ScoutingSeptember 2003

Meeting In Philadelphia

By Jon C. Halter
Photographs By John R. Fulton Jr. And Roger Morgan

In the city where the Founding Fathers provided America's finest examples of citizenship, service, and leadership, Scouters at the BSA National Annual Meeting focused on the best ways to establish those enduring values among today's youth.

In front of Philadelphia's historic Independence Hall, Ben Franklin (portrayed by Ralph Archbold) describes his kite-flying experiments to Boy Scout Colin Lawlor and Cub Scout Jason Truong, from the host Cradle of Liberty Council; and to (rear, from left) Scouters Chip Clardy, Charlotte, N.C.; Chris Manning, California Inland Empire Council; and Tony Ryan, National Capital Area Council.

Who better to welcome visitors to Philadelphia than the city's most famous resident of all time, Benjamin Franklin?

And it was the patriot, scientist, statesman, and talented storyteller (in a lifelike portrayal by actor Ralph Archbold) who greeted 2,000 Scouters and spouses in early June at the 84th National Annual Meeting of the Boy Scouts of America.

In his welcoming remarks, Franklin recalled the two most famous meetings ever to take place in his adopted city: the Continental Congress in 1776, which drafted the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which created the Federal Constitution.

Both of those historical meetings were held at what was then known as the State House in Philadelphia and is now called Independence Hall. Many Scouters and spouses visited the hallowed landmark, located in Independence National Historical Park, within walking distance from the BSA meeting at the Philadelphia Marriott Hotel.

"What we did [at those two meetings] was [to make] a promise to every one of you, the promise of a free and independent nation, for you and for your children and for your grandchildren," Franklin said.

And now, he declared, "You are about to begin the third great meeting" in Philadelphia.

The reason a BSA annual meeting of Scouting volunteers and professionals, representing more than 300 local councils, merited such prominence was simple, Franklin explained: "You serve the most important people in this world, the young people who are the future, the future of your community, the future of your nation, the future of this world."

And focusing on the best ways to serve those young people, by providing as many of them as possible with Scouting's values-based program of character development and leadership training, was exactly why the Scouters had come to Philadelphia.

Success and challenge

At Friday's annual business meeting, Chief Scout Executive Roy L. Williams reviewed the successes of 2002 and the tasks ahead.

"The challenge for us as leaders of this movement is to provide our fellow volunteers with the resources they need to serve youth," Williams said.

BSA President Roy S. Roberts said Scouting provides youth with "the gift of time."

This will be best accomplished, he noted, by achieving the goals of the five critical issues in the 2002-2005 National Strategic Plan: (1) Developing strong units, (2) Continuing to reach out to underserved communities, (3) Developing and recruiting the right leadership, (4) Effectively marketing our program and being as visible as possible, and (5) Making sure councils are well financed.

"We made great progress in fulfilling the elements of the plan during the past year," Williams continued. "On the marketing front...we're letting our good deeds speak for us, like Scouting for Food and the thousands of other service projects that happen through Scouting each year...

"In 2002 our program grew, [including] an increase in the number of volunteer leaders, which is very encouraging. the middle of a recession, we had the third-best year ever in terms of commitments to local council endowments."

But while 2002 was a good year, "we have our challenges," Williams pointed out. "First and foremost is the economy. We're in the middle of what some have called a 'nonprofit depression'...but to put things in perspective, across the nation we've had an increase in Friends of Scouting income of almost 4 percent. That's a good sign."

Another major challenge is recruiting more men and women for careers in professional Scouting.

An appearance by firefighters and Scouts recalled the dedicated service both groups performed following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Currently, youth-serving executive staffing in councils is down," Williams noted. "We must fill those vacancies or reassign support staff. It's that critical."

Another challenge is transforming into functioning packs, troops, and crews the more than 6,000 commitments that potential chartered organizations pledged during last February's national new-unit campaign.

"No matter what your role in Scouting," Williams urged, "I hope you'll make turning those commitments into units your top priority."

