A Turning Point in Atlanta

By Scott Daniels
Photographs by John R. Fulton Jr., Roger Morgan, and Michael Roytek

BSA volunteers and professionals meet to reflect on the organization's achievements and recommit themselves to broadening Scouting's reach as the best values-based youth program in the nation.

The New World of Coca-Cola is an interactive museum devoted to the history and memorabilia of the giant soft drink corporation headquartered in Atlanta. Surrounding a 1930’s-era delivery truck from Argentina are Atlanta Area Council youth, volunteers, and professionals. (Left to right) Gideon Loo, Troop 197; Jasmine Woodward, Venturing Crew 243; Randy Rizor, council executive board member; Byron (B.J.) King II, Pack 997; Camilo Benitez, Troop 797; Juliana Henao, Foothills District unit commissioner; and Byron King, Soapstone Ridge senior district executive.

Atlanta, Ga., is a vibrant, fast-growing city that is home to some of the nation’s best-known corporations: The Coca-Cola Company, CNN, Delta Air Lines, UPS, and The Home Depot. Atlanta’s history includes decisive moments in both the Civil War and the civil rights movement. And it served as
a backdrop for Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel, Gone With the Wind.

But above all, Atlanta—nicknamed “The Big Peach”—is a city that brims with Southern charm and hospitality. And it’s that welcoming spirit that greeted nearly 2,000 volunteers and professional Scouters to the 88th National Annual Meeting of the Boy Scouts of America.

The three-day conference from May 30 until June 1 highlighted many of the BSA’s achievements over the past year and provided those who attended with updates of plans, programs, and new initiatives of the BSA Strategic Plan 2006-2010. And just before participants prepared to head home, they received some especially exciting news that can only be described as…well, just “peachy.”

Duty to God

Dr. Frank S. Page
The meeting’s first general assembly was the Duty to God Breakfast. Dr. Frank S. Page, president of the more than 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the Taylors (S.C.) First Baptist Church, spoke.

“I believe strongly in the ministry of Scouting and thank God for its impact upon my life,” said the pastor, who was both a Boy Scout and Explorer in his youth.

Answering the question, how does one do his or her duty to God, Dr. Page quoted from the Bible’s Book of Micah: “He has told you what is good and what the Lord requires of you: only to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God.

“That beautiful, succinct verse,” said Dr. Page, “holds the key of how we can truly please God, how we can do our duty to him….Scouting teaches young men and young women to do what is right.…It’s time to do duty unto the Lord, not in a way that we would wish but in the way he prescribes.”

Special-interest seminars

When those in attendance left breakfast, they headed to one of the meeting’s 25 elective seminars with topics that included “Reaching Emerging Majorities,” “Best Practices in Product Sales,” and “Creating a Master Plan for Camp.”

The “New Online Tour Permit” session attracted plenty of interest from those eager to learn about the BSA’s newest Internet-based technology. Volunteers already can take advantage of online unit rechartering, advancement reports, and “e-learning” basic training courses.

Bill Ritchie of the BSA’s Information Systems Division explained that the new tour permit process will be entirely electronic, allowing volunteers to create the form and obtain approval quickly. And, because the approval and notification process will occur via e-mail, no paper will be used.

Scheduled to begin this fall, the online tour permit will be part of a larger “MyScouting” Web site account that all volunteer Scouters will be able to set up by entering their BSA membership ID number, local council number, and e-mail address.

High-flying Eagles

The National Eagle Scout Association sponsored the Americanism Breakfast the next morning.

Steve Fossett
Distinguished Eagle Scout and NESA president Steve Fossett listed highlights of 2006:

  • 51,728 Scouts earned the Eagle Scout rank, an all-time, one-year record for the most Eagle Scouts in BSA history.
  • More than a million people worked on Eagle Scout service projects, donating eight million man-hours of service, with a total economic impact, including materials and labor, of more than $170 million dollars.
  • More boys are staying in Scouting longer, and more of them are completing the full program. Since 1912, nearly 1.9 million Boy Scouts have earned the Eagle Scout rank.
  • Life membership in NESA increased by 6 percent, for a total of 305,528 members.

Fossett said NESA’s primary purpose is to identify and encourage adult Eagle Scouts to become active supporters of Scouting. He said a new, comprehensive search project is under way that will help locate many more adult Eagle Scouts throughout the country.

“We estimate that there are more than 1 million living Eagle Scouts, which is a vast resource pool of Scouting alumni that we need to identify and engage.

“This new project will give us tremendous opportunities to harness new resources in support of Scouting.”

NESA also administers a college scholarship program that provides more than $280,000 annu-
ally to assist Eagle Scouts with their education.

Patrick K. Smith of Troop 30 (chartered to St. Paul United Meth­odist Church) in Little Rock, Ark., is the most recent recipient of the Mabel and Lawrence Cooke Eagle Scout Scholarship, a four-year, $48,000 award.

Patrick told the audience what being an Eagle Scout meant to him. Scouting “has taught me how to best serve others, lead by example, and how to work as part of a team.…As an Eagle Scout, I’ve come to fully appreciate the Scout Oath and Law. They will continue to serve as the guiding principles in my life.”

Alvin Townley
Another Eagle Scout, author Alvin Townley, spoke about his book, Legacy of Honor: The Values and Influence of America’s Eagle Scouts (Thomas Dunne Books, 2006). Townley spent a year touring the United States and speaking with men who had earned Scouting’s highest rank.

“I found people of all ages, from all backgrounds, who, I think, still try to live their lives by the values of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. And almost every Eagle Scout I spoke with, whether he was 30 years old or 97, which was the oldest, could still recite those creeds by heart.”

