Years before the Office of Service-Learning existed, Paul Matthews, the office’s assistant director, was learning the importance of service. As a teenager, he worked on service projects from building informational nature trails to retiring American flags through the Boy Scouts of America.
“I think that there is a lot of value in service activities,” he said. “While a lot of what we do in the Office of Service-Learning relates more to supporting and encouraging faculty and students to develop links between their curriculum and community needs, my work through Scouting and in the community helps me stay grounded with what some of our community needs are.”
This summer, Matthews was named to the Boy Scouts of America 100th Anniversary National Hall of Leadership. He represents the Northeast Georgia Council, a network of approximately 600 local troops and packs, as one of 300 leaders selected nationwide for modeling the Scouting virtues and for his exemplary volunteer work. The award is in conjunction with the BSA’s centennial anniversary celebration.
The Northeast Georgia Council of the Boy Scouts of America is one of the many charitable organizations benefited by UGA’s annual Campaign for Charities, which runs through Dec. 17. Donation forms can be completed online at https://webapps.ais.uga.edu/PBCC/home.seam.
With the Scouts, Matthews helps with road-cleanups, Christmas tree recycling and other service projects ranging from mulching playgrounds to volunteering at the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia.
Matthews earned his Eagle Scout more than two decades ago, but still finds the time for Tuesday night troop meetings, weekend camp outs, hiking trips, fundraisers and board meetings.
While attending UGA as an undergraduate, he stayed involved with Troop 22 in Athens. In graduate school, he started volunteering with a Texas troop.
The very day he moved back to Athens in 1994, he got a call asking if he could help out with Troop 149 at Friendship Presbyterian Church in Watkinsville. He’s been there ever since.
“It’s fun,” Matthews said. “I find it intrinsically rewarding to work with Scouts. It’s great to see how they develop, especially if they stay with the program from ages 11-17. The amount of learning and maturity that takes place is really gratifying.”
As Scoutmaster, he oversees the whole program and works to develop leadership among the Scouts.
The Scouts lead their own meetings. Matthews coaches them on how to speak in front of a group, structure an effective meeting, ask an adult to teach a class, and other skills. He also checks in with the youth leaders to make sure that phone calls have been made and details planned.
He tries to balance the right amount of pushing that the boys need to develop their leadership skills. For example, after a meeting he holds a debriefing with the youth leaders and asks how the meeting went and what might have been done differently.
“It’s one of the few activities where kids aren’t being told what to do. They’re in charge and they make decisions. Sometimes that means making mistakes or being inefficient, but that’s how they’re learning-through trying it out,” he said. “These are the people who are going to be our next generation of leaders, so making sure they have the skills to be successful is important.”
Matthews says that Scouting is a good fit for his skills and personality and that it gives him the opportunity to get out and do fun activities that he might not get to do otherwise, including taking the Scouts hiking on the Appalachian Trail, sea kayaking off the Georgia coast and snow skiing-all activities for which the Scouts have to raise funds.