A Passion for Improvement

By Brad McEwen

Although I never doubted he was telling the truth, over the past couple of years my friend Thomas Hitt’s introductory assertion that his childhood friend Houston Daniel was “a great guy,” has proven to be just the case.

After Thomas introduced us a few years ago when we all bumped into each other at Albany’s Gordon Sports Complex—where Bear and Houston’s son Noah were trying out for little league—I’ve had the chance to get to know Houston a little bit. And the more I’ve been around him, the more impressed I’ve been with his genuine kindness and the obvious joy he finds in helping others.

For anyone who has spent some time with Houston—whether at the ball field, where he and his family can be regularly found helping with concessions, at Phoebe Orthopedics, where he works as a licensed physical therapist, at St. Teresa’s Catholic Church, where he volunteers to help with any number of church ministries and activities, or through Cub Scout Pack 3 where he serves as Cubmaster—it’s easy to understand why people are drawn to his welcoming nature and why he’s so well thought-of by so many in the community.

I’ve come to know Houston primarily through Bear’s involvement with Cub Scouts—which thanks to the leadership he provides to the other wonderful folks who serve as den leaders and volunteers—and it has been a wonderful experience.

During the past two years, Bear has not only learned some of the valuable skills that make scouting such an incredible program for young people—things like team-building, basic leadership skills, personal safety, civil responsibility—he’s been encouraged to try new things in a safe and welcoming environment, which I believe is fostered not only by Houston’s leadership, but also his love of scouting—which he developed through his time as a Cub, Boy and eventually Eagle Scout.

“I started scouting whenever we moved to Worth County, so 3rd grade I think,” Houston told me when we recently sat down for a Beyond the Bank interview. “You know they come by for school visits and I was like, ‘Cool, yeah, I want to do that.’

“My parents were like, ‘okay,’ and my mom ended up becoming a den leader. I stuck with it and earned my Arrow of Light [which marks the end of a Cub Scout’s journey], and after that I said, ‘I want to keep going, I want to be a Boy Scout.”

Houston eventually earned his Life badge at 13 and in between his involvement in high school sports, passed his Board of Review and earned his Eagle just shy of his 18th birthday.

While earning the Boy Scouts of America’s highest rank is certainly a point of pride for all of those who attain it, looking back Houston said his entire journey through scouts was important to him for a number of reasons—as the experiences he had in the program have helped shape the person he is today.

In fact, those experiences were so powerful that when Noah showed an interest in joining scouts a few years ago, Houston saw an opportunity to get back involved and help provide the same opportunities, and more, that were available to him.

“I didn’t start working back in Albany until ’03, ’04,” Houston said. “And every once in a while I would see scouters I was involved with and they’d be like, ‘Hey you mind helping us a bit?’ And I would do what I could, but I didn’t get back fully involved in it until Noah said, ‘Dad, I want to do Cub Scouts.’ I said, ‘You sure?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well, alright I know some guys.’ And that was four years ago.”

Although he didn’t intend to take on a leadership role when Noah first joined the den, circumstances, combined with his background in scouting eventually led to him becoming a den leader and ultimately the pack’s Cubmaster.

“Actually one of the guys that’s on our troop committee up at the church his son and my son were in the same grade and they were going to tap him as den leader, so I was like, ‘If you’re going to be den leader, I’ll help you out. I was a scout. I can help you out, no problem,’” Houston explained. “And then he got transferred to Tampa and the Scoutmaster, Mike Johnson, was there and said, ‘You’re an Eagle Scout huh?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘So you know we need a den leader for the Tiger den?’ I was like, ‘yup.’”

As Cubmaster, Houston said he’s most excited when the scouts have opportunities not just to do fun things like go camping—which wasn’t something Cub Scouts got to do a lot of when he was coming up—but also learn important skills that can help them throughout their lives.

“Doing things like camping and fishing made scouting fun, as well as learning things that could help you in life, like simple first aid and being able to cook,” Houston said. “I learned to cook from my parents, but l learned to cook in scouting too. I can take care of myself for the most part. When you can take care of yourself in a lot of different situations, that can be very helpful.

“Now with our troop they do some big things,” he continued. “I think there’s definitely more opportunities that I can see now. And seeing the scouts getting to do some things, seeing them learn, ‘this is how you put up a tent’ or ‘this is how you make sure you’re good,’ that’s cool.

“Or when we took them to the EMS station. There was an old scouter there who was the lieutenant on call that night and he did our first responder training. Well, watching the kids take part and actually learn and listen, was cool. Noah came home and was telling his sister, ‘this is how you do this. This is how you check for this.’ The fact that they’re grasping it, paying attention and someday they might be able to use it, that’s pretty cool.

“In the end, going out and having fun is great, but when they learn some new skills that can really carry over, and that they’ll remember the rest of their lives, that’s pretty cool. They might remember playing out there at the playground at Chehaw, but they’re really going to remember being able to take part and get up there with the CPR dummy and move it around. That they’ll remember.”

Because he’d like to see even more children get the opportunity to experience scouting, Houston said that even though Noah will be moving on to Boy Scouts soon, he intends to stay on as Cubmaster so that the pack will have some continuity in leadership—something he thinks is key to keeping the organization which feeds Boy Scouts healthy and growing.

“I’ve told (Scoutmaster) Mike (Johnson), even when Noah moves on, I’m going to stick around with the pack because I want to get it running where I want it before I say, ‘Hey, we need somebody else,’” Houston explained. “I’m afraid Mike’s going to retire after his son finishes and he even told me, ‘I’ve got an assistant scoutmaster position waiting for you.’ But I told him no. I’m going to stick where I am. I want to make sure this is on good footing before I even think about leaving.”

