Endangered scouting: Churches reluctant to sponsor troops

Published 10:06 am Monday, August 3, 2015

NW0802 Boy Scouts

Mike DePollo, Boy Scouts of America Sequoyah Council Buffalo Mountain District Executive, has raised concerns about the difficulties of getting people involved and staying committed to the program’s mission in Carter County.

Since the lifting of bans on homosexual youth and leaders, the Boy Scouts of America has had no trouble gaining public attention.

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Yet, it may have caused a decline in support from the organization’s No. 1 partner — churches.

“About 90 percent of our units are sponsored by churches,” DePollo said.

Each individual charter organization still retains the right to select its leaders, DePollo said.

“In my experience as a district executive working with these churches, a lot of them are worried about lawsuits coming from denying membership to either a youth or adult that they don’t see as fit through their religious views or obligations,” DePollo said. “The most recent vote means that it is up to each charter organization to pick their leaders and to abide by the rules of their church or organization. It’s always been that the charter organization picks their leadership and if something came out of this, the Scouts would back them up.”

Also, support for troops and packs is not limited to church sponsorship.

Star Photo/Kayla Carter Mike DePollo, Boy Scouts of America's Seqouyah Council Buffalo Mountain district executive, presents two incentives — a rocket and revamped handbook — that are free for youth when they get involved in the organization.

Star Photo/Kayla Carter
Mike DePollo, Boy Scouts of America’s Seqouyah Council Buffalo Mountain district executive, presents two incentives — a rocket and revamped handbook — that are free for youth when they get involved in the organization.

“We need to get the community and parents behind this,” he said. “The leadership has just crumbled. If we don’t have the leadership there, the kids don’t get access to the program and they lose interest. We’ve got to get back to where the parents are passionate about having a unit in their area.”

DePollo has plans to reach out to other organizations like the Ruritan, Kiwanis, volunteer fire departments and even citizen groups.

“You could have a group of citizens band together and say they want to have a unit,” he said.

Troop 516 and Pack 39 are the only two active BSA groups in Elizabethton.

“The unit we have serves the city elementary, middle and high schools and that’s it,” he said. “We used to have a unit that served Hunter, Keenburg and Unaka.”

Ricki Dykes, scout master for Troop 516, has also reached out to the community to get more involvement in her group, which was formed in October 2014 and chartered by First Freewill Baptist Church.

“They have about 40 total people involved,” he said. “I want to get the word out that anybody can support this very important program if they want to. ”

DePollo doesn’t want to recruit in Carter County schools for students to commute all the way into the city. He wants the program, which is year-round, to be easily accessible for parents in the far reaches of the county.

“To start with, I would like to see us get 5 or 10 students involved from the Hunter, Keenburg and Unaka schools,” he said. “We are literally developing these young boys to be the leaders of the future.”

Regardless of the setbacks, DePollo wants to move forward with creating more Carter County troops and packs that promote teamwork, character building and raise confidence levels. 

“It’s a service-based program,” he said. “We’re about giving back to community. You educate the boys during scout meetings and then you plan activities that reinforce the education.”

Becoming or creating a scout troop or pack also means participation in fun activities like camping, hiking, fishing, biking, climbing, caving and now launching rockets. In fact, this year’s BSA theme is “Adventure is waiting. Take flight in scouting.”

“We just introduced the new program in July,” he said. “The core values are still there.”

The Sequoyah Council was one of three councils in the nation to get picked for the rocket program.

“Every single boy that joins scouting this year as a new scout gets a rocket for free without the engine,” he said. “Then at the Akela Cub Camp Out, they will have a chance to earn the rocket engine. Everyone gets the chance to launch a rocket.”

The annual Akela Cub Camp Out will be held after this year’s recruitment process is over.

“If we can get kids out to this event, they will stick with it,” he said.

It will be held at Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park from Sept. 25 through Sept. 27.

“It’s also the same weekend all the state parks push to get volunteers to come help out,” he said. “It’s like a service day. What we’ve decided to do is have a service project our boys can work on as part of our stations we have that day. These brand new kids will be coming to have fun, but also get involved in some community service.”

Also, the fall Camporee will be held at Sycamore Shoals State Park on Oct. 9.

“We’re going to have the Overmountain Men there,” he said. “We’ll have Revolutionary War specific events.”

For more information, go online to scbsa.org/buffalo-mountain.html or search for Buffalo Mountain District, BSA on Facebook.