Front Line Stuff
Edited by Mark Ray
Reaching Out to New Immigrants
Troop committee chairman M.B. says his area's population is changing. Many new residents are recent immigrants who come from different religious traditions than more-established residents. What are ways to reach out to immigrant adults and youths and to deliver the program to them?
To attract new youths to your Scouting program, you need to figure out what the parents want from an extracurricular activity for their sons. Do they want extra tutoring? We found that periodic study nights gave the boys access to resources among our leaders. Do they need educational field trips? Cub Scout advancements and many merit badges offer the opportunity to go places like the state capitol, a local wildlife area, the library, and a variety of local businesses. Often immigrant parents want their children to be "Americanized" as much as we want our youth to learn about and share in their culture.
Duty to God does not mean that Scouts must follow the religious beliefs of the chartered organization or those of the majority in the troop and community. Scouting promotes tolerance. Make sure that all interested Scouts and Scouters understand that while Scouting promotes a belief in God, it does not promote a single faith, even if the chartered organization is a church.
Tolerance is a two-way street. Understanding other beliefs is not a roadblock; it is a learning experience for all.
[Editor's note: Scouting does promote tolerance, but Dave Richardson, director of Religious Relationships in BSA's Relationships Division, points out that chartered organizations affiliated with religious organizations "may impose certain religious-specific items on a unit, such as not camping on Sunday or holding its denominationally specific service on a camp-out, or beginning the meeting with a prayer." In deference to others and their religious beliefs, packs and troops chartered to such organizations need to ensure that boys interested in joining their units are well-informed about and understand all faith-based unit requirements.]
I suggest that you contact your local or county government offices and inquire about agencies that help immigrants in your area. In our county we have FIRN (Foreign-born Information and Referral Network), which is a nonprofit agency that provides resources for new immigrants. If you get the word out with social service agencies or area nonprofits that your troop would welcome Scouts and parent volunteers, you may get the help you are looking for.
The answer is somewhat complex since there is a multitude of immigrant ethnicities involved. Each requires thoughtful research and dialogue to determine the best plan. There are a few generalities I will suggest:
First, form an active Scoutreach initiative in your council. Tap into national programs that have already been developed to reach certain immigrant populations, like the Soccer and Scouting program.
Second, tap into the newcomers' religious organizations. One of the first things that immigrant communities establish is a religious congregation. It is a natural place where immigrant families convene, socialize, help each other, and network.
Third, identify strong community leaders who have some experience with Scouting. Get them to help recruit unteers to commit to completing training.
I found two "hooks" to interest those of other faiths or cultures to join the Boy Scouts. First, the religious emblem program appeals a great deal to parents. Bring the religious emblem book for the boy's faith with you and offer it on the spot. Second, every teenage boy has an overwhelming desire to fit in and make friends. This is a drive that crosses all cultural barriers. A Scout organization is the ideal place for this.
Tell the boy when and where the next meeting will be, then call his parents and remind them the day before. Offer a ride. Bring a secondhand Scout shirt in his size if he chooses to come a second time. And don't worry; he'll be hooked.
Finances can be tight for many immigrant families. Some are refugees from war zones and have few resources. Others work in low-wage jobs while learning English or pursuing an education. Be sure to emphasize whatever financial support your troop offers, whether it's scholarships, fund-raising opportunities, "experienced" uniforms, or loaner camping gear. Don't let money prevent someone from having a great Scouting experience.
Before you start recruiting, make sure your program is culturally sensitive. If you want to attractand retainmembers from different cultures, you need to be aware of things like dietary requirements or preferences and important cultural and religious dates you should avoid when planning activities. If you aren't sure, just ask!
Copyright © 2006 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.