Local Scout Katie Hancock honored by two kings as a Messenger of Peace
VAIL — Katie Hancock was shaking hands with the King of Saudi Arabia for the first time and the King of Sweden for the third time, and even for someone who has been meeting royals for many of her 16 years, she was still pretty thrilled.
Hancock was in a great big room in a Saudi Arabian royal palace with a bunch of people all being hailed as heroes by two royal families.
The 16-year old Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy senior was the youngest recipient of a Scouts Messenger of Peace Hero Award.
Hancock is in a Venture Scout crew, a co-ed Scouting organization for Scouts up to 21 years old. In 2009, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia began referring to Scouts as “Messengers of Good, Love and Peace.” Since then, King Abdullah has supported Scouts through the Messenger of Peace Program, awarded through the World Organization Scout Movement.
From Lubbock with love
Hancock, a native of Lubbock, Texas, says she is not the only hero in her family.
“I have some pretty awesome parents. They used to drive me up here every other weekend so I could snowboard,” she said of Jennifer and Joseph Hancock.
The family owns a place in Vail, and they put her in Beaver Creek’s Bevo program. She was good right away and started winning boardercross competitions around the region. The family went all in and enrolled her in the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy.
But stick with us in Lubbock for this part of the story.
In May of 2015, Hancock’s Scouting Venture Crew did a huge service project in San Marcos, Texas. It was flooded, much worse than usual, killing several people and devastating many more. One young family’s entire house had been washed away and only the father survived.
Hancock’s Venture Crew had scheduled a campout for that weekend, but they decided they’d go to San Marcos instead.
That left them three days to pull the mission together. They got some help from the local Lubbock media, and the donations poured in — more than 4,000 donations in those three days, a couple thousand diapers, thousands of water bottles, packaged food … everything you could imagine.
“Thank God for the Lubbock community,” Hancock said.
That created one more problem-solving opportunity.
“Now we had more than we knew what to do with, and we only had one car,” Hancock said.
They went to a U-Haul dealer who donated a truck and hit the road for the seven-hour drive. Because they’re Scouts, on the way to San Marcos they worked on merit badges and advancements.
They arrived in San Marcos and realized they should probably have thought this through more carefully.
“We didn’t have a place to stay and all the hotels are booked because everyone’s displaced by the flooding,” Hancock said.
She sent a text to an uncle and aunt asking if they could stay there.
“Sure,” her aunt and uncle replied.
The next morning they drove to the donation drop point to unload. They went down to the flooded area and asked if there was anything they could do to help. Almost everyone said “yes.”
“It was devastating to see people’s entire houses gutted,” Hancock said.
Still, there was a sense of hope and community. Every 20 minutes or so people would come by and offer tools, or labor, or food.
“Hey, I don’t know who you are, but do you want a chicken sandwich?” they were asked.
Everyone worked as long as they could, then the flash floods brought even more devastation and water. They packed up and left, just ahead of the rising water.
Message from the King
Fast forward to this fall when Katie Hancock received an email: “The King of Saudi Arabia is requesting your presence for the Messenger of Peace Hero Awards.”
It’s not every day that a letter shows up from the king of Saudi Arabia, and at first Hancock thought it might be a Nigerian Prince-type of scam.
A couple of those Lubbock media outlets picked up the story,
His majesty keeps an eye on the internet for this sort of thing, and found Hancock’s Venture Crew San Marcos saga.
When King Abdullah reached out, it made Hancock the first under-18 female from the United States to be so honored.
“I thought ‘I can’t say no to this,’” she said, and she didn’t.
“I was a little scared going into it. I’m a 16-year old female and I’m traveling to a pretty intense country,” Hancock said.
She had to be accompanied by an adult male over the age of 45, which would be her dad, an Eagle Scout. Her mom is also involved in Scouting and made it crystal clear that she was going, too. So they all did.
“Everyone was there for a reason because they had done something good,” Hancock said.
The whirlwind tour was almost surreal.
“A lot happening very quickly,” Hancock said. “My mom was a little concerned about it. We decided just to go with it.”
They had a security detail – other Scouts from that part of Saudi Arabia.
The van hauling all the Scouts around had to be checked for bombs, then checked again.
They exchanged gifts with other Scouts there, things like neckerchiefs, patches and pins … “the kinds of things only Scouts would think is cool.”
They all received a quick primer about addressing the Saudi king and learned that they’d also be meeting the king of Sweden, who’d be there too.
“My mom has a picture of me realizing I was going to be speaking with two kings, not just one. I look pretty surprised,” Hancock said.
The Scouting Heroes, as they were called by the royals, received plaques and certificates, all written in Arabic so they don’t know exactly what it says, except that it’s something wonderful.
They were supposed to have dinner at the royal palace the evening after the Hero Award ceremony, but their bus broke down and they missed it.
The Saudis were nothing if not accommodating to their Scouting Heroes, so they arranged for dinner the next night, also at the palace.
That was Thanksgiving night, at Prince Turki’s house.
“Ironically, we had Thanksgiving dinner at Prince Turki’s house,” Hancock said smiling.
Saudi Arabia last month was not Hancock’s first brush with greatness thanks to Scouting.
A year ago, she was in Istanbul, Turkey, speaking at the World Humanitarian Summit for the United Nations as a youth representative for the World Organization Scout Movement.
She represented the World Organization of Scouting Movement in Turkey.
She was in Istanbul about a month before that country’s military coup. The signs of civil unrest were pretty easy to spot. Every rooftop was manned by snipers, and every building had two security gates.
In London, she met Daniel Craig, James Bond 007, and UN. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
A year or so ago, the Hancock clan was in London to be honored for contributions to Scouting. They were jet lagged and sleeping in a lodge converted from Scouting founder Baden Powell’s home. Each bedroom is based on a theme from a different country, and theirs was the Sweden room.
“You wander around and look at other country’s rooms, because they’re pretty amazing,” Hancock said.
They were snoozing away in the Sweden room when there came a knock on their door. Her mom opened the door and in walked Carl Gustaf Folke Hubertus, king of Sweden. He had never seen the Sweden room and wanted a look.
A few days later there were lots of familiar and knowing smiles all around when King Gustaf presented them with their awards.
That was their second meeting. The third, or course, was last month in Saudi Arabia.
King Carl Gustaf Folke Hubertus, of Sweden; King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, of Saudi Arabia; UN. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; and even Daniel Craig, James Bond 007, gave all the Scouts the same sound advice:
“You’re the future. It’s up to you to decide what you want,” they told her.
Hancock is big on service and wants to see people help each other instead of being frightened of each other. We should also be more mindful of our environment.
“It’s the only one we’re given,” Hancock said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935.