Posted on May 8, 2009

Palm Beach County Has First All-Latino Boy Scout Troop; Girl Scouts Sell Dulce De Leche Cookies to Reach Hispanics

Alexia Campbell, Palm Beach Post, May 7, 2009

The Boy Scouts turned Richard Hernandez from a gang leader into a troop leader. Now, the tattooed 28-year-old Eagle Scout wants to make sure Hispanic youths don’t make the same mistakes he did.

Hernandez is helping create the first all-Latino Boy Scout troop in Palm Beach County. He’s the kind of guy the Boy Scouts are looking for to keep the 99-year-old Scouting tradition alive. The country’s population is changing, and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts feel they need to change too if they want to keep bringing in new members. They’re reaching out to the Hispanic community to grow along with the booming minority population.

“We’re changing with the times,” said Marcos Nava, national director of Hispanic initiatives for the Boy Scouts of America. “We mostly serve white, middle-class families and we’re not staying in par with the growth in the country.”

The Boy Scouts of America launched a $1 million pilot program this year to boost Hispanic membership in six U.S. cities, including Orlando. It’s the national council’s latest effort to attract minority groups and the plan is to double Hispanic membership over the next year through bilingual outreach to parents and community leaders. Recent numbers show that Hispanic Boy Scouts make up about 3 percent of the nation’s 3 million Scouts. {snip}

Partnering with community groups and churches is key, local Scouting officials say. At the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints where Hernandez volunteers in Lake Clarke Shores, about 20 Hispanic boys play soccer and basketball after school every Wednesday. Most come from low-income immigrant families. They are also at risk of joining gangs, said Israel Calderon, who leads the church’s group for young men.


The traditional all-American image of the Girls Scouts in South Florida is also shifting. This year, Broward Girl Scout troops sold dulce de leche cookies outside supermarkets along with the usual Thin Mints and Samoas.

Broward troops have started to reflect the area’s ethnic diversity, said Sonia Malter, who leads a Junior Girl Scout troop in Weston. Years ago, only one or two girls in her troop were Hispanic, now she has four. However, more still needs to be done, she said.

“It’s no longer that one Anglo look; it’s all looks. It’s very exciting,” said Malter, whose family is from Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.

In 2008, the Girls Scouts of Southeast Florida had nearly 16 percent Hispanic membership, not including adults. They just received a $102,500 grant from the national council to recruit more bilingual volunteers in Broward County. The council plans to partner with local professional and church groups to find them. Getting bilingual adults involved in Scouting is essential to reach out to Spanish-speaking parents who might not understand what Scouting offers, said Lisa Johnson, spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of Southeast Florida.