Boy Scouts Make Big Push to Get Latinos to Join

Antonio Olivo, Chicago Tribune, June 5, 2009

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Worried about dwindling membership, the organization has launched a pilot recruitment effort to double its ranks of Latinos to 200,000 before its centennial in February. Chicago is among six test sites for even more ambitious plans to tap into the nation’s fastest-growing demographic.

So far, however, the $1 million effort has faced language barriers, lax participation and other obstacles among the mostly immigrant parents viewed as crucial to the effort, illustrating broader concerns over that population’s lack of integration into American society.

In a stark example of its efforts to overcome such hurdles, the strait-laced group has turned a blind eye to questions of illegal Immigration. The organization’s leaders hope that will reassure some undocumented parents whose worries of detection contributed to several failed recruitment efforts since the 1980s.

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Through Spanish-language marketing and other efforts, the Scouts try to get around such hard realities. For example, parents without child care are urged to bring the whole family to meetings and camp outs, and low-income families are offered financial aid for uniforms and camping trips.

To avoid questions about Immigration status, Col√≥n and other recruiters emphasize that a Social Security number or other government ID isn’t required when they carry out mandatory screening of volunteers that is designed to protect children from potential predators. Neither do they ask the Scouts about their Immigration papers.

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“Anyone who has a child in the program or who wants to participate in the program may do so,” [Marcos Nava, a national Scout director] said. “When there is a lack of a Social Security number . . . what we do ask is that [a local Scouts director] write a letter” vouching for that parent, he said.

Nava acknowledged that the approach has ruffled “one or two” feathers within the organization, but said Scout leaders view it as necessary to the group’s survival.

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