Waite Phillips was not the worrying type. One of 10 children, the Iowa farm boy knew early on that he wanted a life of adventure. In October 1899, at the age of 16, he left home to travel the western United States, supporting himself for three years with odd jobs along the way. In 1906, he moved to Oklahoma. There he joined two of his older brothers, who were chasing black gold in the oil rush. Phillips learned the business from the ground up. By 1914, he decided that he knew the industry well enough. He struck out on his own, launching a nearly 40-year career as a massively successful independent oil producer, refiner, and marketer.
During the Great Depression, however, Phillips began to worry. Would today’s boys, he wondered, be able to lead similar lives of adventure? In a country that no longer had a frontier, would young men grow up exploring and loving the land of their birth? Would widespread poverty erode a generation’s faith in God, parents, and American society? Worse, when Phillips looked beyond the nation’s shores, he saw war clouds gathering over Europe and Asia. If those war clouds reached America, he worried, would this new generation of Americans understand the value of freedom? Would they live up to their responsibility to defend it?
Phillips began to look for ways to ensure that American boys would grow up to be capable, patriotic, and productive citizens. What he found was the Boy Scouts of America. Phillips had never been a Boy Scout, nor had any of his children. (Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts was then a relatively young organization—about as old at the time as Qualcomm or the Discovery Channel are today.) Phillips saw the potential. He wanted to help the Scouts achieve it.
In 1939, Phillips donated 35,857 acres of his private ranch to the Boy Scouts of America. He and his wife, Genevieve, later added another 91,000 acres of adjacent land to their gift. To provide the ranch with operating revenue, Phillips also donated a 23-story Tulsa office tower (named—characteristically—the Philtower Building). “These properties,” said Phillips in his 1941 dedication remarks, “are donated and dedicated to the Boy Scouts of America for the purpose of perpetuating faith, self-reliance, integrity, and freedom . . . so that these future citizens may, through thoughtful adult guidance and by the inspiration of nature, visualize and form a code of living to diligently maintain these high ideals and our proper destiny.”
Philmont Scout Ranch, as the property is known today, lies in northern New Mexico, just where the Rocky Mountains meet the Western plains. Every summer since 1939, Boy Scouts from every imaginable background have trekked across the ranch’s 127,395 acres, learning how to lead, serve, and test their limits. Philmont symbolizes the spirit of adventure that marks Scouting, but it also represents the generosity that has kindled that spirit for a full century.
Be Prepared for a New Century
Nearly 800,000 Scouts have hiked Philmont’s trails since 1939. They were trekking across the ranch’s most famous peak, the Tooth of Time, as Scouting celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1960. By then, the Scouts had served nearly 40 million young people. Scouts were camping under the New Mexico sky as the organization’s membership grew to its peak of 4.8 million in 1973. They were hiking up Mt. Baldy when the Boy Scouts awarded the millionth Eagle Scout badge in 1982. And by the end of 2010, more than 20,000 young men and women will have tackled Philmont’s Rocky Mountain trails.
This year, Scouting celebrates its centennial. By any measure, it has been a remarkable century. Since its founding, more than 110 million Americans have been members of the Boy Scouts. Former Scouts include Presidents and Senators, entrepreneurs and artists. Eleven of the 12 Americans who walked on the moon were former Scouts, and former Scouts are heavily represented in the military. Presidents Kennedy, Ford, Carter, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama all participated in Scouting. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Bill Gates Sr., J. W. Marriott Jr., Michael Bloomberg, Sam Walton, and Steven Spielberg all earned Scouting’s highest rank, Eagle Scout. “I can say without hesitation,” said Eagle Scout Gerald Ford, “because of Scouting principles, I know I was a better athlete, I was a better naval officer, I was a better Congressman, and I was a better prepared President.”
Photo by Liam Dunaway
But Scouting cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Since peaking in 1974, membership has declined to about 2.9 million young people today. That means its values-based programs are reaching fewer young people, in both absolute and relative terms. The reasons are various. The growing time commitment of youth sports—especially from year-round sports programs—has made it difficult for boys to be both Scouts and competitive athletes. New immigrants are often unfamiliar with Scouting, and many are not taking the opportunity to join. Sometimes the style and substance of Scouting seem to belong to another era. In a casual-Friday workforce, uniforms strike many people as quaint; with GPS ubiquitous, learning the finer points of orientation may seem unnecessary. As Scouting rounds the century mark, some people even question the program’s relevance.
