By C.V. Moore
Greener, more inclusive and armed with cell phones. It’s the new face of Scouting, coming soon to Garden Ground Mountain, near you.
Last week, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) put finishing touches on its new development in Fayette County in preparation for the arrival today of 40,000 Scouts, leaders, volunteers and visitors to the 2013 National Scout Jamboree.
At the same time as it offers civics lessons, the organization is using the Jamboree to broaden the appeal of Scouting to the Millennial Generation by hooking them with extreme sports, technology and a more diverse array of participants.
A 2007 marketing report commissioned by the BSA, titled “Connecting With Millennials,” points out that the new generation of Scouts is “confident, connected,” and “open to change.”
“Sounds like just who the BSA needs in this second century of Scouting,” it offers.
So how will the mandate to reach out to Millennials play out at this year’s Jamboree?
For one thing, Scouts will be encouraged for the first time to use mobile technology to stay connected to the outside world.
“The BSA for a number of years, a number of Scout camps have tried to fight technology,” said Gary Hartley, director of community and government relations for The Summit.
For those who still want to get away from it all, BSA adventure bases like Philmont and Northern Tier still offer remote locations to do so. But The Summit won’t be duplicating that experience — far from it.
“We’re actually going to do a new model where we’re going to embrace the outdoors, embrace the technology, make the two fit together and actually encourage kids to get outside and use technology to do that,” said Hartley.
The Scouts are encouraged to download a Jamboree app that will encourage them to move and interact with the Summit’s environment. Crossing an unmarked stream on the property? A mini-environmental science lesson about the stream is just a smart-phone tap away.
The Summit is home to nearly a dozen cell towers and almost 250 WiFi hotspots spread throughout the site.
“We hope that this will be the first really, truly connected Jamboree,” said Mike Patrick, director of operations for The Summit. “We hope folks will be sending Twitter messages back, posting on Facebook, instant messaging their friends back home and sending streaming video.”
Patrol Z, “a corps of high-tech, media-savvy Scouts and Venturers,” is charged with telling the Jamboree story via blogs and social media.
And an adventure base known as “The Cloud” offers Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) activities and displays related to robotics and computer science.
“If we want to reach out to a broader group of young people, we need to be doing what they like to do,” said Patrick. “This is the wave of the future and that’s where we think that we can open the door to more people that will be interested in Scouting.”
And the doors to this year’s Jamboree will be open to a more diverse group of youth than at any time in the organization’s history.
“We want to expand the inclusivity of Scouting,” summarizes Patrick.
Famously, the BSA voted in May to end its century-long ban on openly gay youth.
The vote came after two concert headliners canceled their appearances at the Jamboree due to the BSA’s exclusionary membership policy.
Just how that policy change will otherwise play out at the Jamboree is still a question.
This year’s gathering also marks the first time females will officially participate in activities.
Beginning in 1998, the Venturing program has offered a co-ed development experience for youth age 14-20.
Two thousand Venture Scouts have signed up, roughly half of them female. The Venturers will stay at a dedicated subcamp at The Summit and participate fully in Jamboree activities.
The BSA also clearly recognizes the country’s demographic trends toward greater racial and ethnic diversity and has moved to recruit those not traditionally part of its mainly white membership base.
“Most youth are growing up in communities where diversity is the norm and their circle of friends reflects a variety of cultures,” reads a recruiting pamphlet for Scout leaders. “They want and expect diverse participants in their activities and the organizations they join.”
The organization has commissioned studies and printed recruiting materials on how to reach out to Hispanic, African-American and Asian youth and their parents.
The Millennial Generation has a growing representation in cultures that are not traditionally BSA members and the BSA hopes this year’s Jamboree will reflect a wider variety of background than ever before.
Increasingly, that background includes an interest in a reduced environmental footprint.
Based on focus-group feedback from Scouts and the influence of some of the BSA’s corporate donors, “sustainability” has become a major buzzword in the organization.
“For a century, the Boy Scouts of America has been a leader in conservation,” reads The Summit’s webpage. “In the next 100 years, we’re taking the initiative to a new level — from stewardship to sustainability and from ‘leave no trace’ to leaving the world a better place.”
The Jamboree will reflect that shift in a number of ways. A new sustainability merit badge will be unveiled there. Green building techniques like greywater recycling; food waste composting; and an outdoor classroom called the Sustainability Treehouse are all efforts to encourage Scouts to think green.
“This piece of property really helps us to talk about sustainability,” said Larry Pritchard, Jamboree director. “We want The Summit to be the focal point of the Boy Scouts going greener. ... It gives us a chance to teach our young Americans about how to conserve water and work together with your environment.”
The Jamboree’s website promises this year’s event will be “more diverse and more intense and will have a higher energy level than ever before.”
But ultimately, the new face of Scouting is still about delivering the BSA’s traditional message, summarized in its oath to honor God, country and the Scout Law; help other people; and keep “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
“They’ll go away feeling good about being responsible citizens, but I couldn’t sell them that to get them here,” said Pritchard. “So to get them here, we have the world’s most amazing adventure activities and I can’t wait.”