Ozarks Trail Council explains its enrollment and challenges as scout programs suffer huge declines in membership nationally

Published: Jul. 6, 2021 at 11:15 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 6, 2021 at 4:21 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Scouting programs across the country have seen lower numbers in the last few decades. In some cases, the pandemic has dealt them an even tougher blow.

According to national reports, membership for the Boy Scouts of America’s flagship Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA programs dropped from 1.97 million in 2019 to 1.12 million in 2020, a 43% plunge. The Girl Scouts say their youth membership fell by nearly 30%, from about 1.4 million from 2019 to 2020.

The Ozarks Trail Council, which serves 29 counties in southwest Missouri, has seen signs of hope in enrollment, despite the pandemic.

Scout executive John Feick says the Boy Scouts of America have struggled with membership since their peak in the 1970s, but he notes some growth in the Ozarks over the last decade.

Feick says, before the pandemic, the Ozarks Trail Council had the most Cub Scouts they had seen in 25 years.

But the pandemic was challenging. Many Boy Scouts groups were not meeting in person during the height of the pandemic. They did their best to meet over Zoom or outdoors. Feick says many groups have now resumed outdoor activities.

Last fall, scout leaders were not able to visit schools and usual places where they would recruit new members. They usually recruit about 1,500 to 1,800 Cub Scouts a year. Last year, they were able to recruit just under 500.

Feick says scout recruitment wasn’t even their biggest challenge.

“Our challenge this past year was recruiting new leaders to be leaders for seven or eight little guys or girls,” says Feick. “That was our biggest challenge. Really, our biggest challenge isn’t recruiting kids. It’s recruiting adults who run our programs, volunteer to run our programs in today’s world.”

However, over the last few months, Feick says enrollment is starting to get closer to normal.

“I see units wanting to be out in camp, in summer camp, in activities. So we’re seeing more activities from our existing membership and existing units,” said Feick. “What we would hope is that we would have a very good recruitment this fall, because there was a lot of kids last year that we probably didn’t recruit.”

Though the surge in COVID-19 cases we’re seeing now may affect this year’s recruitment, the Ozarks Trail Council hopes for a bounce back soon. And they believed the increased interest in the outdoors during the pandemic will only help the Boy Scouts.

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