Scouting is vital for the good of our communities
Routinely, the pages of this newspaper carry photos and stories about the amazing projects, lessons and general good things being accomplished every day by local youth who serve society as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.
A recent example would be the placement of flags by scouts on the graves of veterans covered by this newspaper on graves of veterans in Salem, Butler Township and Moultrie cemeteries during Memorial Day observances. These projects and those such as unique Eagle Scout projects are echoed and repeated nationwide.
For more than a century, the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA have been providing tweens and teens with experiences and knowledge intended to make them strong adults in every sense.
But now, what some might describe as America’s two most iconic youth organizations — the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA — are facing unprecedented drops in membership, due partly to the pandemic, and partly to social trends that have been shrinking their ranks for decades.
While both organizations insist they’ll survive, the dramatic declines raise questions about how effectively they’ll be able to carry out their time-honored missions — teaching skills and teamwork, providing outdoor adventure and encouraging community service.
It should be alarming to all of us.
Membership for the BSA’s flagship Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA programs dropped from 1.97 million in 2019 to 1.12 million in 2020, a 43 percent plunge, according to figures provided to The Associated Press. Court records show membership has fallen further since then, to about 762,000.
The Girl Scouts say their youth membership fell by nearly 30 percent, from about 1.4 million in 2019-20 to just more than 1 million this year.
Both groups, like many other U.S. youth organizations, have experienced declining membership for many years. The Girl Scouts reported youth membership of about 2.8 million in 2003. The BSA had more than 4 million boys participating in the 1970s.
Reasons for the drop include competition from sports leagues, a perception by some families that they are old-fashioned and busy family schedules. The pandemic also brought a particular challenge.
We are hopeful the organizations will pull out of the tailspin. Still, we fear for the organizations’ futures. And more than that, we fear for the children who might be forced to grow up without the option of joining these organizations that have taught so many of us.
Yes, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the scourge of sexual abuse that has led to more than 90,000 boys making such allegations nationwide since 1984. That, too, has helped drive the decline in BSA numbers.
Now, as the organization works even harder to keep the bad people out, it still is continuing on its path of teaching skills, and it is working hard to emphasize to every member the value of high moral and ethical standards and the importance of mental alertness and toughness.
The Boy Scouts’ problems are compounded by their decision to seek bankruptcy protection in February 2020 to cope with thousands of lawsuits filed by men who allege they were molested as youngsters by Scout leaders. The case is proceeding slowly in federal bankruptcy court as lawyers negotiate creation of a trust fund for victims that will likely entail hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions from the BSA and its 252 local councils.
The Girl Scouts have bureaucratic complications of their own. There is ongoing litigation pitting the national headquarters against two of the 111 local councils — based in Fairbanks, Alaska, and Nashville, Tennessee — that refuse to implement a nationwide technology platform.
Still, Scout leadership says there’s reason for optimism. They say their summer camps are full, special events are sold out, and they’re expecting many thousands of families — some new to Scouting, some who left during the pandemic — to sign up now that activities are occurring in-person rather than virtually.
Camp Sugarbush, a 200-acre camp in Northern Trumbull County, which for 65 years has provided a place for Girl Scouts across northeast Ohio to take part in a variety of outdoor activities, is getting a new look.
Work has been taking place there in recent weeks to enlarge the fishing pond and add other items like new pavilions. The pond allows for canoeing, kayaking and learning other water skills.
This effort proves to us that despite declining numbers, neither Boy Scouts nor Girl Scouts are ready to throw in the towel any time soon.
Far from fading from the tapestry of 21st-century America, Scouting is maintaining its pivotal role in the development of the next generation.
And for the good of the whole community, we remain hopeful.