Suffolk Scout office closes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Suffolk News Herald

The Boy Scouts of America’s Suffolk office has been a fixture in the city since Boy Scout Troop 1 was chartered in 1923. On Friday, Feb. 28, that office will close after a controversial decision made without notice to the volunteers, leaders and scouts in the Colonial Trail or Siouan Rivers districts it serves.

Many Scout leaders who attained the highest rank, Eagle Scout, are now city leaders, officials, have voiced strong objection to the closing.

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Dick Collins, Scout executive, for the Colonial Virginia Council, said the closing was prompted by financial shortfalls. He added that looking at the reduction in income from the South Hampton Roads United Way, down from $45,000 a year for the past 12 years to $0 today he explained, the decision was made to close the Scout store in Holland Plaza Shopping Center.

While Collins said it is a lack financial support that prompted the close of the office, William Ashley, past president of the Old Dominion Area Council, disputes that statement with statistics.

The Suffolk United Way approved $14,489 for the Scout’s 2002-2003 budget. Ashley also said the Franklin United Way had approved another $14,500. Another organization, &uot;Friends of Scouting&uot; donated $36,000 in the Colonial Trail District and another large amount was raised in the Siouan Rivers District.

&uot;This did not include close to $51,000 raised through the sale of popcorn,&uot; he said. &uot;Part of the profit of these sales went to scouting units and the rest to the council. It was also found that at the end of the year 2000, there was $4,420,660 in a trust through the sale of Boy Scout Siouan and that the interest and dividends from that trust could be used of offset any costs of running the two districts.&uot;

Collins added that after considerable research, it was determined that it was no longer feasible to run the Suffolk Scout office.

Robert Baker, scoutmaster of Troop 1, said he is greatly concerned over the Feb. 28 closing.

&uot;I think the marginal troops, the smaller groups, will suffer because the office provided support here and they (scouts and volunteers) could contact the district executives here,&uot; said Baker. &uot;Of course, they can still contact them in Newport News but that’s not the same as when they are in Suffolk and personally know the scouts that come to the office. Also, getting advancements, badges and tour permits, will take more travel for volunteer leaders to go to Newport News to obtain them. That’s just added expense and that’s why the marginal units will probably cease to exist. They cannot afford the gasoline, especially nowadays, and the Newport News office will be closed by the time most people leave their day job. I feel like this is a slap in the face since they told us they wouldn’t close our office when they merged the Old Dominion Council with the Peninsula Council.&uot;

That slap in the face came, Baker said, after a long string of events that culminated in the closing.

Ashley explained that a move was first made in 1997 to merge the Old Dominion Area Council with Tidewater Council.

&uot;In the early ’90s, we were asked to merge with the Peninsula Council,&uot; said Ashley. &uot;This, with the threat that if we did not, our Charter would not be renewed. Of course, the councils merged and became the Colonial Virginia Council.&uot;

That was one broken promise, according to Ashley, but the most recent problem came after the volunteers from the two councils attempted to meet with Collins. He sent his assistant, Craig Depuy in his place and about 50 volunteers attended the meeting at Bethlehem Christian Church. The following day, the Scout office was packed up and ready to close.

The secretary at the scout office, Michelle Knight, was told through a letter received the first week of February that she and other volunteers would no longer have work at the office.

&uot;We had the meeting and we were told that the store had been losing money for years, and that they were closing the store,&uot; said Knight. &uot;We didn’t expect anything like this to happen, but they told us United Way had cut our funding. He said the store had been carried in the past by United Way funding. We do see donations come from the Friends of Scouting, but they must be turned over to the Newport News office.&uot;

Baker added that with the Suffolk Scout office closing, parents would also have to go to the Newport News office to purchase Scout uniforms, books, badges and any other equipment needed for projects and Scouting programs.

The Suffolk office has been serving Franklin, Lawrenceville, Emporia, Courtland, Whaleyville, Windsor, Smithfield, the Lake Gaston area (Brunswick County), and North Carolina.

However, Collins explained that Scouts in Suffolk and surrounding areas would have the option of purchasing Scouting items in one of two additional ways. They can place an order through Marie Jordan, district scout executive, and she will bring the items to Suffolk, or they can call in orders and they will be mailed postage paid to the Scouts and leaders.

Still, volunteers and Scouts object to the closing. According to one Eagle Scout (who asked to remain anonymous), the action would severely damage Scouting in the Colonial Trail District.

&uot;This Colonial Trail District is the only district in the Colonial Virginia Council that is a &uot;Quality District,’ within the council today,&uot; said the Scout. &uot;Suffolk and the Colonial Trail District had its act together and the quality of Scouting in the Suffolk area is as good as anywhere as in this country today. We have excellent leaders, strong programs, and great public support.&uot;

Charles Pond, owner of Nansemond Cold Storage and a former Scout who is a member of the executive board, said he believes the Suffolk office should remain open.

&uot;I understand the executive committee made the decision to close the office without anyone else being informed of the decision,&uot; said Pond. &uot;Not even the executive board, of which I am a part, was notified of the decision to close our office. I don’t think anybody on this side of the river appreciated it. The executive board should have been told before this action was taken, and I also think they should have informed Hunter March, the district chairman and Marie Jordan, the district executive in Smithfield.&uot;

Pond, the son of the late C.B. Pond – one of Suffolk’s first Eagle Scouts – said that had he known the office was to be closed, he and a few other Scout leaders would have found another location for the store.

&uot;When the Old Dominion Area council had the office it was in a small home on Holland Road,&uot; he said. &uot;They owned that home and paid no rent for it. The house was sold and they moved their offices onto Bank Street in the old post office building. They later moved to the Holland Plaza location. They moved there for the free parking and because it was more visible to the public.&uot;

Pond said this type of action is typical of situations across the nation. He added that every organization is trying to cut expenses; however, this is one instance where an alternative should have been explored.

Suffolk City Treasurer Ronald H. Williams, another Eagle Scout, just recently learned of the closing. As the father of two Scouts and the brother of another he’s concerned for the future of Scouting in Suffolk as well.

&uot;I’m sorry that they won’t have a presence in Suffolk,&uot; said Williams. &uot;With Suffolk being the growing community it is, I think the scout executives are missing a good opportunity for recruitment of scouts and volunteers. If it were a cost saving measure I would think, someone would pursue different avenues or alternatives. I think there would be someone who would offer space for the office.&uot;

Robert Lewis, an Eagle Scout with 32years in Scouting is scoutmaster with Troop 30 and a member of the Colonial Trail District Council. Lewis and others are saddened at the thought of losing the scout office. He added there is a group of &uot;scouters&uot; in the city who is looking at other options to keep an office open in the city.

&uot;However, my personal concern was that we would have liked to have heard this and been given the opportunity to find some solutions before the final decision was made,&uot; he added. &uot;They cheated themselves out of using resources that would have made this a win-win situation. Scouters are amazingly resourceful people and given the opportunity with a problem, they will find solutions that have not been considered.&uot;

Another meeting between volunteers of the Colonial Trail and Siouan councils and Tywana German of United Way has been set for March 11. Collins is expected to attend the meeting for further discussion on this issue.