Aloha Council CEO: Scouting in Hawaii remains strong

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo
    In this 2013 photo, Kaleb Sato, 8, left, of Pack 23 and Isaiah Naehu, 7, compete in an obstacle course put together by Hawaiian Paradise Park Pack 92 during the Annual Boy Scout Makahiki Show at Edith Kanaka'ole Multi-purpose Stadium.

Despite recent headlines surrounding the Boy Scouts of America, scouting in Hawaii will likely go on unaffected.

The Boy Scouts of America has had a difficult year, battling sex abuse lawsuits and dwindling national membership rates. But although a report earlier this week said that the beleaguered organization is considering filing for bankruptcy in the face of the lawsuits, scouting in Hawaii will remain.

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Even should the BSA file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it will only cause an interruption in BSA services to the organization’s 272 councils nationwide, said Jeff Sulzbach, scout executive and CEO of the Aloha Council, which charters scouting activities on the Big Island, Oahu and Kauai, as well as some of the U.S.’ Pacific territories.

Every council is chartered by the BSA, Sulzbach said, and is its own separate and independent 501(c)(3) entity, meaning the financial state of the national organization does not affect the operations of the councils.

“Any impact nationally would affect us only insofar as some of the national services provided by the BSA would be interrupted.

Some of those services the BSA provides, such as printing Scout Handbooks and other materials, could be curtailed if the greater organization filed for bankruptcy, but the councils could continue operations regardless, Sulzbach said.

The greater BSA organization has been facing declining membership over the years — falling by 10 percent between 2013 and 2016 — Sulzbach said the Aloha Council has seen relative growth in membership in recent years. The organization’s decisions to relax bans on gay and transgender youth and gay scout leaders, as well as admit girls into the BSA, have led to controversy and defections — notably from the Mormon Church, which in May announced that it would end its century-long partnership with the BSA and then move more than 400,000 Mormon scouts from the organization into its own faith-focused program at the end of 2019.

Meanwhile, the organization has faced a number of costly lawsuits against victims of sexual abuse, including one Oregon case where the BSA was required to pay $18.5 million in damages to a former scout who had been abused by a scout leader. Sulzbach noted that no such lawsuit has originated from any scout in the Aloha Council.

However, Sulzbach said, scouting in Hawaii remains strong, and has actually grown marginally over the past several years. Sulzbach said the state of Hawaii has approximately 11,000 youth scouts and 4,000 adult leaders statewide, with about 1,500 youth on the Big Island.

“It depends on the troop and community,” said Aaron Morita, assistant scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 23 in Hilo. “Troop 23 has been lucky, we’ve been gradually growing.”

Sulzbach also said that the integration of girls into Cub Scout programs has been successful beyond the Council’s expectations, and hopes the launch of “Scouts BSA,” a parallel BSA program for girls to begin in February, will be equally successful.

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“We’re one of the few programs that instills good values in young people,” Morita said, before listing the virtues extolled in the Boy Scout Law. “Those are the characteristics employers look for. That’s the kind of thing people want in employees.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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