Alum directs Boy Scouts National Jamboree

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by Jim Heffernan (’96, ’17M)

Tom Pendleton (’98) with sons Tayden and Tyler

SUMMARY: More than 20,000 Scouts from across the country came together in rural Fayette County, West Virginia, in July for the Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree. Held every four years, the 10-day event celebrates the adventure and traditions of Scouting. At the helm of this year’s event was JMU alumnus Tom Pendleton (’98), a former public-school teacher who began his career with BSA in 2002.

Were you a Scout growing up?
I began Scouting in the second grade and have been involved since that time. I am an Eagle Scout with three palms and a member of the BSA National Honor Society, known as the Order of the Arrow, and have earned several other honors and awards along the way.

Why did you choose JMU? What are your memories from that time of your life?
I chose JMU after a trip with my high school band. Our band director at the time was a JMU alum and took us to visit JMU and watch the Parade of Champions competition. We did not compete. After watching some of the high school bands, the Marching Royal Dukes performed and I was hooked. I came back to a summer band camp before my senior year of high school and visited a few other times before making the decision that this was where I wanted to be. I know it sounds cliché, but it felt like home. I was so convinced that I only applied to JMU.

One of my best memories of JMU was during my freshman year when the field hockey team won the first-ever national championship in school history. My best friend and I went to meet the team when they returned to campus and pretended to be media to get closer to the bus, and we actually got to hold the trophy! I also remember going to several sporting events and activities around campus. Our residence halls always participated in intramurals, and we even won the softball championship one year. The best part about JMU was the friendships and memories you make. One of our favorite pastimes was trying to get into The Breeze, and we were successful a couple of times (NOT in the police log!). I was a member of the Marching Royal Dukes for two years, where I played cymbals on the drumline. Those trips and performances were some of the best times.

How did your Madison Experience prepare you for your career?
One of the things that has helped me most in my career was being involved in residence life. As an RA, I learned things about planning programs and staying within a set budget — skills that came in handy in the Jamboree. I learned about conflict resolution and leading my peers. These are all skills that I use on a day-to-day basis. These skills began through my Scouting experience and were expanded through the residence-life role. Some of my best friends to this day I met through working together in a residence hall.

Tom-Pendleton-BSNJ-director-interviewAfter JMU, you were a public-school teacher in Roanoke, Virginia, which is where you began your career with the Boy Scouts. How did those two pursuits intersect?
Between my third and fourth years of teaching, I spent the summer working at Boy Scout summer camp. As a teacher, I was asked to help develop a new, first-year camper program and help with the curriculum development and program delivery methods. I helped write and implement the program that summer. I also had the opportunity to work alongside some BSA professionals who explained to me what it was like to work for the Boy Scouts full time. With some prompting from them, at the end of my fourth year of teaching I decided to change my career path and begin working for the Boy Scouts. The skills that I developed at JMU in earning my teaching certification paved the way for me to begin a new educational field of the BSA.

What jobs have you held at BSA?
I worked in the Blue Ridge Mountains Council in Roanoke for 12 years, where I was a district executive, senior district executive and field director. While serving in each of these roles, I continued to work at summer camp as a program director, camp director and ultimately the reservation director of the Blue Ridge Scout Reservation, a 16,000-acre property in Pulaski County, Virginia, where we served about 10,000 youth and adults over the course of the year. I was then offered an opportunity to leave Roanoke to become the director of camping in New York City, where I served for almost six years managing Camp Pouch (New York City), Alpine Scout Camp (New Jersey) and Ten Mile River Scout Camps (Narrowsburg, New York). From that role, I was given an opportunity to move to Texas to serve at our National Council as a member of the outdoor programs and properties team. My JMU educational background once again helped me, as my role was to work with the BSA National Camping School. I was responsible for helping develop curriculum and syllabuses to train camp leaders in the operation and management of BSA summer camps. In October 2022, I was selected to serve as the director of the National Jamboree, which took place in July of this year.

Tom-Pendleton-BSNJ-director-campWhat are your primary responsibilities as director of the National Jamboree?
My role is to ensure that the Jamboree is safe and manage all aspects of the event. I work alongside volunteers to deliver the promise of Scouting to the youth and adults who attend. I oversee everything on the site, from the logistics of feeding and moving people around the site to what they actually do while in attendance to the medical facilities and clinics that we put in place. I also provide leadership to the roughly 2,800 staff who lead different aspects of the event. And I work in collaboration with local, state and federal agencies, including the West Virginia National Guard.

For those who don’t know, how you would describe the Jamboree?
The National Jamboree is Scouting’s premier event that takes place generally every four years. It is the largest gathering of Scouts and Scouters (adult Scout leaders) in the country. In July, we hosted more than 20,000 people on the Jamboree site at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Glen Jean, West Virginia. We became one of the 10 largest cities in the state for those 10 days. Jamboree brings together Scouts from across the country to learn about one another and have combined experiences, making memories that will last a lifetime. Scouts participate in a wide range of activities that are both high-adventure and academic. New programs at Jamboree this year were Leadership Heights, the service project, and the amazing entertainment and bashes complete with the closing drone show.

Tom-Pendleton-BSNJ-director-badgesWhat values does BSA help instill, and why are they important?
The values of the BSA can be summed up in the Scout Oath and Law.

Scout Oath: On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

Scout Law: A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.

TRUSTWORTHY: Tell the truth and keep promises. People can depend on you.

LOYAL: Show that you care about your family, friends, Scout leaders, school and country.

HELPFUL: Volunteer to help others without expecting a reward.

FRIENDLY: Be a friend to everyone, even people who are very different from you.

COURTEOUS: Be polite to everyone and always use good manners.

KIND: Treat others as you want to be treated. Never harm or kill any living thing without good reason.

OBEDIENT: Follow the rules of your family, school and pack. Obey the laws of your community and country.

CHEERFUL: Look for the bright side of life. Cheerfully do tasks that come your way. Try to help others be happy.

THRIFTY: Work to pay your own way. Try not to be wasteful. Use time, food, supplies and natural resources wisely.

BRAVE: Face difficult situations even when you feel afraid. Do what you think is right despite what others might be doing or saying.

CLEAN: Keep your body and mind fit. Help keep your home and community clean.

REVERENT: Be reverent toward God. Be faithful in your religious duties. Respect the beliefs of others.

These are important because they are the foundation of the BSA and the movement. We try to instill these values in youth, so they will stay with them throughout their lives.

What’s something about BSA that people would find surprising?
The BSA has been around since 1910. In February 2019, the Scouts BSA program began welcoming females, with the first female Eagle Scouts in October 2020. Scouting is for all youth.

Tom-Pendleton-BSNJ-director-ziplineWhat’s the most gratifying part of your job?
I enjoy working with volunteers from across the country. Many of our volunteers are leaders in their fields and still find time to volunteer with the BSA. In addition to that, I truly enjoy seeing the youth having a blast at the Jamboree. Giving a Scout a chance to do something they have never done before in an environment where it is safe to explore and sometimes fail is great. They know that even if they are not successful, they will be supported by their peers and celebrated for trying. Seeing youth be able to find some activity where they fit in and feel comfortable is the best.

What would you say to someone who wants to get involved in Scouting, either as a volunteer or a staff member?
Scouting is alive and well in communities across the country. To find the local Scouting council, visit and you can locate a local Scouting unit. All youth, from kindergarten to age 20, are welcome to join our programs. We have space for volunteers at all levels of Scouting.

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Published: Friday, August 25, 2023

Last Updated: Friday, November 17, 2023

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