Marketing is another area in need of special attention. "There are thousands of youth and parents out there who will join—if we help them," Williams said. More emphasis on effective communication is necessary, because "research tells us that parents need to see a recruiting message four times before they consider joining."

And the same research reveals that "88 percent of non-Scouting parents say that no one ever talked to them about joining Scouting [and] almost one-third of parents didn't even know if there was a pack or troop in their area."

To conduct successful marketing campaigns, "council marketing committees are a must," Williams emphasized. "Just dropping fliers off at schools won't get it done. Parents [today] have too many [other] choices."

The gift of time

"Over the past 12 months I've visited Scout councils all over this great nation," said BSA President Roy S. Roberts, in reporting on his first year in office. "Everywhere I've been, the support for Scouting has been overwhelming. That's a credit to you, and I want to thank you for what you do for Scouting and for young people."

Chief Scout Executive Roy L. Williams outlined the challenges ahead in 2003.

In today's fast-paced world, many families are under great stress, Roberts noted. "What every parent wants—and every child needs—is time. [But] more and more it seems the hands of the clock are pushing against young people."

Scouting "has a lot to offer children: leadership skills, values, character, fun, and so much more," he declared. "But at its most basic level, Scouting is about time...with a caring adult.

"That's part of the magic of Scouting. For at least an hour a week, boys have our undivided attention. And in that sacred period of time between a child and a caring parent or volunteer leader—whether it's over a service project, on a hike, making a pinewood derby car, or a simple lesson in knot-tying—that's where character is formed."

Since 1910 "more than 110 million young people have worn the Scout uniform," he noted. "[But] we're just getting started [and] there's a lot left for us to do...

"Our job is to help our den leaders and Scoutmasters and other volunteers to deliver the gift of time...[and] with your support and leadership, we'll continue to afford more young people that precious gift."

A chance to learn

Five seminars and 14 elective workshops focused on the tools and methods for achieving the goals of the Strategic Plan's five critical issues. The sessions covered a variety of topics, such as relationships with community organizations, risk management, effective United Way presentations, effective marketing techniques, international Scouting opportunities, effective use of the Venturing program, and a preview of plans for the 2005 National Scout Jamboree.

In the exhibit area, Scouters visited with representatives from the National Council and other sources to learn about all areas of Scouting. Displays included the latest merchandise from the Supply Division; details on Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, Venturing, high adventure programs, and International Scouting; resources available from Risk Management, Health and Safety, Scoutreach, Relationships, and Finance Support; information on the new National Scouting Museum in Irving, Tex.; and a sampling of the newest features from Boys' Life.

Making a difference

The recognition banquet spotlighted the recipients of the Silver Buffalo Award, the BSA's highest honor for distinguished service to youth at the national level, and the five winners of the national Young American Awards, honoring young people for service, character, and accomplishment.

Old Ben Franklin himself was on hand for the festivities, serving as the evening's master of ceremonies (while reminding everyone that he is just three years shy of his 300th birthday).

"You know, there's a theme running through these award presentations," he observed as the audience saluted the evening's distinguished honorees. "Volunteerism...People who are willing to give of their time, people who are caring, people who are concerned...There are a lot of people here who have made a great deal of difference in the lives of many individuals, and that is the greatest gift we can give."

At the business meeting earlier in the day, Chief Scout Executive Roy Williams had expressed his gratitude to Scouting's countless volunteer leaders for continuing to make a difference in the lives of young people. And he also reminded them that the need for such dedicated service is greater than ever.

"Our mission is clear," Williams said. "We have to do our level best to make Scouting available to every young person in every neighborhood and community, no matter where they live and whether or not they can afford a uniform."

For more than nine decades, "the ideals of Scouting have been a major force in our nation...," he concluded. "And as we help our young people carve their own destinies, Scouting will continue to shape the future of the nation."

Jon C. Halter is the editor of Scouting magazine.

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