Boy Scouts work to stay current in changing society

Speaking as an organization executive, Trip Selman truly believes in the merits of the Boy Scouts of America. Speaking as a former Scout, and as the father of a current Scout, Selman is doubly enthusiastic.

"I just can't say enough good things about it," said Selman, Boy Scout Executive and CEO for the Northeast Georgia Council of the Boy Scouts. "Why be a Boy Scout? That's easy. It's affordable, flexible and enjoyable. Being a Boy Scout, you learn lessons you'll need later in life, and it develops character."

Every year, come mid-August, young boys join the ranks of area Scouting troops. Since the group chartered in the U.S. nearly 100 years ago, there have been more than 111 million Boy Scout members - 111,433,932, to be exact.

The Northeast Georgia Council claims more than 31,000 youth and adult volunteers, with some 12,000 of these members from Gwinnett County alone.

Though the first Boy Scouting event occurred 100 years ago on Brownsea Island in England, the organization wasn't established in the United States until 1910. Over the group's 97-year history, the Boy Scouts have tried to keep current with modern society and experienced an array of modifications, from altering merit badges to accommodating an ever-changing membership base.

The group's basic concept hasn't changed - members still work to earn merit badges to reach higher levels of Scouting. The first aid badge has remained the most popular since the organization's beginning, with 6.2 million earned since 1910. Others badges, though, have fallen by the wayside to make room for modern ideals.

"Merit badges do change to stay up to date. I mean, there is no longer the blacksmithing badge. There's nothing wrong with that badge, it's just not too relevant to today," Selman said. "A computer badge and an entrepreneur badge, those are our more current ones."

Badges aren't the only change. Troop members across the country have become a lot more diverse, too, Selman said. With Gwinnett's population rapidly changing, so, too, have the demographics of area troops. In an effort to encourage new demographics to fill the ranks of the Scouts, the Northeast Georgia Council provides funding assistance for underprivileged children who want to participate in Scouting.

To address the growing Hispanic population of the region, the council recently enacted an outreach campaign with efforts to better serve the community, such as printing a Spanish version of the Scouting handbook and distributing "Que es Scouting? (What is Scouting?)," a Spanish orientation video for parents.

"Area Scouting troops are reflecting the area we live in," Selman said. "I've found that people of different cultures really want their kids in Scouts to teach them more about American cultures. It's pretty neat."

Todd Newman has experienced this cultural growth first-hand. As the leader of Boy Scout troop 1354 in Buford - which boasts three young men who recently reached Eagle Scout level - Newman has seen Scouts from countries as diverse as Africa, Korea and Romania join his ranks.

"I think we've been all handling it very well," Newman said. "We learn from their cultures and they learn from ours. We recently had one young man from Romania who reached Eagle Scout level. It's a big feat and we're very proud of him and all our Eagle Scouts."

There has also been an intermingling of genders within the organization. For high-schoolers, two divisions, Exploring and Venturing, offer co-educational programming. And in 1987, an ordinance was passed allowing women to become troop leaders. This was "in an effort to address the high percentage of single-parent homes," Selman said.

"These were both very significant changes within the Scouting structure," he said. "They are all examples of how we are trying to change and grow with the times."

Despite these changes in structure, the core Scouting components - citizenship, character development and personal fitness - have remained untouched since the organization's conception.

"Boy Scouts, over the years, has progressed, but still hold tight to the basic principles of respecting yourself, respecting others and respecting the environment," Selman said. "We're very passionate about these principles. I think these values are more important today than ever."