CANFIELD Special troop has special needs

Despite its longevity, Boy Scout Troop 3 is facing difficulties.
CANFIELD -- When Joe Chiricosta successfully reached the top of a 50-foot-high climbing tower, he earned a merit badge for his feat. He used a special helmet, rope and gloves -- and pure arm strength.
Chiricosta, 44, didn't let hydrocephalus stop him. He was born with the condition, marked by an abnormal amount of fluid and pressure on the brain.
Since his childhood, it has affected Chiricosta's leg muscles, forcing him to use special crutches for walking. But the condition also made it possible for him to spend the last 20 years as a Boy Scout.
Chiricosta said he's the only member of Boy Scout Troop No. 3 who is allowed to use a special three-speed bike. The bike, combined with a "trailer" a friend made for him from a shopping cart, allows Chiricosta to get around more easily during camping and other outings, he said.
Meeting a need: Troop 3, which began in 1968, is designed for those with various mental and physical disabilities. Despite its uniqueness, the troop functions much the same as other Boy Scout troops, explained Walter Wills, committee chairman. Unlike other troops, though, more than one-third of Troop 3's 15 members are Eagle Scouts, he pointed out.
"We're the only special-needs troop in [Mahoning] County. Everything regular Scouts do, we try to do," Wills, 75, said.
Wills added that he has been in Scouting for 50 years, but joined Troop 3 because of his son, Tom, who suffers from mental retardation. Walter Wills also said there's no age limit and cited as an example a still-active 46-year-old Troop 3 Scout who joined in the late 1960s.
Tom Wills, 34, who joined in June 1979, said he enjoys camping the most. He also displayed the 29 merit badges he wears on his Scout tie, as well as two religious badges.
Event: Chiricosta and several other Troop 3 members took part in an annual Scout Sunday event recently at Western Reserve United Methodist Church. About 10 Scouts and their leaders were on hand to participate in a flag ceremony during services.
As part of the event's patriotic theme -- and to remember those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- a Scout carried the American flag to the pulpit. The Boy Scout members also used red, white and blue crepe paper to demonstrate the symbolism of each part of the flag, explaining how it relates to the Boy Scouts' ideals. Toward the end of the ceremony, one of the Scouts slowly raised another flag from a multicolored box as parishioners' applause grew louder.
Helping out: Jesse Warneke, 19, said he works with Troop 3 because of his 17-year-old brother Jeremy, who has mental retardation. Jesse Warneke, who was originally a Boy Scout in Niles before joining Troop 3 five years ago, said he enjoys working one-on-one with the members, as well as assisting his brother.
"I'm trying to help Jeremy sustain himself," he said. "I want Jeremy to work in some way and be able to read basic signs and to look out for himself."
He also said his brother is enrolled in special-needs classes at Fitch High School.
Needing a hand: Despite its longevity, Troop 3 is facing various difficulties. One long-standing Scoutmaster had to resign because of health problems, and the last one left the troop in January; the position needs to be filled by the end of March or the Boy Scout troop may have to fold, Walter Wills explained.
Wills said the troop's revised charter is due March 1 and that he is planning to print a notice in its bimonthly bulletin. A Scoutmaster is a leader who has to be at least 21, Wills added.
To assist Troop 3, call Wills at (330) 792-6362.

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