opportunity with the Bharat Scouts & Guides of India to further a bond begun by Tom’s late son and International Scouter Matt Reitz? Tom and his fellow Scouters are certainly willing to carry the torch and keep the flame of international Scouting alive in Matt’s memory!
Wherever Scouting takes us, there are Scouting programs in over 250 nations serving over 40 million Scouts! Where would you like to go? Who would you like to invite to our city? To get involved, please contact Tom Reitz at (770) 355-2526 orTReitzScout@gmail.com
Thank you to Tom Reitz who submitted this story and helped create a welcoming environment for the International Scouts.