Scouts’ membership falls

Published 9:42 pm Wednesday, September 30, 2009

As the Boy Scouts of America prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in February, Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs around the area are struggling to staunch the flow of members from the program.

Membership in troops and packs around the area is down about 20 percent this year, according to Scouting executives, and leaders are doing everything they can to find boys — and girls — who might be interested in helping to rebuild the ranks.

“Oh, yeah,” said Larry Willis a troop leader for Windsor Troop 41. “We recruit all the time.”

In fact, the Windsor troop and others from Suffolk and other parts of the Colonial Virginia Council will join together this weekend for a Scout Show that is designed as part 100th-anniversary celebration and part recruiting event.

About 20 Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, Venture crews and Explorer posts will head to King’s Fork Middle School on Friday for a kind of mini-jamboree, where they will pitch tents for a couple of nights and open up their camp to visitors on Saturday.

The Scouts will demonstrate camping, cooking, rope bridges, Pinewood Derby races and more, leaders say, and visitors can join in the fun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The price of admission is one can of food.

“They’ll kind of show the public what Boy Scouts do,” Willis said Wednesday.

Events such as the Scout Show have become a necessary part of the recruiting mix for Boy Scouts, as they are no longer allowed to come into Suffolk’s schools to make presentations designed to drum up interest in participation, according to Ryan Serio, the field director for the BSA’s Colonial Virginia Council.

“Our bread and butter used to be going to schools,” Serio said, noting that participation levels have dropped in all of those areas facing similar access problems.

“We want to get back in the community and show people that Scouting is still alive,” she said. “Every kid we get involved is a gain for us.”

Cindy Fegley, a committee chair for Suffolk’s Cub Scout Pack 73 and a member of the district committee on membership for Cub Scouts, helped organize another membership event last weekend in Suffolk.

“This originally was going to be a pack event, but the district kind of piggybacked on it,” she said as she waited behind a table covered in Scouting paraphernalia.

Fegley said the recession also has impacted membership in Scouting. Some parents, she explained, have had a hard time finding the cash to pay for registration fees and other costs associated with membership.

Leaders, she added, are working to put together a scholarship fund that could help those unable to afford Scouting on their own and to find companies and individuals willing to provide money for outright sponsorships of individual Scouts.

But there is still one line that recruiters cannot cross when it comes to building membership in American Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops, she said: It’s still an organization for boys only.

To broaden the appeal and allow participation by girls, the BSA now has a Venture Scouts program for teenagers, and a Chuckatuck “crew” has proved popular for area girls.

Aside from the Venture crews, Scouting is open to boys from 6 to 18 years of age. Saturday’s event, however, is open to anyone who brings a can of food.

“This Scout Show is a celebration of what Scouts do,” according to R.A. Howell, committee chair for Windsor’s Troop 41. “It is an opportunity … to give you — the general public — and of course potential youth members and their families a glimpse of the fun and exciting activities that Scouts do year-round.”