December 22, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Salvation Army red kettles, and the bell ringers who accompany them, are synonymous with the holiday season. For many community groups, bell ringing has become more than just volunteer service—it’s a yearly tradition.

Members of Boy Scout Troop 474 of Bellevue, and their families, have been active bell ringers for nearly 15 years and will be continuing the tradition this year. “They started when they were just 7,” says Rhonda Harris, whose 14-year-old son Josh is a member of the troop, “Now they’re freshman in high school.”

This year, the boys and their families will be bell ringing at the Hy-Vee at Shadow Lake Towne Center, their spot of choice the last several years. Each year between 15 and 20 scouts from the troop participate. “It’s nice to think of others this time of year,” says Dr. John Harris, Josh’s father, who serves as Troop Committee Chairman for Troop 474.

Josh, a freshman at Bellevue West High School, serves as Troop Service Project Coordinator and also became an Eagle Scout last January. Josh says that community service is an important part of Boy Scouts and has had a significant impact on him.

Boy Scouts can advance in rank through volunteerism, which is one reason many members of the troop come back year after year. But most of the scouts he knows, he says, volunteer for more reasons than personal gain.

“You get a lot out of it [community service]; knowing you are helping other people,” Josh says. “Those of us who have already achieved Eagle Scout still do it because we love to do it.”

Troop 474 started bell ringing, in part, because it’s a community service activity in which children of all ages can participate with adult supervision. Dr. Harris and his son added that, in addition to benefitting a good cause, bell ringing can be entertaining—meeting new people, hanging out with friends and family. Josh remembers one year in particular when he attended a lock-in the night before an early morning of bell ringing.

“I had just came back from the lock-in and I still loved doing it—even though I was practically falling asleep,” Josh remembers, laughing.

This year, Troop 474 plans to participate in a bell ringing challenge sponsored by the Salvation Army. There will be awards for most money raised in a kettle, most bell-ringing hours, highest percentage of club members ringing bells, and most money raised per club member.

Oh, sure, some people might avoid eye contact with the scouts when walking in and out of the store. Or, give them that “stop pestering me” look. But those folks are generally in the minority. “The vast majority of people are really glad you’re out there,” John says. “And you’re making a difference for people who aren’t as fortunate.”

Do you want to try your hand at bell ringing this year? The Harris family has one piece of advice for you: “Dress warm,” John says. “You never know what you are going to get with Nebraska weather!”

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