Spotlight on Service and Growth
By Jon C. Halter
Scouters at the BSA National Annual Meeting in Chicago focus on the new Good Turn for America and on ways to boost Cub Scout membership.
Downtown Chicago provided a spectacular setting for the 2,000 Scouters and spouses who gathered at the Hyatt Regency in May for the 85th National Annual Meeting of the Boy Scouts of America.
Attendees were within walking distance of spectacular skyscrapers like the 110-story Sears Tower, scenic views from along the Chicago River and Lake Shore Drive, and the more than 460 stores in the city's apply named Magnificent Mile shopping district.
But a glance at the morning newspaper or evening TV newscast reminded Scouters that the Chicago area, as well as the rest of the United States, has social and economic problems that create a greater need than ever for Scouting's values-based program of character and leadership training.
At Friday's annual business meeting, Chief Scout Executive Roy L. Williams reviewed the successes of 2003 and the tasks ahead.
"During the past two years, in the aftermath of 9/11, the stock market crash, and leadership standards debate, we've had some pretty good years," he reassured the Scouting volunteers and professionals, representing some 309 local councils.
As examples, he cited the opening of the new National Scouting Museum in Irving, Tex.; the fact that local council Friends of Scouting campaigns grew $12 million; that local council and National Council camps continued to set all-time attendance records; and the continued development of resources, ranging from the Tiger Cub handbook in Spanish to the availability of professional training online.
"In 2003, operating funds in councils went up eight million dollars," he added, "and 309 local council total net assets increased by $132 million.
"Not bad considering what we've been through; most nonprofits in America would trade places with the BSA in a second. We're strong and getting stronger, thanks to great volunteers and staff."
But challenges loom, in particular the need to increase Cub Scout membership. "We're going to turn Cub Scouting around," Williams said, "but we need all 1.3 million of you to help."
The keys to successful Cub Scout recruiting are "great programs that retain kids" and "taking charge of recruiting youth and leaders," he noted. "But, in my opinion, for far too long in many councils, membership [recruitment] has been delegated to professional staff.
"That has to change, and we challenge you [volunteers] to lead your council to grow...To that end] we've asked volunteer leadership in each council to set a recruitment goal...[and] to build strong committees focused on recruitment and retention."
A call to service
A key tool for emphasizing the positive things that Scouts do each and every day is Scouting's Good Turn for America, which is nothing less than "the most important issue that we've undertaken in almost a decade," Williams said.
The BSA "national call to service," launched in February 2003, "is more than just a service issue," Williams point-ed out. "It's an opportunity to focus the entire national conversation on Scouting...by [our] basically doing what we've always done, serving our communities, and by working with other service organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, The Salvation Army, and the Red Cross."
Since February, Scout units have been entering service hours online at www.goodturnforamerica.org.
"With this kind of information [available] and these strategic alliances, we can open doors to the community that never before existed," Williams concluded. "And Good Turn for America is the key to achieve these goals."
At Friday's Leadership Luncheon, the BSA's 309 local councils announced the recruitment goals to be reached by the end of 2004 which Roy Williams had referred to in his remarks at the business meeting. Council leaders also committed to finding innovative ways to get the good news about Scouting to more parents, families, and community organizations.
The luncheon hosts were BSA President Roy S. Roberts and National Commissioner Rick Cronk, who pointed out that, despite the BSA's many successes in 2003, areas remain where progress is needed.
For example, "In 2003 we had only 59 percent of our Scouting units achieve the Quality Unit Award, and only 38 percent of our direct contact leaders were trained," Roberts reported.
"One of our priorities must be to make sure that all packs, troops, teams, and crews receive the services and support they need to provide a great program for their youth," Roberts added. But "even with the best program in town, young people cannot benefit from it if they don't know about it."
According to BSA research, "60 percent of parents surveyed told us they had never considered enrolling their kids because they simply were never asked," while "88 percent of non-Scouting parents say that no one ever talked to them about their kids joining Scouting," Roberts said. "We have to ask, and we have to ask effectively," he said.
"It is clear that we have a gap in the effectiveness of our recruitinga gap in our effort to 'Give Every Kid a Chance'...and we must find ways to ask one youth at a time and multiply that effort by a thousandfold," Cronk summed up.
Council recruitment commitments were announced by representatives from each area in the BSA's four regions, with the result a goal to add 769,053 new traditional youth and 313,081 new participantsa total of 1,082,134 new membersby the end of 2004.
In a workshop on Cub Scout recruiting, Scouters heard about successful programs from the Black Hills Area Council (Rapid City, S.D.); Detroit Area Council; East Texas Area Council (Tyler, Tex.); and Monmouth Council (Oakhurst, N.J.).
The Cub Scouting session was one of 16 workshops and five seminars that focused on the tools and methods for achieving the goals of the BSA's current Strategic Plan's critical issues. 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; opportunities for participation in Good Turn for America; resources available from Risk Management, Health and Safety, Scoutreach, Relationships, and Finance Support; the National Scouting Museum in Irving, Tex.; and a sampling of the newest features from Boys' Life.
Honoring character and service
Friday's 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 (see sidebar); and introduced new BSA President John C. Cushman III (see sidebar).
At the business meeting earlier in the day, Chief Scout Executive Roy L. Williams had expressed his gratitude to Scouting's countless volunteer leaders for continuing to make a difference in the lives of young people. He also had reminded them that the need for such dedicated service was greater than ever.
"People ask me about my vision of the Boy Scouts of America, and I tell them I see a growing movement of caring volunteers who feel good about being involved in something greater than themselves," he had said. "And I tell them that Scouting's future is brighter because there will always be a great demand for movements that instill honor, respect, patriotism, and duty in young people.
"You're here today, just as I am, because you know that Scouting makes a difference in the lives of everyone it touches. It's an honor and a privilege to serve with you in this great movement.
"Thank you for your leadership and for doing all that you do for the youth of America."
Jon C. Halter is the editor of Scouting magazine.
Copyright © 2004 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.