Boy Scouts to court more Hispanics

LOS ANGELES — Aiming to boost their sagging numbers, the Boy Scouts are launching a million-dollar campaign to draw more Hispanics, a group that has long resisted Scouting’s appeal.

But the Scouts’ national officials acknowledge that it might be a tough sell. Only three of every 100 Scouts are Hispanic, and some immigrant families see Scouting as an indulgence of the well-to-do in their home countries. Some also bristle at the uniforms.

“We go in a uniform that looks like the Border Patrol,” said Paul Moore, head of the Scouts’ Los Angeles Area Council. “Then we ask (adult volunteers) to fill out complex applications that ask for their Social Security numbers. I think we’ve found some good ways in L.A. to deal with some of these things, but we have to do a better job of getting parents to see Scouting as something that aligns with their hopes and dreams for their kids.”

For 2009, the Scouts have targeted six heavily Hispanic areas across the U.S., including Fresno and San Jose in California, for a pilot program called Hispanic Initiatives. Radio commercials, public service announcements and messages on social networking sites such as FaceBook will underscore the similarity between Scouting’s values and traditional Hispanic family values, officials said.

The effort — which also focuses on New York; Chicago; Orlando, Fla.; and Harlingen, Texas — will stress the hiring of more Hispanic staffers, a goal the organization has set for its 304 local councils across the U.S.

“We’re telling them you need your staff to mirror the community you’re trying to serve,” said Marcos Nava, the Scouting executive in charge of the campaign. “We have about 3,000 professionals — full-time employees — but only 194 are bilingual and bicultural.”

Language has been a stumbling block to recruitment, especially to letting first-generation immigrant parents know more about Scouting programs. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the same thing from local councils,” Nava said: ” ‘If only we had someone who spoke Spanish.’ “

Some ongoing programs will be stepped up. Scouts and their leaders will have access to more Spanish materials, such as the Cub Scouts Wolf Handbook, which was published a few years ago as the “Manual del Wolf.” Additional ethnically targeted efforts, such as the popular “Scouting and Soccer” program, will be devised. More high-profile Hispanics will be wooed on to local boards.

Scouting executives consider Hispanic Initiatives, which is being managed by a Washington, D.C., marketing outfit, crucial to the organization’s long-term viability.

“It can’t be all Norman Rockwell Caucasian guys like me,” said John Richers, the director of Fresno’s Scouting council. “I’m hoping that Scouting tomorrow looks more like Marcos Nava than John Richers. We have to make sure we still have relevance in the new America, if you will.”

That’s not a new concern.

“It’s a very familiar story,” said Jay Mechling, an Eagle Scout who went on to become a University of California, Davis, professor of American studies. “It’s been nearly 100 years that they’ve been trying to figure this out.”

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