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Regional scouting program in rebuilding mode after pandemic pause

Boy Scouting is no longer just for boys
Suwanee Council BSA
Boy Scouting is no longer just for boys

Like so many organizations, the Capital Region's Boy Scout program is still recovering from the pandemic. The head of the Suwanee River Area Council of Boy Scouts provided an update on how that process is going.

Terry Whitaker is the scout executive and CEO of an area that sprawls across a huge section of the region.

"We serve 13 counties; 5 in South Georgia and 8 in North Florida. We had 1,265 youth at the end of last year and those are youth in ages all the way from kindergarten to young adults turned 21."

Although Whitaker admits new scout admissions lagged when so many schools closed, either fully or partially, during the initial months of the pandemic.

"That's where we recruit our membership from to give those families the opportunity to participate in scouting. And schools weren't allowing any visitors. It wasn't against us, it was just a COVID-related thing."

Boy Scouting dates from the early 1900s. Whitaker says some essentials, such as the Scout Oath and rules of conduct haven't changed. But some other things have changed dramatically.

"Merit badges that scouts earn have definitely changed over time. There was once a merit badge called 'stalking;' how to hunt your own food. That's no longer as relevant as it was at one time and it's been replaced by digital technology. So we're trying to keep up with the times."

Perhaps the biggest change of all, says Whitaker, is that Boy Scounting is no longer exclusively for boys.

"Females have been a part of the Boy Scouts of America since 1969. A lot of people don't realize that. In what was called 'Exploring,' that program has existed since then and we've had co-ed programs for teenagers since that time. But it's been within the last 5 years that we've welcomed females in all program areas; some being co-ed, some still being single gender, but allowing females to participate in all our areas."

And Whitaker is extending an invitation for anyone interested in scouting to do some exploring of their own.

"People can join scouting at any time. They can visit the units in their area and see which one is right for them. We have over 50 units in the 13 counties we serve. Hopefully we can find one convenient for each family."

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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