Fast track Scout programs experiencing great growthThe Herald News - Joliet (IL)March 14, 2004 | Jeanne MillsapCub Scout Sean Phillips studies a knot tied by his den leader Bryan Hendrex during aDen 6 meeting Tuesday night at the Morris United Methodist Church. Pack 476 denleader Bryan Hendrex shows his Bear Cub Scouts how to tie a sheet bend as well asmany other knots during a Den 6 meeting Tuesday night at the Morris United MethodistChurch. Scouts are (clockwise from bottom right): Brandon Hendrex, Sean Phillips,Geoffrey Lamaze, Houston Millsap, Josh Wren, Brian Bernier and Jacob Collins.The Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programs in the area arethe fastest- growing around Chicago and rank second forgrowth in a 13-state region of the Midwest. More than8,000 6- through 18- year-olds are active Scouts this yearin Will and Grundy counties. Around 12,000 were servedin the entire Rainbow Council area, which is Grundy andKankakee counties, most of Will County and Seneca. Thatnumber represents a growth of 9.6 percent. Thousands ofadults are volunteers, too -- 1,900 are officially registered.
The area is growing, of course, but leaders say only part of the recent boom in Scoutpopularity is because of just population growth.A good Scout program, they say, adjusts to the needs of the boys it serves."A couple of years ago, we were declining like everybody else," said Craig Lincoln,council advancement chairman for Rainbow Council. "Weve innovated so much latelyto keep Scouting growing strong, and I think a big part of our growth is also going backto our roots."Boy Scouts not just for boysBringing girls into the program is one of the ways the council has adjusted to meet thisgenerations needs.Venture Scouts offers high-adventure outings of white water rafting, rappelling, kayakingand extreme camping to boys and girls age 14 through 20. Its a very popular program,said Matt Skelly, council director."Were getting a lot of young men and women involved in Venture Scouts. You really putgender aside," Skelly said. "Its the entire team working together first. Theyre veryrespectful of each other. Kids are more aware of the rules than most adults think."The council also is building 10 small cabins at its rural Morris campgrounds for thosecampers and their parents who have never camped outside before and who might wantto ease into the whole outdoor thing before braving tent- camping.Another local innovation has made becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest rank of BoyScouts, easier to fit in around other extracurricular activities."We offer every required Eagle Scout badge at summer camp," Craig Lincoln said."Were the only one in the country that does that."
Lincoln said children are just busier than they used to be, with band camp, soccer,traveling baseball and other activities. It started to become difficult for some of theScouts to fit their Eagle Scout requirements in during the busy school year. Fifty-sevenyoung men have earned the respected Eagle Scout designation while under the wing ofRainbow Council.Family, religious valuesIn addition to innovations, Lincoln said he thinks many parents encourage Scouting forits strong stand on traditional family and religious values. In a time where someorganizations are abandoning faith to be eligible for government funding, the Scoutshave held firm that a faith in God is not open to negotiation.Promising to do their best for God and their country and to help other people remainspart of the Cub Scout promise."Its such a great program," Lincoln said. "I know of nothing else like it. And it still holdstrue to the Christian ethics that I want so bad."Scouting, one might say, is in Lincolns blood. In addition to working for the council,Lincoln rose through Scouting ranks to achieve Eagle Scout. His father, Bill, has beenhonored with the highest honor in Scouts, the Silver Beaver. Lincoln also is a TigerScout den leader for his son Marks first-grade den in Morris."Its everything to me," he said. "I tell my den, `Someday, Gods going to need you to bea hero. Theyll learn that here."Life-saving moveIndeed, the Boy Scouts still place importance on learning to swim, first aid skills, life-saving and how to deal with other emergencies, as well as learning how to prevent suchemergencies from happening in the first place.
Steve Miller, Rainbow Council Scout executive, says he hears about his Scouts savinglives all of the time. Many choking victims have been saved by a Scout or a formerScout performing the Heimlich maneuver. Just last year, a local Cub Scout led hisfamily to safety after detecting a fire in the home.When asked how he knew just what to do, the 6-year-old boy replied, "Im a Cub Scout,and thats what they teach us."Miller said one out of every 100 scouts will use skills learned in Boy Scouts to save theirown lives someday, as well.Miller says the family-based values and the reasonable costs of the programs are whatmake Scouts remain so popular.Scouts teaches leadership, builds confidence, promotes team work and teaches manyskills, he says."It teaches them that they can all win," he said. "They dont have to be the biggest or thebest. Sports is good, but Scouting gives a chance for everybody to win."Our mission is to help youth make good choices," Miller said. "Our methods to achievethis are tremendously varied. Kids dont join Scouts to learn how to make gooddecisions and be trustworthy and ethical. They join for the fun, the adventure and theoutings. What they get while theyre having fun camping, hiking, fishing and swimming isa lot more than they realize.""Were a program of the outdoors. Three-quarters of Scouting is outing," Skelly said."We use the outdoors to teach teamwork, self- motivation, problem-solving, toleranceand becoming self-reliant. Theres something in Scouts for everyone, from first grade allthe way up through high school. Even the first-year Tiger Scouts will get something fromit that will make their lives better."Jeanne Millsap