Honored for opportunity: Boy Scouts to recognize those who fostered program

Published 7:00 am Saturday, October 14, 2023

In August of this year, it was announced that Austin Public Schools’ Sheila Berger and the United Way of Mower County’s Karem Salas Ramirez would be honored at the first ever Mower County Distinguished Citizens Dinner, hosted  by the Twin Valley Council of the Boy Scouts.

The dinner will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 24, at the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Austin.

“We are very excited to be putting on this event and bringing the community together to help recognize both Shelia Berger and Karem Ramirez,” said District Director for the Twin Valley Council Erik Karre in August. “I’ve known and worked with both Sheila and Karem since I started serving Mower County back in 2018 as a part of my service area. Both of them are very deserving of the awards they are being honored for.”

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Both women were honored in part for their work in making sure students and kids in Austin had opportunities for activities through the Boy Scouts as well as other opportunities.

Sheila Berger

Berger currently serves as coordinator of K-4 Curriculum and EL Services for Austin Public Schools after serving as principal for Sumner Elementary for a number of years.

Starting about 10 years ago, Berger began working with the Scouts to create avenues to scouting by hooking it through the school.

Berger helped facilitate these opportunities by connecting Boy Scout activities through the school.

“At Sumner it had gone to an evening event,” said Berger, who will receive the Elbert K. Fretwell Outstanding Educator Award, presented to those who improve students’ lives by pro-actively modeling and teaching scouting values.

“You don’t have to be a Scout,” Berger continued, saying it was an opening for all to experience scouting. “It’s more like a community opportunity”

As participation started to climb, Berger said that scouting actives actively achieved goals the district was looking for in its students.

“Obviously some of the goals that scouting has had it to create positive citizens to be a part of the community,” Berger said. “That’s the same type of things we’re trying to do in school. We kind of reinforce each other.”

The benefits of such a pairing are providing students a positive platform for the future, including increasing chances of graduation by students.

Berger said that award by the Boy Scouts was a surprise and added that the work is done for the benefit of the kids and students, while at the same time pointing out that work done so far has been a community effort.

“I just want to provide opportunities for kids that they maybe don’t have in their situation,” she said. “Being recognized is pretty cool, but it took a village. I appreciate all the people across the community that provides scouting opportunities.”

Karem Salas Ramirez

Ramirez, who is being honored with the Whitney Young Jr. Service Award recognizing individuals and corporations nationally who have been instrumental in the development of scouting for rural, urban and suburban youth facing challenges or barriers, was one of those helping Berger create opportunities.

A success coach at Sumner when Berger was principal, Ramirez said being a part of that kind of work was inspiring.

“I got to see a side of the program and that first-hand impact that it has on the students; the opportunities — academically and socially — it provided,” she said. “It’s really great to see how excited the kids were to participate.”

However Ramirez, who is now the Community Impact coordinator for the United Way, also saw the need for these types of programs. An immigrant to the United States, Ramirez became aware of the barriers for many coming to the United States.

“Oftentimes our families are here to work, here for school,” she said. “After school programming was something I wasn’t part of because there is a cost to after school programming. Transportation is a barrier.”

Through scouting programs, which are supported by the United Way of Mower County, Ramirez was able to be a part of helping bring these opportunities to those with diverse backgrounds.

It helps bring in those who aren’t Scouts to experience the organization and perhaps join it.

“They are able to be a part of the scouting program without being a Scout,” Ramirez said. “For me the barriers were huge, but I love the after school program, from 3-4 p.m., because you can catch that 4 p.m. bus. They’re able to socialize, grow as a person. Be a part of something fun that I would have loved as a kid.”

Ramirez said that being able to support youth in this way is transforming for those community members with diverse backgrounds, providing not only an opportunity for socialization and growth, but to mentors as well.

“To make sure they know that the diversity community is aware of the programming and where they can make an impact on the youth of today,” Ramirez said.

“It’s a pretty sweet honor,” Ramirez said of the award. “I’m just honored.

More to the evening

Also part of the evening will be a presentation by Lydia Drees who is working toward getting her Eagle Scout status.

“I’m also very excited to hear Lydia speak,” Karre said in August. “I knew Lydia even before she was a Scout and it has been amazing to see her growth in the program.”

Drees is the first female Eagle Scout in Mower County and the second female Eagle Scout in all of the 15 counties of the Twin Valley Council in southern Minnesota.

Tickets for the Oct. 24 event are $40 per seat or a table of six for $240. Ad sponsors are also being sought for $370 which includes a half-page ad in the printed program, recognition at the event, and a reserved table of six.

For questions about the event or to become a sponsor, contact either Erik Karre at 308.440.2641, erik.karre@scouting.org.