Dear Fellow Scouter:
As we begin our third program year as a combined council, I want to report on a number of matters. This includes membership increases, camp property ownership and sales, program staffing and Council leadership changes. I apologize for the length of this note, but I have not written for some time and believe you need to be kept apprised of current progress.
Cub Scout Recruitment
As we have discussed in these letters, Scouting membership in your Council’s combined geographic territory turned the corner last year and is once again increasing. This is primarily due to increases in Cub Scouts as a result of last year’s “Blast Into Scouting” promotion which featured market-wide advertising and a coordinated single-night school night for Scouting effort. We are repeating the promotion this fall, have been preparing for ten months, and have over 200 volunteer and professional personnel tasked to the effort (compared to five months and 75 personnel last fall). We are consequently increasing the mass of our Cub Scout program and are involving many more families. This will directly translate into larger future numbers of Boy Scouts, Sea Scouts, Venturers and Explorers. Cub Scout leaders and the commissioners and program volunteers who work with Cub Scouting have a bigger and more rewarding role for the time being. For instance, this fall the number of Cub Scout Packs will increase and the membership of most Packs will be larger. Forming more units and increasing the size of the ones we already have will serve more youth. And, larger units staffed by increased numbers of volunteers do a better job of building the character and vigor of our youth members – and are a lot more fun to be associated with. While there will be a modest Boy Scout component to “Blast Into Scouting”, the focus for now will continue on significantly growing the Cub Scout base. Professional and volunteer Council leaders are preparing for the coming wave of larger numbers of Cub Scouts who will graduate to Boy Scouting in a few years. Our tasks range from forming Boy Scout Troops at Chartered Organizations which currently have only a Cub Scout Pack, to early facility planning in anticipation of increased Cub Scout, Weblos Scout and Boy Scout camping at Napowan and Owasippe.
Other Programs Growing
Other Scouting programs grew as well, and we added Science, Technology. Engineering and Math Scouts (“STEM Scouts”) to our mix of service to youth. STEM Scouts focuses on boys and girls and these units are referred to as STEM Scout “Labs”. Our first year yielded great success, and we anticipate more than doubling the number of STEM Scouts and STEM Labs this coming program year. A new Council-wide STEM Scouts Committee will lead the effort, and I urge Scouters with an interest in STEM education to join that effort. Just contact any of your professionals or service centers and we will connect you. STEM Scouts follow Scouting techniques and undergo the same character building as our other programs, including reciting the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
Our co-ed young adult program efforts will undergo an organizational overhaul this program year. Exploring (career interest units, such as law enforcement, medical and skilled trades Explorer Posts) grew modestly and Venturing (traditional outdoor adventure Venturing Crews) was static last year. Leaders of Posts and Crews will experience a higher level of commissioner and professional support as we more firmly re-establish and further grow these pinnacle-level programs. Sea Scouting underwent two decades of severe membership decline and our Council approach to it will be entirely rebuilt. We have assigned new professionals to provide Sea Scouting support and just elected a new volunteer Sea Scouting Chair who will simultaneously serve on the Operating Board. We are moving to a Council-owned shared vessel concept so that Chartered Organizations will no longer need to own or operate a motor or sailing vessel in order to have a Sea Scout unit. Sea Scouting will be rebuilt across Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana during a three-year period and restored to the position it once held — the nation’s finest and largest maritime Scouting program.
Over the last twelve months $2 million from endowment funds was allocated to critical deferred maintenance issues and projects at Napowan and Owasippe. Roofs, electric work and similar critical infrastructure matters received priority. Unit leaders and camp staff members noticed the improvements and mentioned them during my camp visits these past two summers. For many, this was the first significant facility investment seen in many years. We completed closure of camps Mach-Kin-O-Siew and Shin-Go-Beek and moved transferrable property to ongoing camps. The Council Property Committee received appraisals and title work for the closed camps and the Operating Board approved a Resolution seeking approval from the Central Region to retain real estate professionals and secure the highest cash sale prices. The Resolution severely restricts use of property sales proceeds to only capital investment and maintenance of the ongoing properties. The only exception is that the endowment will be partly repaid from the first $1 million of sale proceeds for the above-discussed deferred maintenance projects. Remaining proceeds will be deposited in a segregated fund and held until Board approval of future capital projects. Lakota will close at the end of 2017, and the same property sale and proceed deposit process will occur there. I promised that unique program traditions of the closing camps would be preserved at the going-forward properties. This will be more than simply relocating program materials and renaming facilities at Napowan and Owasippe.
