Like any major organization catering to kids, the Boy Scouts of America need to attract young Latinos in order to survive.

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Jan 21 02:25:20 UTC 2009

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Like any major organization catering to kids, the Boy Scouts of
America need to attract young Latinos in order to survive.

Arian Campo-Flores and Sarah Kliff

>>From the magazine issue dated Jan 26, 2009

IV. A few years ago, Charles Boddy and Randy Larson met with a group
of Hispanic clergy in Lawrence, Mass., to promote the Boy Scouts of
America. Both had long been active in the organization and lamented
that so few Latinos, who make up 70 percent of the city's population,
had joined its ranks. Boddy gave what he thought was a compelling
presentation, explaining the Scouts' values and the variety of
programs they offered. The religious leaders "asked very pointed
questions, were all very enthusiastic," Boddy recalls. "So I finished
and thought, 'Wow, I did a great job. They get it. They want to join
the Scouts'." As he was leaving, though, a couple of the clergymen
approached and said they had a question: "What," one asked, "is a

That succinctly captures the challenge the group faces as it embarks
on an ambitious campaign to double its Latino membership by its 100th
anniversary in 2010. Though Hispanics constitute 15 percent of the
U.S. population, they account for only about 3 percent of the
organization's 2.9 million members. That leaves plenty of room for
growth, which the BSA sorely needs, given the steady decline in its
numbers (it had 3.4 million members 10 years ago). Yet many Latino
families know little about the group—or consider it so
quintessentially white, suburban and middle class that it seems
inaccessible. The Scouts are determined to change that image and to
refashion themselves as multicultural and modern. "We're either going
to figure out how we can be the most exciting and dynamic organization
for Hispanic youth," says Rick Cronk, the BSA's immediate past
president, "or we're going out of business."

The Scouts have staked their future on Latinos for a simple reason:
demographics. Hispanics account for more than one fifth of kids under
the age of 5 and are projected to make up one quarter of the nation's
population by 2050. The combination of their high fertility rates (2.9
kids per woman, compared with 1.8 for whites) and young ages (a median
of 27, putting them near the prime of their childbearing years) gives
rise to a striking statistic: the ratio of Hispanic births to deaths
is eight to one, compared with one to one among whites. As a result,
sometime around the start of the new millennium Latino population
growth began to be fueled more by U.S.-born babies than by
immigration. A vast second generation of Latinos is just now emerging
from elementary school, offering the Scouts fertile ground for

These kids have distinctive traits. According to a 2008 study of
Latino youth by the Intelligence Group, a market-research firm owned
by the Creative Artists Agency, they straddle cultures nimbly. They
speak Spanish at home and English at school. They retain traditional
values like respect for their elders, but also embrace American
ambition and individualism. They're proud to be Latino and consider
themselves cultural vanguardists, yet they're eager to participate in
broader youth culture and wary of "Hispanic products" that single them
out. "They have so much broader a palette to choose from," says CAA's
Christy Haubegger, "and they feel enormously empowered as a result."

The Scouts' first concerted foray into Latino youth marketing, in
2002, failed to grasp much of this. Mostly, the effort consisted of
translating existing marketing materials into Spanish. A new Latino
slogan—"Vale la pena" ("It's worth it")—was neither culturally
resonant nor especially rousing. More important, it didn't explain to
immigrant parents what was worth it. A flier produced by a Midwestern
BSA council typified the problem. Translated from English, it
highlighted ideals, like reverence and obedience, embedded in the
Scout Oath. "While those are nice values that are consistent with the
Latino community, if a parent reads that, they still don't know what
the Boy Scouts of America is," says Carlos Alcazar, president of
Hispanic Communications Network, a market-strategy firm. Namely, a
parent wouldn't know that it's a youth organization aimed at producing
good citizens and leaders.

Hoping to invigorate Latino outreach, BSA chief scout executive Bob
Mazzuca hired Alcazar in 2007 to develop a new strategic plan. Alcazar
toured the country, visiting local councils from Lawrence, Mass., to
Santa Ana, Calif. Part of what he found was encouraging—when Hispanic
families joined the Scouts, they loved it. But he identified two main
problems: Latino ignorance of the BSA, which gave way to rumors that
it was some sort of government or military outfit, and a lack of
bilingual staff and volunteers to accommodate new recruits and their
parents. Later that year Alcazar presented a five-year plan that's now
underway. The BSA has created a national office for Hispanic
initiatives, begun hiring local Latino staff and started crafting a
national ad campaign. It has also launched six pilot projects in
cities across the country to test new marketing proposals.

The one in Orlando, where Puerto Ricans have been migrating in droves,
is led by Eric Santiago. A half-Brazilian, half-"Nuyorican" from
Brooklyn who grew up Scouting as an escape from the ghetto, he's been
pulling 70-hour weeks since last summer to promote the BSA throughout
the area. He raises money, recruits volunteers and courts
Spanish-language media. Every week he visits schools, churches and
fairs, and delivers a two-pronged pitch—emphasizing Scouting's
adventurous side to entice the kids and its opportunities for family
bonding to woo the parents. Along the way he's learned a few tricks.
He doesn't wear his uniform when he meets new groups, to avoid
arousing suspicion. And rather than cold-call an organization, he
tries to enlist local Latino leaders to make the initial approach.

The work has been much tougher than he'd imagined. "You've got to be
kind of thick-skinned" to deal with all the rejection, says Santiago.
The multitude of misconceptions ("Are you grooming child soldiers?"
"Are you going to force my kid to kill a rabbit and eat it?") can be
tiring. When families do express interest, the next challenge is to
accommodate their schedules, which are often strained by long hours in
service-sector jobs. More dispiriting still, he has encountered
xenophobia on a few occasions. When he visited a school once, an
elderly white Eagle Scout wanted to hand off a number of Latino kids
rather than integrate them into his troop. "I don't want to deal with
the parents," he told Santiago. "If they come to us, they should learn
English." (Such sentiments have cropped up elsewhere, too, such as
this online comment in response to an article about Hispanic
recruitment in Delaware: "If they (hispanics) want to fit in—then THEY
HAVE to make the changes, not the AMERICAN BOY Scouts of AMERIA

Still, Santiago is making headway. So far he's signed up 125 kids in
nine new units, including three sponsored by Iglesia de Dios Mission
Board, a Puerto Rican Pentecostal church in Kissimmee, south of
Orlando. After an exuberant service on a recent Sunday, Santiago and a
local county commissioner, John Quiñones, presented the groups with
their charter. Everyone seemed excited—the youngsters because they'd
been told about a nearby 1,600-acre BSA camp, and the adults because
they welcomed a wholesome activity for youth. "The Boy Scouts give you
that tool to keep kids out of the street and bring them something
where they feel they belong," says Leonardo Rivera, the father of
three kids who joined up. "It creates a bond between the Hispanic
community and the American community." And that's exactly what the BSA
is looking for.

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