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Published: Saturday, 12/27/2008

Dwindling numbers concern Cub Scout leaders

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WILLOUGHBY, Ohio - Some Cub Scout packs are thinning because of the rough economy and too many demands on parents and children to commit to scouting, troop leaders say.

This year, Lake County in northeast Ohio has 1,299 Cub Scouts ages 8 to 10, down from 1,521 in 2003.

The drop says a lot about families and children, said Gary Erlinger, executive director of the Boy Scouts of America Greater Western Reserve Council.

"Some of it we accredit to family circumstances and lifestyle," Mr. Erlinger said. "Cub Scouts involve the parents a lot. If both parents are too busy to participate, then the kids usually won't be able to either."

Steve Stefanko, chairman of the Headwaters District, which covers the west side of Lake County and Geauga County, said the economy also has an effect on Cub numbers.

"Nowadays, a lot of parents don't have as much free time. If both parents are working or you have a single parent working two jobs, who's going to lead meetings?" Mr. Stefanko said. "Kids will always be interested in the program, because we do cool things; but the parents have to be involved, too."

Mr. Stefanko said it's not uncommon to see a parent try to make time for a child's Cub Scouts meetings but give up.

"Bless their hearts, they try. They want their kid to do it and the kid wants to also, but they can't sustain it."

The atrophy of Cub troops has not affected Boy Scout numbers, but it will eventually, Mr. Stefanko said.

The Cub packs feed the Boy Scout troops. Only about 10 percent to 15 percent of Boy Scouts were not Cub Scouts first, Mr. Stefanko said.

The scouts also have been battling a loss of funds.

In the last five years, the Greater Western Reserve Council, which includes both Headwaters and Grand River districts, has lost $250,000 in United Way funding, leading to some staffing cutbacks, Mr. Erlinger said.

Troop leaders say the Scouts need more-aggressive recruiting.

One of their recruiting methods, called Scoutreach, involves starting a pack in a school.

The pack's activities occur before or after school, and sometimes during lunch. That way, parental obligation is kept to a minimum. The kids already are gathered at school, and the supplies are provided for by grant funding or the United Way.

Scoutreach began with just a handful of students at a Youngstown elementary school. Now, there are more than 1,300 students involved in the Greater Western Reserve area.

"We want to extend the program into Lake County, but we need to find funding," Mr. Erlinger said.

The program is expensive because the organization foots the bill for most of the supplies.

"Sometimes, we struggle with pack numbers. Sometimes, we struggle with finances, but we keep fighting the good fight," he said.



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