“When the 12 points of the Scout Law—‘A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent’—are irrelevant, we’re all in real trouble,” rejoins chief scout executive Robert (“Bob”) Mazzuca. “And I mean we as a people, not just Scouting.”
The Scout motto is “Be Prepared.” Today’s Scouts are preparing for a new and in many ways quite different century ahead of them. To that end, a number of private donors are helping the Scouts face new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities. They are working together to burnish Scouting’s image as an outdoor and conservation leader, to reach Hispanic and underserved youth, and to find new ways to call attention to Scouting and its contributions to American life.
Citizenship through Stewardship
For many people, the Boy Scouts immediately call to mind the great outdoors. Scouts are known as campers, hikers, climbers, and swimmers. For generations, Scouting has taught young people how to pitch tents, tie knots, use compasses, handle fire, and survive in the wilderness. Perhaps less well known, however, is Scouting’s long commitment to environmental conservation and stewardship.
For 100 years, Scouting has encouraged young people to appreciate and preserve the beauty of their country’s land. A greater emphasis on that tradition is at the center of an effort to touch up Scouting’s brand as a leading environmental organization. Such an emphasis is highly appealing to professional, upper-middle-class households—a demographic that some Scout leaders fear is slipping away.
Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. is one private donor working to help the Scouts burnish their green credentials. Bechtel, an Eagle Scout from the San Francisco Bay area, led the $31 billion Bechtel engineering and construction firm though decades of tremendous growth. Bechtel had long been a generous supporter of Scouting, but, like many others who support the Scouts, his giving was focused at the local level, with contributions generally directed to nearby councils and summer camps. In 2009, the BSA’s National Council approached him about a new project, an opportunity with the potential to have national, even generational, consequences.
The Scouts were eyeing land in West Virginia. Scouting’s executive leadership was thinking about a new high adventure camp, close to its key middle-class markets, which would showcase Scouting’s environmental leadership. They invited Bechtel to take a look. There, in the rolling Appalachians, Bechtel discovered the same promise that Waite Phillips saw in New Mexico’s Rockies. He envisioned generations of Scouts experiencing the character-forging adventure offered by the extreme whitewater, rocks, and trails of the New River Gorge.
In 2010, Bechtel unlocked the potential of that wilderness with a $50 million gift establishing the Summit: Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve. The 10,600-acre wilderness site abuts 70,000 acres of National Forest. It will serve as Scouting’s new East Coast high adventure base and the home of its quadrennial national jamborees. The base lies within a 10-hour drive of more than 70 percent of Scouting’s members.
"Too many have lost focus on being good citizens, good neighbors—good Scouts!"
The Bechtel family’s gift kicked off a $400 million campaign that aims to establish the Summit as a premier adventure site that not only hosts Scouting expeditions and jamborees, but generally adds to Scouting’s reputation for adventure and leadership development. Plans call for the largest carbon-neutral and sustainable camp in the world, with all buildings receiving LEED certification. A new leadership and training center aims to instill Scouting’s values and skills in Scouts and leaders—and leaders in the public sector, as the organization seeks to spread its message to individuals who respect Scouting but who are not yet involved in its programs. Finally, an ongoing summer camp program will provide a model and resource for Scout councils around the country.
“This new property in West Virginia is a bold commitment to our future,” Mazzuca explains. “It represents environmental stewardship, outdoor adventure, and continuing education. Stephen saw a huge opportunity and made a bold statement. The future to him is far more important than the past. And while Scouting has a wonderful heritage, he realized our future can be brighter still—and the Summit is part of that. We are certainly grateful to have him as a donor, friend, and partner.”
Bechtel is likewise grateful to Scouting. “I felt that this gift was a way to give back to Scouting some of what Scouting gave me,” Bechtel observes. “Through Scouting, we learn the value of hard work, discipline, decisiveness, ethics, proper conduct, and how to make the most of our time.”