The other thing Townley said he discovered was that “we have the best story in America. No one, no other group, no other organization comes close to having as significant an impact, I think, as Scouting does on this country’s life.”

Townley said more people need to hear Scouting’s story. People in business communities and parents who don’t know about Scouting need to hear “how important this program is. And most importantly, we want our young people who are Scouts to be inspired about what they can achieve in Scouting and what they can achieve after Scouting.”

Mentoring America’s youth

Thomas W. Dortch Jr.
The breakfast meeting was capped by an address from Thomas W. Dortch Jr. Dortch is chairman emeritus of 100 Black Men of America Inc., an organization that strives to improve the quality of life and enhance the education and economic opportunities for African-Americans. More than 125,000 youth participate annually in the organization’s mentoring and youth development programs.

Dortch spoke about the importance of a mentoring adult in a young person’s life.

“Our young people need us, and we can make a difference as long as we stay focused on their future.”

He said the most unsupervised time of the day for young people is between the hours of 3 and 7 p.m., from when school is dismissed to when parents return home from work. Lacking suitable recreation centers, many youth head for local public malls, turning them into havens for crime and trouble.

“I can assure you that young people aren’t born bad,” he said. [But] “we’ve got to find a way to open doors for them so they can have a safe haven atmosphere. We need these communities of faith, the churches, to open their doors. We need…the Boy Scout office in urban centers so that young people will have supervised programs and caring adults involved in their lives.”

Dortch also urged adults to demand changes in American pop culture. Speaking of rap recording artists and their music, he said, “Respect for women is something I was taught in Boy Scouts, something we teach our young people in the 100, and it’s something we cannot compromise on as men, no matter what our color in this nation.

“…We must also hold the record companies and the record distributors accountable and the radio stations for playing that mess over the airways.”

But Dortch didn’t limit his criticism to rap music. “Now in prime time TV you have sex, you have violence, you have deceit, you have everything you could imagine being thrown at our young people…. If we are going to deal with the rap music industry, we need to deal with it all.”

There is no reason for adults to sit back and accept what is happening, the poisoning of young people’s minds, Dortch added.

He concluded his remarks by challenging the audience to “be a mentor, and let’s go get many more to mentor the young people of this nation. They need us.”

Spread Scouting’s good news

Dr. Claire Gaudiani
Dr. Claire Gaudiani, keynote speaker at the Leadership Luncheon, is a professor at the George H. Heyman Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University. She is author of The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism (Times Books, 2003).

“You are doing some of the most important work in the world today,” she said. Scouters, she pointed out, are instilling in young people skills and self-confidence, courage and generosity of spirit.”

The frustration, Dr. Gaudiani said, is that not enough of America knows about Scouting’s accomplishments. She urged the audience to spread the word.

“You have a stunning chunk of American history,” she said. “Pass it on. This is the call of the Boy Scouts of America, she said, “to speak to a nation and let them see how you are carrying forward the highest standard of America’s values.”

Dr. Gaudiani said Scouters should tell their story in terms of American history. Borrowing from the final words of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, she said, “Remind yourself, and the young people you work with, and the rest of the nation, that your commitment is to ‘dedicate your lives, your fortunes, and your sacred honor for this great work.’”

Accomplishments and challenges

At the meeting’s closing recognition dinner, BSA President William F. (Rick) Cronk reflected on the organization’s recent accomplishments and noted areas for improvement.

BSA Publisher Warren Young (center) and John Ingram, Boys' Life circulation director (right), greet visitors in the exhibit hall.

“The miracle of Scouting is that there are 1.2 million volunteers serving 4.6 million children. There is no other youth-serving organization in the world that can boast one trained, committed, adult, mentoring volunteer for every four [children] in the program.”

The Race to Cub Scouting recruited 543,000 new Cub Scouts in 2006. However, Cronk said, too often, new leaders don’t get trained, and the organization loses too many Cub Scouts because of poor program.

“We need to do something about that, and we need to do it dramatically. Trained leaders, as we all know, deliver a quality program and in turn inspire Cub Scouts and their parents to stay in the program. Most importantly, these Cub Scouts will transition into Boy Scouting with a smile on their face.”

The BSA president outlined several outreach initiatives to recruit new youth members. Bishop Plácido Rodriguez, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Hispanic Affairs, recently wrote a letter to all of the nation’s Hispanic bishops and to all of the bishops in Texas encouraging them to embrace and promote Scouting in their communities.

To illustrate the importance of recruiting Hispanic children, Cronk said, “Forty-eight percent of all children in California from 5 years of age to 17 are Hispanic. The Boy Scouts of America has got to become really good at reaching out to these kids and their families, or we’re going to be out of business.”

Another faith-based recruiting initiative has gained the endorsement of the presidents of all four major national African-American Baptist Conventions, Cronk said. Collectively they have committed to organize 5,000 new units among their congregations.

A historic turnaround

And what about that juicy piece of news that sent meeting participants home with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment? Throughout the day, frequent updates on end-of-the-month membership totals, in comparison with their 2006 equivalents, were announced. First the margin was a negative 2,200, then 800, and later 200.

Finally, Rick Cronk announced: “As of 7 p.m., June 1, 2007, we are plus 2,069 Scouts. This is the first time we’ve had a plus [in traditional membership] versus the year before since September of 2002.”

A visibly enthusiastic Cronk added, “Two thousand and sixty-nine kids may not seem earth-shattering, but trust me, a turnaround is a turnaround.”

It was news as sweet as peaches and cream for all of Scouting’s volunteers and professionals who give so much of themselves in service to the nation’s youth.

Scott Daniels is the managing editor of Scouting magazine.

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Copyright © 2007 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.