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Boy Scouts Hope To Turn Around Declining Membership

By Mary Moore, Boston Business Journal
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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.”

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