A bold new beginning for a Michigan council at the Crossroads

When the going gets tough, Scouts get going.

Just look at what’s happening in Michigan. The place has experienced some of the toughest economic times in America and it also boasts some of the toughest volunteers and professionals in the Boy Scouts of America.

They’ve refused to let Scouting fail in the Great Lakes State, and they’re teaching Scouts and Scouters everywhere a thing or two about courage under fire.

On Tuesday, the Michigan Crossroads Council received its official BSA charter — effectively merging nine councils into one. It’s the culmination of an 18-month, volunteer-driven effort that Scouting magazine first told you about in our March-April 2012 issue.

But they’re not crossing the finish line. 

“We’re actually at the starting line,” says Brian Nastase, Michigan Crossroads Council’s chief operating officer.

“This is completely exciting,” he continues, “and it’s exciting for the kids that are not in Scouting right now because they have a much better chance of being recruited in Scouting.”

Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca spoke about changing the business model of the BSA to grow Scouting and the bold steps that volunteers in Michigan took to do so.

It couldn’t come soon enough. In Area 2, which includes all of Michigan, Cub Scout and Boy Scout numbers declined by 20 percent from 2005 to 2009. The number of volunteers fell by 9 percent, and council camps lost $3 million.

“We really were at a crossroads,” Nastase says. “If we continued down the path that we were on, we were sure to fail in our objective.”

Volunteers in Michigan weren’t going to let that happen. They created 50 different ideas for how Scouting could be reorganized in the area, and whittled those down to the Crossroads Recommendation that eventually became the Michigan Crossroads Council.

On Tuesday, for the first time since World War II, the Boy Scouts of America issued a new charter for a council. (Councils have merged in that time, but they aren’t issued new charters.)

John Reesor, a 37-year Scouting professional and Scout Executive at the new council, chatted with me about this critical time for Scouting’s future.

“The Boy Scouts are an integral part of the fabric of this community and needed to teach character, values, and leadership,” he says. “That’s important all over this country. But in Michigan, where there’s been such a dynamic economic downturn, it takes a lot more to launch this type of initiative and get it going.”

That means restructuring from the ground up with all eyes on the Main Thing: “to serve more kids and serve them better with exceptional programs,” as Reesor puts it.

That doesn’t happen, Reesor points out, by standing still.

“We’re not going to keep our place as America’s pre-eminent youth-serving organization if we don’t adjust to the current culture. How that happens is by changing the service model — not the program,” he says. “Kids love what we do — once they join. But if we’re not seen as an attractive, exciting program then we’re going to have trouble.

“The Michigan Crossroads Council is all about serving our volunteers, youth members, and families in an organization that is driven to increase membership by providing exceptional programs.”