July 29, 1996
By Mark Langlois
NEWS-TIMES BUSINESS EDITOR
DANBURY - The Boy Scouts of America want to be relevant in the 21st century, and a measure of that goal is right here in Fairfield County, where membership grew 20 percent this year. The national average for growth was 3.4 percent.
``The Fairfield County Council is leading the nation in growth,'' said Rees Falkner, national director of the Boy Scout Division, based in the national office in Irving, Texas.
Falkner and Joe Glasscock, the national director of program development, visited Connecticut, and specifically Fairfield County, last week as part of a national survey. They're talking to leaders and Scouts about what works and what needs improving.
Falkner and Glasscock conclude that the reason Scouting is so strong in Fairfield County is the dedicated volunteer leadership and the involvement of parents.
The local council keeps enthusiasm high by hosting numerous events, such as monthly camping trips, a Klondike Derby in the winter, hikes, a team-building course known as C.O.P.E., fishing derbies and other events that help keep Scouts happy with Scouting.
``It needs to be interesting. It needs to be fun,'' said Douglas L. Krofina, the scout executive with the Fairfield County Council.
The challenge for Scouting after 2000 arrives is how to remain relevant.
Scouting has come a long way since Lt. Gen. Robert S.S. Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scouts in Great Britain in 1908. Baden-Powell noticed during his campaign in the Boer War in South Africa that boys enjoyed working together in teams, learning how to track animals and play outside.
Scouting's goal is to develop moral values and leadership skills through outdoor adventures and mastering a series of skills and goals.
But Scouting isn't only about the outdoors any more. The Boy Scouts of America now offers a computer merit badge, a crime prevention merit badge and is expanding its work on cultural diversity.
One recent example of the old and the new came in October when 100,000 U.S. Scouts took to the radio waves in the JOTA, a Jamboree on the Air. They talked to Scouts all over the world, and they did it while they were camping.
Falkner and Glasscock were busy rounding up information during their visit. Last Wednesday, they met with 15 scoutmasters and leaders in the Fairfield County Council at Duracell International headquarters in Bethel. On Thursday, they met with members of the Housatonic Council at the Edward Strang Scout Reservation, a Scout camp in Goshen, and Friday they brainstormed with 10 staff members from three Connecticut councils in Norwalk.
Essentially, the two men are surveying people involved in Scouting from across the country.
For example, Falkner and Glasscock met with 170 members two weeks ago at the National Junior Leader Instructor Camp at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, and later this summer they will meet with 5,000 members of the National Order of the Arrow in Indiana.
A national task force of volunteers will take the various survey results, including surveys by the Harris and Gallop organizations, and distill the information to set the direction of Scouting over the next two or three years, into the 21st century.
``It's a universal program. No matter where you live, you work out of the same handbook,'' said Alex Stockmal, scoutmaster of Troop 54 in Bethel.
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