Michigan Scouters aim to reinvigorate local Scouting

STEPHEN KING, Central Region president, knew there was no way to sugarcoat the harsh facts about Scouting’s problems in Michigan. The numbers in Area 2 were clear: From 2005 to 2009, Cub Scout and Boy Scout numbers declined by 20 percent. The number of volunteers dropped by 9 percent. Council camps lost $3 million. Meanwhile, 900,000 youth were not being served by Scouting.

Those critical losses were made worse by the staggering Michigan economy. “I call it a depression, not a recession, that hit Michigan,” King says. As the economy tanked, the Big Three automakers closed down plants and laid off thousands of workers, leading to what King calls “a very significant outmigration of working-age men and women age 25 to 40”—in other words, the people most likely to have Scout-age children.

Given all those woes, King and Alan Lambert, Central Region director, were not surprised to hear Michigan Scout leaders ask, “Is Scouting sustainable here? Are we going to do something about this, or wait for the national organization to come in and tell us what to do?”

King and Lambert were heartened when local officials took on the challenge. “They wanted to form a task force to find answers to these problems,” King says. “We said, ‘Go for it.’”

Over the next 18 months, volunteers from Area 2 spent more than 11,000 man-hours rethinking the program. “It was transparent and innovative,” Lambert says. “They looked at everything.”

Volunteers filled more than 50 “chalkboards” with ideas about how Scouting should be reorganized in Area 2. Along the way, two councils—Toledo and the Upper Michigan Peninsula—opted out, largely for geographic reasons. Still, the end product of all that dreaming and rethinking, known as the Crossroads Recommendation, was revolutionary.

Area 2’s individual councils will be dissolved and virtually all administrative functions and governance will be consolidated into one areawide “Coordinating Council.” The recommendation also created four Field Service Councils that will serve as the primary face of Scouting in Area 2 communities.

That’s a lot of change. Area 2 was ready for it, and when it was time to vote, 92 percent of members voted yes.

“I spent a third of my career in Washington, D.C., and I don’t use the word ‘mandate’ lightly,” Lambert says. “But 92 percent is a strong mandate.”

King and Lambert stress that cost savings was not the primary driver behind these changes. The key, King says, is putting more people where it counts. “We’re going to more than double the number of unit-serving executives,” King says. “They’ll be out interfacing with the community, talking to those prospective chartered organizations.”

King and Lambert say they’ll know the success of this transformation in a year or two. “We believe we can have as many as 10,000 more kids in the program by the end of next year,” Lambert says. “It’s not a matter of spending years reorganizing. It’s giving them the resources, putting the boots on the ground, and getting the kids into the program.”

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