Mentally challenged men get outdoors as Boy Scouts

WILLMAR, Minn. -- Some might think that being 40 or 50 years old is too old to be pitching tents or biking trails like a Boy Scout. But don't tell that to Scott Prellwitz of Willmar.

WILLMAR, Minn. -- Some might think that being 40 or 50 years old is too old to be pitching tents or biking trails like a Boy Scout. But don't tell that to Scott Prellwitz of Willmar.

Prellwitz, 42, has enjoyed the usually youth-targeted traditions of the Boy Scouts of America on a monthly basis for the past couple of years. And when he's not working at Burger King, Prellwitz might be out earning merit badges for fishing, biking or camping.

"I like doing stuff outside like camping and fishing," Prellwitz said.

Prellwitz isn't alone in his Boy Scouting adventure. He and five other men ages of 40 to 57 are part of their own Boy Scout troop.

Boy Scout Challenger Troop 622 in Willmar is a special Boy Scout troop for high-functioning mentally disabled men. The troop is fully chartered with the Boy Scouts of America and follows the Scout handbook, including guidelines for earning rank and merit badges.


Troop member Nathan Lawrence said the troop has changed his life since he joined in 2003. At 46 years old, Lawrence said he likes fishing and camping, or "anything outdoors."

"They really enjoy it," said Bob Gillis, the troop's Scoutmaster. "It gives you some structure to go by, and they're really proud to be involved."

Gillis volunteers as Scoutmaster through the Knights of Columbus. The Knights began sponsoring the troop in April of 2002, Gillis said. He decided to get involved because he had just joined the Knights and wanted to be part of a meaningful project, he said.

So on the last Wednesday of each month Gillis and his troops don their uniforms for meetings. The men work under the Scouting rules, laws and codes, following everything pretty much by the book, Gillis said.

Gillis said he also tries to organize a second monthly get-together where the men go camping, fishing or on a trip.

"I can tell this is something they really look forward to each month," Gillis said.

Gillis had no background in the Boy Scouts when he took on the project. However, he did have a unique connection to those with mental disabilities in the community.

"My wife works at the high school in the special ed. department," he said. This also gives his wife a unique tie to the Challenger troop.


Along with his wife, Knights of Columbus members Harley Duscher, Wayne Dahlen and Jim Schnell serve on Gillis' Scout committee. The Knights of Columbus pay the Challenger troops' chartering fee each year and provide some money for the group to operate. The American Legion, Eagles and Veterans of Foreign War in Willmar have also eased the financial burden the group faces, Gillis said.

"Because these guys have limited means, I don't charge them dues," he said. Although all the men live on their own in the community, they receive assistance through programs such as Presbyterian Family Foundation and Lutheran Social Service.

Paul Dolby, a program supervisor with Lutheran Social Service, said the organization provides its clients with a little extra help when they need it. The service helps with filling out paperwork, balancing checkbooks and budgeting money. For 11 years, Dolby has worked for Lutheran Social Services with one of the men involved with the Challenger troop. For privacy reasons Dolby could not release the name of the client, but she did speak highly of the troop.

"I think this is a really good social outlet for them," she said. "They seem to have a good time doing things together."

This year, the troop gave back to the community by raising a pumpkin patch at the Senior Citizen Center where it holds its monthly meetings.

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