DANVILLE — Changing times and — specifically — changing attitudes among today’s youths and parents are among the biggest hurdles for the Boy Scouts of America as it tries to teach important skills to today’s children and teenagers.
The Boy Scouts of America will mark its 102nd year in existence on Saturday and through that time the organization has seen a variety of attitudes stemming from the nation’s youth through each decade.
Throughout that time, however, their interest in some of the most basic lessons the Boy Scouts offers has remained the same, according to a local scout leader.
“A lot of their interests haven’t changed,” said Prairielands Council Scout Executive Tim Manard. “Kids are still looking for leadership training, to be good leaders and good citizens.
“They’re looking to enjoy the outdoors and learn some the things scouting offers — first aid and citizenships that the merit badges offer” said Manard, who has been scout executive for the last 16 years.
The Prairielands Council was created in 1991 as the merger of Danville and Champaign factions.
The Prairielands Council covers a total of seven Illinois counties: Vermilion, Champaign, the southern part of Ford, Iroquois, Douglas and Piatt counties and the northern part of Edgar County. In addition, Fountain County and Vermillion County in Indiana also are covered.
According to Manard, it’s not a lack of interest that Boy Scouts now faces in bringing in new members. It’s a problem of too many interests.
“From a challenge standpoint, the business of families has become a challenge,” he said. “Families are doing much, much more and kids are doing more sooner.”
The multitude of potential activities makes it more difficult for packs and troops to find a niche in a potential scout’s busy schedule. Manard said it’s up to the Boy Scouts of America and the Prairielands Council to “tell our story better.”
“It’s our responsibility to tell our story so we become one of the top choices,” he said.
Part of telling the Boy Scouts story is correcting misinformation and stereotypes that have developed during the years. He said many parents aren’t aware of what the Boy Scouts are truly about.
“We are having to change our story with everyone that we’re just not another recreational activity, but a movement in place for value development and character development and leadership training,” he said. “Things that are so important.
“We’re not just a group that goes camping,” Manard added.
As of the beginning of 2000, 7,556 youths were involved in scouting through the Prairielands Council. That figure was reported at 2,846 as of the end of 2013 with a total of 135 units, such as Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops.
Like the Prairielands Council, the Boy Scouts of America have seen a drop in numbers during the last decade. Membership summary figures from the Boy Scouts of America show a total of 3.3 million scouts in 2000 — 2.1 million Cub Scouts and just more than one million Boy Scouts that year.
Twelve years later, however, and those numbers have decreased across the board. Figures dated Dec. 31, 2012, show a total of 2.7 million youth involved — 1.5 million Cub Scouts and 910,000 Boy Scouts. In addition, the number of scout units has gone down slightly from 124,660 in 2000 to 114,256 at the end of 2012.
Manard said the lower numbers for the Prairielands Council were mostly “by design” with the recent elimination of a large learning for life division. The Prairielands Council recently put together a new council membership committee run by Danville resident Bob Arnholt, vice president of membership.
“It will evaluate what we need to attract more kids,” Manard said. “That’s a real focus for us this year.”
Prairielands Council has already changed policies in the past that allow for changing times and youth interests. As recently as five or six years ago, scouts were discouraged to have cellular phones on campouts.
Now, Manard said it’s encouraged.
“They use it for so many different things,” he said. “It can be a positive for us.”
He noted in the 25-year master plan put together recently for Camp Drake outlines installing the appropriate technology to allow troop leaders to work on their day jobs from the camp. Leaders usually are forced to take vacation time from their jobs to attend the camp.