East Side Hmong teen chosen to represent the region
Prior to Friday, Feb. 21, 17-year-old Paul Thao had never been on an airplane.
The East Side teen was flown out to Washington, D.C. by the Boy Scouts of America to take part in the organization’s annual report to the nation, detailing the Scouting’s accomplishments. This year, the boys gave the report to Speaker of the House John Boehner.
Thao was chosen as one of nine, from hundreds of thousands of kids, and represents the Northern Star Council.
The council represents 21 counties in central Minnesota and four counties in western Wisconsin. The council has over 70,000 members.
Kent York, Northern Star Council communications director, described Thao’s trip as “an incredible opportunity for one of our top Scouting youth leaders to meet and interact with our nation’s leaders.”
Scoutmaster Dave Moore recognized Thao’s strong leadership skills and nominated him.
He described Thao as “a very talented kid,” and a natural leader.
Moore spoke highly of his leadership style -- it’s “not the glossy kind,” he said, “It’s the caring, engaged kind ... it sends a message to kids that he likes them.”
“He’s the ideal role model for kids who are trying to figure out what a leader is,” Moore said. “He’s it!”
Thao has kept busy while in D.C., touring a whirlwind of different government buildings, such as the White House, the CIA, Arlington National Cemetery, and the U.S. Supreme Court building.
“I love it here,” said Thao, speaking on a borrowed cell phone in Washington, D.C.
“We wake up early in the morning,” he said, and “spend every day touring.”
He said what struck him most thus far was the Pentagon building -- “It’s really big and amazing,” he said.
He got a tour of the facility along with eight other representatives of Boy Scouts.
The trip, he said, has helped him connect with other Scouts from different parts of the nation.
“We’ve gotten close to each other,” he said. “We’re here now, as a family.”
He said he was proud to represent his East Side troop on the trip.
“I’m not just representing the Boy Scouts, but also the Hmong community,” he said.
Notably, Troop 100 has included officials currently representing St. Paul, including DFL Sen. Fong Hawj, and Dai Thao, who serves on the St. Paul City Council.
Older brother’s influence
Paul Thao’s oldest brother, Song Thao, 28, said he’s proud of his sibling.
Song Thao, who achieved Eagle Scout rank, said that he hoped he’s been a good influence on his younger brother.
Similar to Paul, when Song was younger, he and a friend were selected to go to Thailand for the World Scout Jamboree. He said the experience helped him become independent, something he expects his younger brother will experience as well.
“You build a lot of confidence as a person when you don’t know anyone and have to find your way,” he said.
“It’s crazy; it’s incredible,” he said. “I think he’s building a lot of confidence.”
Song Thao said he suspects his own achievements in Scouting got his younger brother started, but “now he’s paving his own way.”
And he’s earned it, Song said. “It’s nice to see him working hard.”
Thao comes from a large family, and is one of 12 kids.
His parents run a shop at the Hmongtown Marketplace in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood. Thao works there on the weekends.
Song Thao spoke of his large family’s many challenges growing up -- with 12 kids, the family was on welfare, and even so it was often tough to put enough food on the table. Sharing a house was not easy either -- “Just imagine six young boys running around the house,” he said.
When he’s not doing Boy Scouts activities or schoolwork, Thao likes to practice piano and guitar. He’s self-taught at both, and mostly plays “sweet, slow, smooth and steady melodies,” he said.
Thao is currently at Harding High School, and said he plans to go on to college.
In the meantime, he’s working towards earning his Eagle Scout badge - for a service project he’s hoping to work on the Frogtown Urban Farm, a large swath of land in the Frogtown neighborhood, to provide benches and picnic tables, and also to plug in the Hmong community to the resource.
Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.