By having strong leadership in place, Houston thinks the trend of declining numbers scouting has experienced in recent years will wane, because in his opinion that decline doesn’t have much to do with the scouting program itself.

“Take a look at what’s happening, you’ve got so many year round sports,” Houston said. “And besides sports, there’s so many more activities that children want to take part in, that parents want to take part in. A lot of times I think it’s, do parents think they have enough time for their child to be there? Or do the parents think their family has enough time. The kid might like scouting, but the parents are like, ‘No we’re doing this and this and this, we’ve got to pull back from something.’

“And I think that’s an issue.

“Growing up I remember playing rec football and rec baseball, but it wasn’t like there were people playing on travel teams and doing stuff year-round and they’re gone. So it was easy to fit scouting in with athletics. And it’s doable today. It just depends on how much you put into. How much you put into it is how much you’ll get out of it.”

Of course if Houston has anything to say about it, the kids that get involved with scouting will get a lot out of the experience because of everything he puts into. Just during the brief time that Bear’s been involved, Houston has helped organize numerous opportunities for the scouts to learn and grow.

There have been fun events like carnivals and family days, countless chances for the scouts to earn belt loops and badges, multiple camping trips and ample opportunities to take part in community service projects.

But perhaps the best part about the scouting experience that Houston has helped provide has been his passing on his philosophies about service and helping others—something he seems to be doing on a regular basis.

I witnessed his desire to lend a hand firsthand just a few weeks ago when Houston overheard Tay and I talking about Milla’s sore shoulder.

After starting this year’s softball season, Milla—who as the starting catcher has to throw several times a game—said her shoulder was just hurting.

When Houston heard that he immediately volunteered his services as a physical therapist and on two separate occasions showed up at the ballfield to administer therapy and tape her arm and shoulder to alleviate the pain.

It might seem like a small gesture, but to me it’s indicative of the type of person Houston is.

In addition to his volunteer efforts with scouting and baseball, Houston said he’s also involved with several outreach ministries at St. Teresa’s—so much so that he’s finally gotten a point where he has had to learn to say ‘no,’ even though it clearly pains him to have to do so.

“Scouting has been just one more extension of how we can serve,” he said. “At St. Teresa’s they’re always looking for folks to help serve there too. The scouting ministry, I do that, but you know there’s Eucharist minister, lector on Sunday mornings, faith formation, the prison ministry—which I’m doing tonight—it seems they’re willing to accept people’s help.

“I’ve actually had to step back a little bit on a couple of things and say, ‘Hey, I just don’t have the time.’”

Of course, another reason Houston’s time is limited—as if being a parent, a husband, a Scoutmaster and a volunteer aren’t enough—is the time he puts in with Phoebe as a physical therapist.

Not surprisingly, his career choice also stems from Houston’s desire to help others, and it’s a profession he knew he wanted to do back when he was a teenager.

“I’ve been doing this going on 18 years,” Houston said when I asked about his career. “I’ve wanted to be a therapist since high school. We had therapists and athletic trainers that worked with the team over there in Worth County so I got to see them there.

“Then my grandmother had a stroke when I was a freshman in high school, so I got to see them work a little bit with her and I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’

“I like being able to see people improve, being able to help them out, but also being able to see them improve their lives and make changes,” he continued. “You know, you can give somebody medication, or tell somebody to do a different lifestyle, but you can’t really see a change in the ulcer in their stomach. Or you can’t really see an organ doing something different. You can see a body part. It can move now. It’s stronger now. It can do things it couldn’t do.

I think the enjoyment Houston finds in seeing people improve also factors into why he enjoys his work as Cubmaster, as it gives him an opportunity to see the children he works with improve their lives—often in profound ways.

When I asked him about the common thread of service and mentoring the scouts, Houston was quite frank in explaining what I think is the philosophy that motivates him to do what he does.

“My mom and dad always helped people, my mom especially,” he said. “My dad was a 20-year Navy vet so he wore his body out, but my mom would always help no matter what. Well scouting brought my mom back to the church and I guess kind of brought me into it.

“And so kind of seeing the help she would do there, with whoever, it kind of carried over. I mean, ‘love for ourselves, love for our fellow man.’

“Loving is a verb, it’s an action,” he continued. “So if you’re helping someone, then you are loving them. And I try to tell that to the kids I teach in faith information. It’s kind of the same. It’s not just saying something, it’s ‘Are you doing something?’ You try to show them.

I love to pull out St. James’ epistle and talk about our actions. Our actions out of love are just not saying, ‘Hey we do something, we believe.’ It’s, ‘Yeah you have to have belief and have the faith, but you have to be a product of it. Where’s your fruit from it? And kind of watching these boys continue to do it, you see that fruit hopefully.

“It’s kind of another way to help share and foster that in the next generation. Hopefully, if they see it, maybe they’ll keep with it. There’s a lot of a ‘me’ society sometimes. ‘What do I get out of it? I’m entitled to have something.’ If our society keeps going that way, ooh gosh. There’s no telling what kind of world we’re going to be in. It can’t always be ‘I.’ It’s got to be ‘we.’

I certainly agree with Houston’s assertion that our society needs to embrace a “we” mindset, where we all work together to make this world a better place, but I also believe that because of folks like Houston Daniel sharing his love of service with others in a multitude of ways, we’re on the right track.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen 

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