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RIO HONDO — The scouts in their fine uniforms and their merit badges pinned to their shirts spread their patches across the table and spoke excitedly about their recent adventure.
“I know I traded my big council set for this belt buckle right here,” said J.J. Garza, 17, a senior patrol leader of the 48 scouts from the Valley who attended the 2023 National Jamboree last month in West Virginia.
The scouts from the Rio Grande Council now gathered at Camp Perry to discuss the success of the first Jamboree since 2017.
“It was really cool, I really enjoyed it,” said James Margo, 12, admiring the patches on the table before him.
“All these patches I have here I got at the Jamboree,” said James, looking over patches with such names as “Golden Gate Area Council,” “Denver Area Council,” and “Beaumont Scout Reservation.”
Then, nodding toward a patch with a sombrero and another of a “tlacuache” (possum), he added, “The sombrero and the tlacuache were specifically made for trading.”
James explained the whole purpose of the jamboree was for the trading of patches. Trading of patches did seem to be a major part of the jamboree, but it was also a chance to meet scouts from throughout the United States as well as Australia, Italy and other far away places. The scouts spoke with great excitement also about zip-lining and whitewater rafting.
But there was a greater significance in the fact that this was the first jamboree since the pandemic, said Oscar Garza, Rio Grande Council Jamboree Contingent Leader.
“The last jamboree was in 2017,” Garza said. “COVID cut out the middle years. This made it that much more special. I think that whole idea of trying to get the scouts back into the program has come from that. This will help our recruiting in the fall.”
There were “council sets” from throughout the scouting network, and the one to which J.J. referred consisted of an elaborate arrangement of patches with a markedly Rio Grande Valley theme complete with mariachis, a sea turtle and mounted vaqueros.
“It was really fun,” said J.J.
Then, nodding at the buckle which he explained was a staff belt buckle that only staff could get, he added, “I traded the big set for the belt buckle. I felt that it being accessible to staff, and I know they had only limited stock of this. I know they sell the other ones almost identical, but they did not have the JST written on it which stands for Jamboree Summit Team.”
Adult volunteers seemed to have as much fun as the scouts. Just ask Robert Eason, who taught fly fishing.
“I was helping the scouts catch fish and learning how to fish,” said Eason, whose two son Aric and Ian also went to the Jamboree.
“I had a great time getting these kids on the docks and getting them catching fish,” he said. “A lot of them, it was the first time they’d been fishing.”