Work at Camp Betz (Berrien Strings, MI) continues to refocus our smallest property toward a training and weekend camping facility. I encourage unit leaders unfamiliar with it to consider using this nearby asset. The Council is graciously allowed to use this property in perpetuity by the Betz Family Trust as long as it is operated as a Scouting facility.
This past summer the Council committees with jurisdiction over property and program at Adventure Camp (Roselle, IL) conducted a pilot program of Cub Scout overnight camping. The purpose of the pilot was to assess the demand for a highest-quality Cub camping program at this unimproved location. The program was indeed high-quality but experienced by a relatively limited number of our members (which could surely grow over time). The committees are evaluating the results and considering whether continued ownership of Adventure Camp and significant capital investment is justified in order to offer Cub camping and weekend activities (such as unit camping and camporees). They are considering whether comparable publically-owned parks and forest preserves can more-economically suit our purposes without compromising safety and quality. Impacting these considerations is that we own a one-half share of Adventure Camp in partnership with another BSA council, and the other council does not entirely share our views regarding how the property might be developed and used. What this means is that the Council will need to determine whether to purchase the share of the other council and spend significant funds to develop the property, or perhaps sell our interest and invest the proceeds in capital improvements at our other properties. The Operating Board will receive and deliberate recommendations on this during the fall. We have not owned our half-share of Adventure Camp very long, so its potential closure might not draw broad member attention. However, your Operating Board will proceed very carefully out of respect for all interested parties – especially our young people and donors who contributed toward it.
Council Leadership Changes
When we combined in 2014 the BSA Central Region appointed the Council Operating Board to provide operational leadership and recommend changes on staffing, property ownership and governance. The women and men on the Operating Board are among the finest Scouters and community organizations from our territory and have done a splendid job leading the challenging work-out process. Key leaders have included Council Commissioner Sue Simmons and her predecessor Lou Sandoval. To a large degree we have right-sized our staffing, property operation and governance with a minimum of disruption to unit services and council program functions. Our combining together and close management enabled us to squeeze hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual expenses from our budget. Camping operations are better run and no longer lose money, customer satisfaction is up and for the first time in twenty years Scouting in Chicagoland and northwest Indiana is growing in membership. We are collectively more confident that local Scouting has a healthy and relevant platform upon which young people can have their characters developed and futures brightened. Many tough decisions are behind us and your Council is moving forward at full speed.
For Scouting to effectively serve the maximum number of young people we must raise Council fundraising to a far higher level and regularly engage the top-level business, social, civic and religious leaders of our metropolis. Council leadership should reflect the capability, greatness and scale of our home. In that regard a new Council Executive Board comprised of such principal leaders has long been planned to be named by the Central Region in a series of announcements during the fall and throughout the program year. The Chair of the new Executive Board will serve as Council President. The Council Operating Board and its members will continue to function as they have, but the Operating Board Chair will report to the Council Executive Board rather than the Central Region. In summary, the Operating Board will continue to focus on the details of program operation, and the new Executive Board will focus on governance, oversight and large-scale fundraising. Eventually the Council will transition from an entity overseen by the national BSA organization to a stand-alone corporate entity overseen by the new Executive Board.
In preparation for these changes I am especially pleased to thank Fred Wallace, who serves as our first Scout Executive on an acting basis, and who will soon re-focus all of his energy on his “other” job as Deputy Director of the Central Region. Fred and his family stepped forward to take on what was regarded in his profession as one of the most challenging and significant turn-around opportunities in Scouting. Fred succeeded splendidly and has the admiration of professional peers and volunteer leaders alike for his effectiveness and kindness. A national search process will soon begin to identify Fred’s successor. Because of the smoothness of our combination process and the great reputation of Scouting in Chicagoland and northwest Indiana, top prospects are already anticipating an opportunity to speak with us.
I too will soon transition from Council President and Chair of the Operating Board to make way for new senior volunteer leaders, and look forward to serving as a supporter of my successors. I have simultaneously served in both national and local Scouting positions for thirty years and decided last year this would be my last significant position in Scouting. While I have had the fortune of many fine opportunities during my professional career and public service, serving as Council President during a critical moment of renewal for local Scouting will forever be a pinnacle experience and memory for me. In addition to Fred, professional Scouters I have known for many years who have been particularly kind include Region Director Al Lambert, Assistant Chief Scout Executive Brad Farmer and Scout Executive Dan O’Brien (Abraham Lincoln Council, Springfield). I never would have taken up Scouting leadership as an avocation without the examples of my father and Scouter John, mother Norma, and three Eagle Scout brothers. Finally, my wife Barbara and daughter Gloria give brilliance to my life and will be able to spend more time with me.
Yours in Scouting,