Facing dwindling enrollment numbers, the 65-year-old head of the Boy Scouts of America pulled out his iPhone.
“We need to teach our kids how to use this device,” Robert Mazzuca said, noting that if the Scouts ask boys to keep electronic devices at home, kids will stay at home with them. Leaders still teach Scouts how to use a compass and maps, but Mazzuca said leaders also need to use the “tools of today,” such as providing its manual through an app.
Like any organization reaching out to young people, the Boy Scouts compete for attention with the Internet, video games, school sports and dozens of other activities. Scouting membership is half of what it was in 1972, at peak enrollment, and down by about 10 percent from the past decade.
And the Boy Scouts continues to receive attention over its position to exclude gay scout leaders, a policy the Supreme Court upheld 12 years ago. The issue keeps cropping up; last month, a lesbian Scout leader was removed from a troop in Ohio.
With 2.7 million members, the Boy Scouts will continue to face questions over how to maintain tradition as the culture shifts over time. “You can see the bones of many organizations that morph to whatever cultural change,” Mazzuca said at Indianapolis’ Sagamore Institute last week.
During its 100th year anniversary of the Eagle Scout rank, the organization is looking for ways to attract and develop scouts who reach its highest achievement. Just 4 percent of Boy Scouts reach the Eagle achievement.
“Scouting teaches young people to look each other in the eyes and talk to each other. I don’t care if we’re producing congressmen,” Mazzuca said. “I care that we’re producing the best civic leaders, the best trash men.”
If you look closely enough, you’ll probably find that you benefit in some way from the work of Eagle Scouts. When I lived in Wisconsin, a disc golf course near my house existed because an Eagle Scout created it as part of his project.
Recent intriguing data from a nationwide survey by Baylor University researchers provide empirical evidence of the impact of achieving Eagle Scout status. Compared to other American adult males, Eagle Scouts are more likely to volunteer and become a leader in the workplace. Eagle Scouts also are more likely to give to charity, respect leaders of other religious traditions and demonstrate a greater belief in duty to God. They are more connected to groups, meaning they’re probably more likely to be civically engaged down the road.
Researchers expected to find data showing Eagle Scouts were more prepared for emergencies or were more physically active, but the lead researcher was surprised to find so many significant differences across the board.
“If we found they were less tolerant, more judgmental, people could say, ‘What kind of values are they instilling in these kids?” said principal researcher Byron Johnson, co-director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, who never participated in the Scouts. “The data show so clearly that they’re giving time, talent and treasure.”
Former President Gerald Ford, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and former Secretary of State Robert Gates are among the 2 million men who have achieved Eagle Scout status.
Is it really all that it’s cracked up to be? I asked Cody Donahue, who received the bronze William D. Hornaday Award for Conservation at Sagamore.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a landmark,” said Donahue, a Carmel High School graduate. Donahue previously received the Crossed Palms, the Scout’s highest honor, for risking his life to save another. A mower on Carmel High’s grounds exploded and caught fire in 2010. Donahue and two others ran to the scene and assisted a maintenance worker who later died from injuries.
Donahue, who was headed back to the woods for a training camp, will begin the Air Force Academy this summer. “I’ve always wanted to be a pilot, but Scouts inculcated that belief, since duty to country is in our oath,” he said.
The study was clear: The longer you stay the more likely you are to see any benefit from the Boy Scouts. And now there’s an app for that.