COLUMBUS, Ohio — Camp Quest, a summer camp serving youth from non-religious families, is now led by two Eagle Scouts, Shawn Jeffers (Chair) and Neil Polzin (Vice Chair). Former Boy Scout leaders, both men are unwelcome in the Boy Scouts of America because they are atheists.
Having a place to continue to practice the skills they learned in Boy Scouts and passing those skills and a love of the outdoors along to children was a big motivation for both Shawn and Neil’s involvement with Camp Quest.
“Camp Quest is a place where kids develop independence, have fun, and make friends. They learn critical thinking skills alongside traditional camp-craft. It combines the best of what I got from being in the Boy Scouts with inclusive policies promoting empathy, open questioning, and integrity,” Neil Polzin said.
Over the last two decades many atheist scouts, like Darrell Lambert, have been faced with the choice of feigning belief in God to stay in the organization, or being honest and that leading to their expulsion. As Lambert explained in an interview with the Kitsap Sun, lying about his beliefs wouldn’t be true to the values he learned in Scouting.
“The Boy Scouts of America’s continued discrimination against gays and atheists is deplorable, but certainly in the case of Shawn and Neil their loss is Camp Quest’s gain,” Amanda Metskas, Camp Quest Executive Director, said.
Neil lost his job as a waterfront director with a Boy Scout camp in 2009 when the BSA learned about his activism in the secular community, including his work with a Secular Student Alliance chapter as an undergraduate at Cal Poly Pomona. Neil has been involved with Camp Quest since 2008 serving in many roles at Camp Quest West’s two California locations including Camp Director. This will be Neil’s second year on the Camp Quest National Board, and his first as Vice Chair.
Shawn Jeffers has been involved with Camp Quest since 2003. Shawn has served on the Camp Quest National Board since 2012 as Treasurer, and took on the role of Chair this year. He left the Boy Scouts of America in 2002 after coming out as gay and as an atheist. Although the BSA has ended their policy banning gay youth, they still ban gay adult leaders in addition to banning atheist youth and adults.
Over the past decade, membership in the Boy Scouts of America has been in decline, including a 7% drop in 2014. During that same time period Camp Quest expanded from serving approximately 50 campers to serving more than 1,000. [pullquote]”The Boy Scouts of America’s continued discrimination against gays and atheists is deplorable, but certainly in the case of Shawn and Neil their loss is Camp Quest’s gain,” Amanda Metskas, Camp Quest Executive Director, said.[/pullquote]
“Although many factors likely contribute to both the Boy Scouts decline and Camp Quest’s growth, it seems fair to say that, as the percentage of non-religious Americans grows and the cause of LGBT equality advances, BSA policies are becoming increasingly out of step with real American values,” Shawn Jeffers said. “Camp Quest fills that gap for more and more families.”
This year marks Camp Quest’s 20 year anniversary, and organizers are preparing for a summer season featuring 18 weeks of camp across the United States. Camp Quest is planning an expansion campaign to serve more than 2,000 campers in 2020. Learn more at www.campquest.org.
[From a News Release]