¡Scouting Vale La Pena!
By Bill Sloan
A BSA pilot marketing campaign in South Texas aims to bring more Scouting opportunities to the nation's fastest-growing minority group.
As school superintendent in the South Texas town of Falfurrias, Dr. Nabor Cortez oversees the education of 1,700 studentsmore than 80 percent of them from low-income Hispanic families. His job entails many major decisions, minor crises, and 12-hour days. Yet he also finds the time and energy to serve as Scoutmaster of the only Boy Scout unit in his countyTroop 28, which he organized almost single-handedly just over a year ago. The troop started with seven Scouts, and has grown to 15 active members. And now Cortez is also forming the county's only Cub Scout pack.
"My son Alex is really responsible for this," he says. "Alex was a Scout in Houston, where we used to live, and when I took this job, he worried there wouldn't be a troop here for him. I said if there wasn't, I'd start oneso I did."
Cortez's one-man push to bring Scouting to his adopted town coincides with the BSA's new national Hispanic Emphasis campaign, launched in the summer of 2000 with pilot programs in three predominantly Hispanic South Texas councils. The campaign aims to show Hispanic Americans how much they have in common with the BSA's values-based program and make it easier for them to participate in Scouting.
The campaign theme is "¡Scouting Vale la Pena!" In English, that means "Scouting! It's Worth the Effort!"
Cortez personifies that slogan. Reviving Scouting in Falfurrias, a community of 6,000 about 80 miles north of the Mexican border, after a lapse of a few years, has made him a symbol to many of what vale la pena means.
As Scout Executive John Thurston of the Gulf Coast Council says: "Units in small towns often rise or fall on the efforts of one individual. It's hard to say how long Falfurrias would've been without Scouting if Dr. Cortez hadn't come along."
If not, youth like Troop 28 senior patrol leader Rudy Hinojosa might have grown up without access to the Scouting experience. "Having the troop to join has been a big thrill for me," says Rudy, 15. "I've learned a lot, and even though I got a late start, I still plan to make Eagle before I'm done."
Scoutmaster Cortez was born in Mexico and grew up in a poor area of Brownsville, Tex. He knows firsthand the cultural and economic barriers that make it hard for so many Hispanic kids to get into Scouting.
"Scouting hasn't been a part of Hispanic culture," he says. "It was totally foreign to me when a Scoutmaster first told me about it in the fifth grade. Ironically, the values that Scouting teaches are the very same ones taught by Hispanic family culture, but this connection hasn't been effectively communicated to Hispanic Americans."
With the help of volunteers like Dr. Nabor Cortez, though, that communication gap is beginning to close.
Inspiration in Brownsville
In a poor area of Brownsville, not far from where Nabor Cortez once lived, Carmen Lopez has become another cutting-edge force in Scouting's Hispanic initiative.
"For over nine years, we tried to get a Cub Scout pack started at Cromack Elementary School in the heart of this neighborhood," says Ernie Gonzalez Jr., senior district coordinator for the Rio Grande Council. "But it never got off the ground until Carmen Lopez stood up and decided to do something about it."
Now, three years later, Lopez is Cubmaster of Pack 133, with 22 active Cub Scouts (all Hispanic) in three dens. She also has helped train other volunteers who have gone on to form other packs.
"She's gone far beyond her role as a Cubmaster to be a resource for the entire council," says Gonzalez. "As a member of our training team, she's been one of the keys in creating Spanish-language training programs for volunteers, and she's become a go-to person in dealing with the United Way. She works with the pinewood derby, Cub Adventure Weekend, Scout Sunday at church you name it. Other units look to her pack as their role model, and for good reason."
Jesus Treviño is one of the many volunteers who have benefited from training provided by Carmen Lopez. He was a Scout in Mexico before coming to the United States, but he might never have become an adult Scouter in this country without the Spanish-language instruction Lopez developed. "Jesus has g one from Cubmaster of Pack 120 in Brownsville to assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 1," says Ernie Gonzalez. "And he also serves on our training team.
"We always try to stay busy," says Lopez, who works full time in the Brownsville schools' central office. "We made 20 food baskets for needy families at Christmas, worked with Scouting for Food [National Good Turn], and planted a vegetable garden at the school. Little by little, I think we're improving the environment in our community."
Last February, members of Lopez's Webelos den carried the colors in a kick-off parade for Brownsville's 64th annual Charro Days, the biggest local event of the year.
"My 10-year-olds have worked really hard to learn the proper way to handle flags," she says. "I'm very proud of my Webelos Scouts. My dream is to see all four of them become Boy Scouts and earn their Eagle."
These fourincluding Lopez's son, Kristianwere her first Cub Scouts. But because of her, many others have followed. "If my mom hadn't volunteered," observes Kristian, "there probably wouldn't be any Cub Scouts at my school."
It's no coincidence that Hispanic-American membership in the Rio Grande Council has significantly increased since Carmen Lopez took on her first assignment as a volunteer Scouter, council officials say.