Bechtel has other reasons for giving to the Scouts. “Our country faces tremendous challenges in the education of youth, particularly in regard to values and morals, and how those are important to a healthy world,” he says. “I’ve grown concerned that many Americans are losing their understanding of citizenship. Too many are self-centered and unwilling to work hard to change their position in life—they look to someone else to do it for them. Too many have lost focus on being good citizens, good neighbors—good Scouts!”
“Philanthropists need to support organizations that teach values and citizenship,” Bechtel concludes, “and I don’t know of one that teaches those things more effectively than Scouting.”
Scouting for Hispanic Youth
William F. (“Rick”) Cronk knows how to market an unfamiliar brand to new markets. In 1977, the California native and his business partner, Gary Rogers, purchased Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, then a small ice cream company known only in the San Francisco Bay area. Cronk and Rogers expanded to the East Coast under the Edy’s brand, building Dreyer’s into the nation’s largest manufacturer, marketer, and distributor of packaged ice cream. In 2003, after selling Dreyer’s to Nestlé in a deal valued at $2.8 billion, Cronk took his business and brand acumen to Scouting, where he served as national president of the BSA before becoming chairman of the 28 million–member worldwide Scouting organization in 2008.
“The biggest challenge facing the Boy Scouts of America is an unrelenting need to be relevant,” says Cronk. “Boys and girls will only join Scouting—and, more importantly, remain in Scouting—if it is fun, personally rewarding, and relevant to their lives. Today, the Hispanic community is the fastest-growing segment of our population, and if the BSA is not the most relevant youth-serving organization to Hispanic children and their moms, we’ll be out of business.”
As Cronk suggests, Scouting remains of particular value, not just to Hispanics, but to all youth in underserved communities. Very simply put, Scouts finish high school. In an era in which dropout rates are unacceptably high among at-risk youth—and among boys in particular—Scouting helps young people give themselves a real chance at breaking out of poverty. One Scout professional who works in the gang-infested neighborhoods of south Los Angeles says, “If you have 100 kids who are not in Scouts, you’ll lose 80 by the time they’re 18—to drugs, gangs, dropping out of school, or other threats. Now if you have 100 who are in Scouts, you might lose 20, but the rest will likely finish their education and have a real chance to get out of here.”
The pressing need to reach Hispanic youth has become a leading priority—and top challenge—for Scouting’s supporters across the country. These donors recognize that many Hispanic immigrants have little familiarity with Scouting, or if they do, the program may have negative or elitist connotations. They know that Hispanic communities have yet to adopt Scouting in the numbers the BSA would like to see. And donors see Scouting’s tremendous potential as a vehicle for assimilating the nation’s newest citizens, an important role Scouting has played since its beginning.
The challenge of attracting Hispanic families to the Scouts has sparked the interest of Pennsylvania philanthropists Ed and Jeanne Arnold. Like Waite and Genevieve Phillips, Ed and Jeanne never had much exposure to Scouting in their youth. But they knew that Scouting has guided millions of young men from less fortunate backgrounds to success. And they knew they had the resources to make a meaningful contribution. Ed ran his father’s trucking business, which he grew into one of the nation’s largest transportation and logistics companies. Arnold World Industries was listed on the NASDAQ before it was sold in 2001 for $600 million.
The Arnolds made two initial gifts to Scouting, totaling $11 million. The first million dollars of the couple’s donation is intended to support the BSA in the three cities where their children reside: Lebanon, Pennsylvania; Parkersburg, West Virginia; and Phoenix, Arizona. The remaining $10 million will fund innovative programs that help local Scout councils deliver traditional and newly designed programs to youth and families in Hispanic and urban communities who would not otherwise have an opportunity to participate in Scouting.
For instance, a portion of the funds is used to pay for staff to train volunteers who will help deliver the program. “They were so innovative,” Ed Arnold says of the Scout organization. “And they were addressing a major need in society. I just thought [their plan] was fantastic. . . . I could fund five full-time employees, who are training 1.2 million volunteers, who are affecting millions of Scouts—that’s fantastic leverage.”
Photo courtesy of the Boy Scouts of America
But that model does not work in many urban communities, especially when there is a shortage of father figures to volunteer as Scoutmasters. While Scouting prides itself on being volunteer-run, it will hire paid staff to serve as Scoutmasters in communities where there is no other way to get good adult leadership in place. Here, too, the Arnolds’ gift will be purposed toward ensuring that every boy, regardless of his origins, has the opportunity to participate in a well-functioning Scout troop.
