Boy Scouts Hope To Turn Around Declining Membership

By Mary Moore, Boston Business Journal

BOSTON (CBS) – With new leadership and a plan to revitalize its 108-acre property in the Blue Hills, the region’s Boy Scouts group is upping its profile in Boston, aiming for a dramatic turnaround for an organization that teetered locally several years ago.

Much of the pressure to create new vibrancy is on Chuck Eaton, executive director for the Boy Scouts’ Boston Minuteman Council, who was hired last year and has drawn interest from downtown business executives, former Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts. With a new strategic plan and a billboard campaign underway courtesy of Clear Channel, the Minuteman Council in September approved seven new board members — business leaders with proud stories of how scouting shaped their lives.

“It doesn’t take long for folks to step forward to say that I was a scout or I love the scouts,” said Eaton, who grew up in Quincy and was the chief operating officer for a Boy Scouts organization in Philadelphia before returning to Boston. The Minuteman Council had about 9,000 members in 2000 but has since dropped to about 6,500 members.

The new board members are Lloyd Hamm, chief administrative officer, Eastern Bank; Jay Cashman, owner, Jay Cashman Inc.; Jim Dina, chief operating officer, Pyramid Hotel Group; Arthur Mabbett, president, Mabbett & Associates; George Regan, founder, Regan Communications: David MacKinnon, partner, Ernst & Young; and Eric Evans, director, MIT Lincoln Laboratory. They join the likes of Scott Sanborn, VP at TD Bank and president of the Minuteman Council; Jack Klinck, executive vice president at State Street Corp.; Mike Jeans, president of New Directions; Peter Brennan, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and more.

“I’ve always had a special place in my heart for what scouting has meant,” said Hamm, an Eagle Scout. “Part of what I hope to do is to be an ambassador for the organization.”

The ambitious effort by the Minuteman Council comes as national membership for the Boy Scouts has declined, challenged more than ever to “become relevant,” said Bill Bacic, Deloitte’s New England managing partner and a previous Minuteman Council board member who still occasionally advises the organization.

New blood on the board is all about fundraising, and Eaton has plenty of donor-friendly programs on tap, including the expansion of inner city scouting, an initiative dear to many executives in the Minuteman Council that brings urban youth into scouting.

But Eaton’s most daunting initiative is to refurbish and maximize the rustic Camp Sayre in Milton, a Blue Hills camping facility that Eaton called “a diamond in the rough,” almost exactly the same as 50 years ago. Except, however, for the relatively new but unused 22,000-square foot building — called the Egan Center — that sits mostly idle on one end of the property and houses an indoor swimming pool, locker rooms and meeting rooms.

By all appearances a gleaming asset, the Egan Center, opened in 2005, has caused the Boy Scouts staggering financial problems. Construction costs, reported at $7.5 million, soared about $3 million higher than the Minuteman Council expected. Almost as soon as the Egan Center was built, the Scouts, which has a $1.8 million budget this year, tried to sell it but didn’t get a sufficient offer.

The council reported a $6 million loss in 2009, according to its tax filings, largely from a write-down on the building. In 2010, the council reported a $140,000 loss, although the organization balanced its operating budget, Eaton said.

Until Eaton arrived, the need for the Egan Center split opinions in the Minuteman Council, some arguing that new facilities modernize the Boy Scouts and others arguing that the Boy Scouts should be all about the outdoors and roughing it.

Eaton’s plan, which board members said has sewn the Minuteman Council back together, makes the Egan Center central to an indoor-outdoor experience for scouts at Camp Sayre, with the showers and bathrooms a particularly welcome replacement for rickety outhouses. The plan calls for a refurbished dining hall with food service, new roads and water system and an archery range.

A critical new element is opening Camp Sayre for day users rather than only overnight groups. The Boy Scouts did a test run this summer, Eaton said, and day-use of Camp Sayre was “incredibly popular.”

Lisa van der Pool of the Boston Business Journal reports

The board is working on cost estimates for the strategic plan, Eaton said. But even without those numbers, he knows the plan is just a plan unless the Minuteman Council raises its membership, profile and fundraising.

“This is about getting scouting top of mind,” said Dina. “You’d be surprised the number of people who don’t think scouting exists anymore.”

  • sue

    Boy Scouts creep me out! Seems like a breeding ground for pedophiles!

    • Ed Hall

      As for being a breeding ground for paedophiles, they don’t come close to the Roman Catholic Church. There is no better job for a paedophile than being a priest. No one is going to question why you aren’t married, and you’re expected to spend time with the kids in your parish.

  • Ed Hall

    The Boy Scouts have changed. Increasingly it is a religious organization (even the Supreme Court says so.) I hope their membership drops to zero!

    • John

      I am not sure where you are recieving your information. The BSA is not any more religious of an organization than it was 50 years ago.

      • petem

        What is your assertion based on? my son was in both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Both were based in and sponsored by Christian churchs in our town. They are clearly religiously based. They aren’t shoving it at you, but as i recall as a Cub in the 1960’s we had no affiliation with a church then. I prefer this approach. I am agnostic don’t gain anything from the religioius institution…

  • Just a fan

    Wow, such thoughts. Boy Scouts is a great organization giving boys a chance to grow and lead as they spend time in the outdoors enjoying nature and just having fun spending time with other boys who enjoy the same thing.

  • Pastor Cindy

    The Boy Scouts are and always have been anti-gay. All scouts teaches boys is to be exclusionary. Not what I want in my country’s leaders.

    • JohnC

      I was a Boy Scout about 50 years ago. I do not remember the topic of religion ever coming up. There were Protestant, Catholic, and a couple of Jewish kids in our troop. I also do not remember any reference to sexual preference, nor do I remember anything that was exclusionary about the scouts. It was a positive expierience for all of the boys in our troop. I agree with “Just a fan.”

  • jaygee

    There is good and bad in every institution and many young boys have benefitted greatly from their experience as a Boy Scout but times have definately changed and far too many kids in America are just too lazy today.
    Sitting by their computer or televison with their cell-phone in one hand is much easier. More important is that I’ve seen, and known, some of the Scout Leaders and I would not not let my kid go anywhere with them, period. One has to be very weary of grown men in scout uniforms who take an interest in young boys.

  • susan

    Could not agree more Jaygee . . . . Scary!

  • babybrudder

    As a former Webelos den master I couldn’t get out of the district I was in fast enough. While some events were great experiences for my son, the overall impression was that this was a very intolerant para military organization aimed at indoctrinating young boys. (This was the objective of it’s founder). My son simply quit and did not go on to Boy Scouts. Since he is now 18 and a devoutly spiritual, intellectually competent, and athletic young man who is admired by many, it’s obvious he did just fine without scouting. Since he also came out recently to his mother and I, I am also thankful he didn’t continue in scouts. (His realization of his sexual orientation started at age 11) Scouting (and the military as well) missed the opportunity to have as one of their members a fine young man.

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