"We started our own councilwide Hispanic outreach program well before the BSA launched its national initiative," says Ernie Gonzalez. "For more than two years, the council's initiatives have helped to provide Scouting opportunities, with an emphasis on Cub Scouts, in areas which were once underserved. By plan, those Cub Scouts are starting to move into Boy Scouts, so the growth is being felt top to bottom."
Adds district executive Ito Robledo: "She's the kind of person you wish you had many more of."
McAllen success story
No city better exemplifies the explosive growth of the lower Rio Grande Valley than bustling McAllen. The hub of a metro area of 330,000, it claims a major share of the region's tall buildings, free ways, traffic jams, and urban problems.
Until recently, however, Scouting was largely absent from McAllen's sizable Hispanic community.
"There wasn't a single Boy Scout unit on the north side of townwhich is where most of the growth is taking placeuntil we re-chartered Troop 583 seven years ago," says Bob Olivarez, a doctor of optometry who has been that troop's Scoutmaster since its rebirth in 1994.
The troop, chartered to Holy Spirit Catholic Church, had been out of business for years and had only a halfdozen Scouts when it was re-organized. Today, it has 36 active members and eight assistant Scoutmasters. The troop sent 15 youththe largest contingent from any Valley Scout unitto the 2001 National Scout Jamboree.
"Meanwhile, three other troops have also been formed on the north side," Bob Olivarez says. "Just as important, we're getting a number of Cub Scout packs started in the schools, which will involve boys and families in Scouting earlier and provide a source of Boy Scouts for the troop."
A native of McAllen, Olivarez recalls that when he was a boy the town only had two or three Scout troops. "If you wanted to join one, you just had to find your own way, because there was no coordinated effort to spread the Scouting message or information about joining," he says.
"Many Hispanic parents still don't know anything about Scouting, and this is where the new Hispanic Emphasis program can make a huge difference," Olivarez adds. "But the real key is still at the troop level. The more active a troop is, the more interest it generates among its members and in the community at large."
And Troop 583 certainly qualifies as "active." It goes camping every month; does two summer camps sessions per year; makes an annual trip to Mexico, works with Scouting for Food, the International Crop Walk, and the "Keep McAllen Beautiful" campaign; and holds two major yearly fund-rais ers (popcorn and a barbecue). And in addition to that hectic schedule, the Scouts are always ready to handle any special chores around the church.
"A quality troop program takes work," Olivarez says, "but it's not nearly as difficult or time-consuming as some people think"especially with the one-on-one support available from district commissioners and other Scouters at roundtable or training courses. "It really is worth the effort."
A special challenge
Marketing Scouting to the nation's Hispanic Americans is a special challenge, not only because of the cultural and economic barriers involved but because of the diversity of the U.S. Hispanic-American population.
In Texas and other Southern border states, "Hispanic" typically refers to someone from Mexico or of recent Mexican ancestry. In Florida, on the other hand, Hispanics are more likely to be Cuban, and in New York City, Puerto Rican. And in all areas, there are smaller groups of Hispanic Americans from Central and South America, the West Indies, and the Philippines. They live in towns like Falfurrias, mush rooming cities like McAllen, or rural farm areas. Many speak little or no English and work at low-income jobs.
Many others are United States citizens, speak English, and have better paying jobs, but they still feel separated from mainstream U.S. society. "Among many Hispanic-American adults, there is relatively little information circulated about some American institutions like the Boy Scouts," says Bob Olivarez.
One way to bridge the gap is to offer more and more information about Scouting in Spanish, says Frank Ramirez, associate director of the BSA's Scoutreach Division, who heads the Hispanic marketing campaign.
"To help overcome the language barrier, we've published close to 100 Spanish-language brochures, booklets, fliers, posters, training manuals, and videos," he says.
Some of the more widely used materials, according to Ramirez, are a video titled ¿Que Es Scouting? (BSA No. 94-124), a poster and flier, !Scouting Vale la Pena! (Nos. 94-110 and 94-104), and a new book of Cub Scout requirements, titled Requisitos de los Cub Scouts para el Ano 2000 (No. 94-195).
"These and many other Spanish-language materials are available to volunteers through their unit-serving executives," Ramirez says.
Several major Hispanic organizations are backing the BSA program, including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Hispanic Police Association. Radio and TV stations in heavily Hispanic areas are also cooperating by airing public service announcements in which Latino role modelssuch as Catholic Archbishop Patrick Flores of San Antonio and Rio Grande Council president Beto Munoz of Harlingentell Hispanic youth and parents about Scouting's benefits.
But the greatest assets to the BSA's Scoutreach program, Ramirez emphasizes, are five traits that all Hispanic Americans sharestrong family focus, the Spanish language, strong cultural identity, respect for elders, and religious fervor.
"Scouting's values are consistent with values that Hispanic Americans cherish." By understanding this, we can show how Scouting and the Hispanic community can support and strengthen each other."
Contributing editor Bill Sloan also wrote "Partners in Service" in this issue.
September 2001 Table of Contents
Copyright © 2001 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.