Greetings, Fellow Scouters,
I hope you and your family are doing well and enjoying the summer weather.
Today, I’d like to provide information and stimulate discussion about our most important threat to Scouting. This is a particularly worrisome dilemma for everyone who loves Scouting and what it can do for our youth. I do apologize for the length of this message. Please bear with me and take a few minutes to review this article. It’s important stuff.
Please look at the chart just below, which illustrates the total youth membership of our Council since 2010, the year that the legacy Keystone Area and York-Adams Area councils merged to form the New Birth of Freedom Council. You can see that our youth membership peaked at 11,376 in 2012. At the end of last year, our total youth membership declined to 5,466.
While the COVID pandemic certainly extracted a major toll from Scouting over the past three years, our Council’s pre-pandemic youth membership had declined quite a bit from our 2012 high water mark.
Cub Scout Membership
Our Cub Scout membership peaked at 7,155 in 2011 – last year, it was 2,996, up slightly from 2,932 Cub Scouts in 2021.
The pandemic was especially devastating for Cub Scout packs and their younger members. Doing Cub Scouts via ZOOM is incredibly difficult.
The Cub Scout membership graph (see below) is very concerning – today’s Cub Scouts are tomorrow’s Scouts BSA members. I’m afraid we will be experiencing the impact of the last three years for quite some time.
Our Council’s Scouts BSA membership peaked at 3,925 in 2012 (see chart below). At the end of last year, we had 2,382 Scouts BSA members in our council. The uptick we saw in 2019 occurred due to girls being able to join.
Venturing membership followed a similar trend, peaking at 308 in 2012 and declining to 74 at the end of 2022.
Exploring membership doesn’t follow the same trend lines as our other programs, but the pandemic claimed all but one of our Explorer posts.
When the New Birth of Freedom Council was formed, there were 428 total units. In 2022, there were 246 units in the Council. Since 2019, exactly 100 units have dropped during the pandemic. This is a particularly alarming figure – we didn’t just lose poor or marginal units; we lost units we never thought would drop.
I can’t imagine Troop 125 in New Oxford, the troop where I am Committee Chair and a former Scoutmaster, ever disappearing. It’s unfathomable to me.
We are part of the fabric of the community. If problems arise, and they will, where you may feel that your unit’s ability to continue is at risk, as your Council Commissioner, please don’t keep that information to yourself. Call your District Executive. Email your Unit Commissioner. Send a carrier pigeon in my direction. We need to fight for every unit we currently have. We cannot afford to lose units if we want to see a Scouting resurgence.
We can try many things to “save” a unit. Just because the current Cubmaster or Scoutmaster needs to step aside doesn’t have to culminate in the unit disappearing. Preserving an existing unit is far easier than starting a brand-new one. Some of you may have been in that exact position – where every parent who shows up at a sign-up night is asked to take on a formal role as a registered leader. That can be a very hard sell.
We Are the Caretakers
In Scouting, we say, “Leave your campsite better than you found it.” I want to expand that saying to “Leave your unit better than you found it.”
We inherited our local Scouting units, for better or worse, from those who came before us as leaders. Being a Scout leader can require lots of time – it’s not the “one hour a week” commitment we joke about. It can be difficult to deal with it all. But being a leader in this great movement is a higher calling.
We did not ask for the opportunity to be in our current positions in Scouting in the immediate aftermath of a devastating pandemic or the bankruptcy of our national organization. But here we are – the current caretakers of the Scouting movement. An American institution since 1910. An organization that has done a lot of good for millions of our youth. It’s up to us to be good stewards of Scouting and pass it along to the next generation better than we found it.
It’s not just about “the numbers.” If you believe, as I do, that Scouting changes lives for the better, shouldn’t we want as many young people to experience that as possible?
I’d like to ask everyone reading this for your help. Let’s not drop a single unit this year. Let’s fight for every single unit to survive and get better. My Scout troop does not belong to me, and it’s not mine to throw away whenever I’m done with it. I feel just that strongly, and I hope you do as well.
If you need help, please ask for it. Between our commissioners, other volunteers in your unit, and at the district level, along with our professional staff, we want to be in that effort with you.
Finally, as Scouting’s caretakers, all of us can act in our units to help regrow our membership. Our “tried-and-true” recruiting methods must evolve to include many other techniques that our units can and should do for themselves. We can’t rely solely on distributing flyers in the schools each fall and watching waves of new members flock to our units. There are new and effective techniques that every unit can do starting today.
Before I go, let me thank you one last time for everything you do for Scouting. Scouting could not happen without you. Each of us, every person, matters in Scouting’s future. We can all make a difference in Scouting’s present and future. On behalf of the lives we touch through Scouting, I thank you.
Yours in Scouting,