Another new initiative is “Soccer and Scouting,” which uses the familiar sport of soccer to engage Hispanic youth and their families with the unfamiliar Scouting program. Aimed at first through fifth graders, the program intends to get boys into Scouting at an early age. Participants are introduced to Scouting and, at the same time, learn soccer skills during 12 weeks of team competition. Character building is integral to the program, which delivers lessons on morals and good citizenship.
In addition to their initial $11 million gift, the Arnolds have since added a $3.5 million contribution to fund the minting of a 2010 commemorative coin celebrating the 100th anniversary of BSA. The federal government selects only two organizations each year to receive the right to mint a commemorative coin; in 2010, it chose Scouting, with the condition that all proceeds from the sale of the 350,000 coins support Scouting in hard-to-serve areas. To ensure the Scouts leveraged the opportunity appropriately, the government asked for a $3.5 million match. The Arnolds quickly responded.
Their $3.5 million donation, along with the $3.5 million generated by coin sales, will cover production costs and support outreach programs (the BSA’s Multicultural Markets Team, formerly known as “Scoutreach”) at a national level. Together, their nearly $15 million in giving is enabling the BSA to create new models for serving youth in an ever more diverse America.
All Scouting Is Local
Steve Bechtel, Rick Cronk, and Ed and Jeanne Arnold have given generously at a national level. But as former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said of politics, all Scouting is local. Millions upon millions of donors, large and small, have supported local Scout camps and programs in myriad ways during the past 100 years.
Take Pittsburgh, for example. For years, the Scouts were trying to serve urban and low-income populations. They faced serious obstacles to their traditional programs and delivery mechanisms. They struggled to give urban youth the traditional outdoor-based Scouting experience. They needed to bring the outdoors closer to these inner-city youth. In Jerry and Audrey McGinnis, they found philanthropic partners who saw the challenge and helped engineer a solution.
Today, the McGinnis Education and Conference Center sits just minutes from downtown Pittsburgh and offers an outdoor oasis where urban youth can escape their neighborhoods and participate in outdoor activities—a COPE ropes course, for example—in which they can build the virtues and leadership skills they will need to succeed in life. The facility also hosts non-Scouting groups, which allows other groups to gain exposure to the outdoors and the benefits of Scouting.
The Summit 100 Year Vision
Even as local donors help address specific challenges, Bob Mazzuca and the organization he leads must address the large questions of how Scouting will maintain its commitment to developing character, leadership, and confidence, while still remaining popular among young people. Scouting must face that challenge as it moves into its second century, which will undoubtedly look very different from its first. It is rebuilding its environmental brand and reaching out to new markets, particularly the Hispanic community. It is working to adapt its programs for the hyper-scheduled, high-tech families and youth of today. And it is preparing a new health initiative that will make it a key player in the national dialogue on fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyles. Scouting must make all these adjustments while maintaining its commitment to those bedrock values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
Meanwhile, both nationally and in local councils, the supporters of Scouting are pushing the high-adventure aspects of their program, and many councils are raising significant funds to improve their local summer camps. They are adding ropes courses and geo-caching activities, along with less primitive facilities suitable for families and younger Scouts. (Today’s more-involved parents have taken greater interest in joining their sons on campouts, but many are not comfortable in the woods—or away from electricity and internet connectivity.)
Nationally, Scouting is also re-tooling its merit badge program to include new subjects that address current interests of youth—and to make traditional subjects more interesting. In 1995, for instance, merit badges for beekeeping and masonry were discontinued; in 2010, however, new merit badges were introduced for geo-caching, inventing, robotics, and Scouting heritage.
All those who support Scouting have a different story; each donor has his or her varied motivations for giving to Scouting. Yet all of Scouting’s supporters join one another in the task of preparing a rising generation of young men and women to—as Waite Phillips said in 1941—“maintain America’s high ideals and our proper destiny.”
Alvin Townley is the author of Legacy of Honor: The Values and Influence of America’s Eagle Scouts and Spirit of Adventure: Eagle Scouts and the Making of America’s Future.