While Boy Scouts of America’s Blue Ridge Mountain Council packs up to hike its offices across Roanoke this summer, local leadership prepares to revamp its message of outdoor exploration toward families emerging from a year cooped away indoors.
“As an organization that gathers people together to socialize and learn, this past year has been very difficult,” said Scout Executive George Clay during a phone call. “It was a huge adjustment.”
A local Boy Scouts headquarters was built at 2131 Valley View Blvd NW shortly after the land was donated in 1987, according to city documents. Investors purchased the brown brick building in February for $1.2 million, and a real estate sign on the front lawn says it is now available to lease as 11,000 square feet of office or medical space.
“It’s a whole lot more space than we need. We had planned on moving prior to the pandemic,” Clay said. “We’re down to deciding our final three locations, and should be fully moved in and open for business August 1.”
After downsizing two years prior to the pandemic, five further scouting staff positions were eliminated since last March, he said. The local council now employs 12 full-time and three part-time workers, some whose work duties will continue from home even after headquarters moves.
“We cover 21 counties, so our footprint is pretty big,” Clay said. “As demographics have changed, we’ve had to right-size the organization.”
Summer camps, meetings to resumeScouts will return to camps this summer in Pulaski County, after a year of inactivity at Camp Powhatan and Claytor Lake caused by the coronavirus. Camp staffing is decreased by one-third this year, down to 100 people, because of lower attendance caused by lessened appeal from afar.
“In any given year, our camp will draw from about 23 different states. This year we’re probably going to draw from 10 states,” Clay said. “What we’re seeing is a lot of scouts are going to their more local camps.”
Expected this summer are about half of the 3,000 scouts who usually come to camp, Clay said. Work is underway to prepare the grounds.
“A lot of deferred maintenance is getting done,” Clay said. “We’ve rallied our traditional supporters and volunteers, and three days a week we have work groups at camp volunteering: opening up water lines, fixing water leaks, cleaning buildings, fixing roofs, painting.”
Those maintenance rallies had to wait until Virginia lightened its gathering restrictions, which Clay said were a barrier to how many scouts could sign up for camp, and limited how local scout troops could gather last year.
“The winter months were mostly virtual,” Clay said. “Once the weather broke first part of March, we saw outside meetings start happening again.”
One outdoor meeting in late April, the Scouttish Trout-o-Ree & Games, drew 200 scouts to Camp Powhatan. Other planning is required to reorganize how scout troops will gather in the future.
“We’re working on the fall plan… getting back to the schools opening back up full time,” Clay said. “How do we reactivate our Cub Scouts and our scouts to meet again?”
Kids returning to school full-time, as is expected to happen this fall, will benefit young minds, their parents and scouting alike, Clay said.
“As a youth serving organization, we see the health issues with kids right now,” Clay said. “The lack of socialization, and the way that that’s affecting our kids — the long term effects of this are really unknown.”
As society reemerges from the haze of coronavirus confinement, the Blue Ridge Mountain Council wants to appeal to more than just boys and girls, hoping to emphasize scouting as something the whole family unit can involve itself in.
“We see ourselves post-pandemic as more of a family organization than we were before,” Clay said. “We’re really trying to highlight socialization, interaction, family time, outdoor time… Our goal is to make the opportunity of scouting available to every youth.”
Finding new ways to recruit kids into scouting will be another focus as summer and fall approach.
“We’re trying to work on some programs in late summer, early fall for non-scouts — whether they be climbing, rappelling, horseback riding, ATVs — to let kids come to a camp and experience those things,” Clay said. “To give them a taste of who we are and what we do.”
BRMC Director of Field Service Bob Drury said the council learned the value of technology during the past year, and hopes to use social media to increase outreach.
“Last year we had almost no opportunity to recruit whatsoever,” Drury said. “We were shut out of the schools, gathering sizes were almost nothing… It was problematic, to say the very least.”
Drury said this year the council plans to use targeted online advertisements in the hopes of piquing interests on social media. Parents will also be encouraged to post about their kids’ scouting adventures on social media.
“There’s probably never been a time when scouting is needed more by American families than getting back, engaged into doing activities outside and doing all the cool stuff that scouting offers.”
For an institution now more than 111 years old, Clay said the local council of Boy Scouts will persist through hardships, even amid the national organization’s bankruptcy proceedings caused by fallout from a proliferation of sexual abuse lawsuits.
Local impacts of that litigation are expected, he said, but remain so far uncertain. The council is not facing any legal action related to abuse of children, he said.
“We’ve made it through World Wars and recessions, and now will have made it through a second pandemic. The resiliency of scouting is heartwarming, pretty cool,” Clay said. “We’re still here, we’re still meeting, and we’re making plans on how to start back to the growth of scouting post-pandemic.”