Scout troops look to the future: increasing membership among goals

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, September 21, 2022

By KAREN THIEL

Joe Tomaini and Robbie King will tell you that each of them are proud of their children, and the Boy Scout troops that helped them mature into responsible  young men. “We produce good kids. They are a polite bunch of boys. Every single one of them. And we’ve done a million community service projects,” Tomaini said of his twins, Chase and Cole, and the rest of his troop members in Bath. 

Chase and Cole, are about a week away from completing a project that will qualify them to receive Eagle Scout status. The teens are members of Troop 258, and have participated in scouting since 2015, shortly after the family moved from Florida to North Carolina. Their projects are both located at St. Thomas Episcopal, a historic church in Bath, where Chase is almost finished building a new bell tower and Cole is completing reconstruction of the vestry building.

Washington resident Eddie King just achieved that Eagle Scout status after finishing a project that, for him, is the current pinnacle of his lifetime love of reading. He raised funds, designed and built three “Little Libraries”, now stocked with donated books and placed at Beaufort-Hyde Partnership for Children, Washington Housing Authority, and the Chocowinity Recreation Park. 

The three high school seniors are among dozens of Beaufort County scouts who are also working hard to attract their friends and parents to benefits of membership with Boy Scouts of America – not only because of those perks but, if more youth do not realize scouting’s benefits and join up, those troops may be in peril.

“We wanted to push Chase and Cole a bit more, to be active in something other than sports,” Tomaini said about the reason he and his wife encouraged the boys to join. “I brought the kids to a cub scout meeting in 2015 and it’s been wonderful ever since.” The experience has been so impressive that Tomaini trained for and became one of the adult leaders of Troop 258 in Bath, where, for the last six years, he has been working as scoutmaster with boys from 6th grade till high school graduation. (He also volunteered with the boys’ cub scout troop, which serves children from kindergarten through fifth grade.) “Several boys have come up to me and said that if their dad wasn’t around I would be the guy they came to. That keeps me going. But unless more parents participate (as scout leaders or helpers) there won’t be any troops to join.”

Troop & Pack 99 Committee Chariman Dal Newbold, confirmed that scouting’s upper level leadership is “trying to create new units and trying to help existing units grow. Bath has a longstanding troop and we want to help them survive. And we want to get that cub scout troop going again,” said Newbold, who also serves as District Chairman for Membership. The Cub Scout troop in Bath had what Tomaini called a “problem with parent participation” and, despite Tomaini’s efforts to recruit half a dozen new members, the troop folded by the end of the year that his sons graduated fifth grade and moved up to the Boy Scout troop.

Besides the lack of parental participation, Newbold and Tomaini each pointed to several potential causes – and solutions – for the membership decline. Outdated program focuses are one of those. “Certain aspects of boy scouting just have to stay,” Tomaini said, stressing that survival and camping activities are required, and offer life-enhancing opportunities through badges earned by learning skills during those outings. “I would add badges for Instagram, Facebook, phone skills, things like that which the kids are more into these days. We need to move into the 21st century.” 

Newbold noted that the challenge of balancing scouting with kids’ participation in school-sponsored sports programs are now a “year round challenge” for families. “We try to encourage both scouting and sports, but it’s a struggle for some families to participate in the activities of both groups.” Both scouting leaders added that the current badge-earning system is valuable because it enhances member’ life skills as well as adding fun. “They can learn everything from citizenship, personal finances, and family skills to personal fitness and sports” by choosing any of the 139 merit badges currently offered.

Newbold added that the downturn in membership is not unique to Bath and other smaller towns. “This goes throughout the larger towns, but travel time and distance increases when the population is less dense. And this is overall a difficult time because we don’t see parents involved with their kids as much,” he said, echoing Tomaini’s theory. “If these scouts have the support of their parents and the troop is active with things like camping as well as other challenges and opportunities, scouting in Beaufort County will thrive.

Formed in 1910 in England, scouting made its way to North Carolina in 1911.  Troops in and near Beaufort County are part of the East Carolina Council of BSA, which was formed in 1932.