The BSA’s History of Service

One of the first things I did when I started my role with the Boy Scouts of America was visit the national office in Irving, Texas. Next door, is the National Scouting Museum, which eloquently presents the history and relevancy of Scouting in America. I had no idea how large the organization is or the level of impact Scouts have had on individuals and our country. I remain extremely humbled and impressed by the accomplishments of this organization over time.

One of the most impressive facts I took away from the National Scouting Museum was how Scouts have continuously responded during times of need in this country. During World War I, Scouts were responsible for planting and caring for over 12,000 Boy Scouts War Gardens across the country. If you are not aware, U.S. food security was put at risk during WWI, and Victory Gardens became a national campaign initiated from the government to encourage families to grow their own food. Also during this time, Scouts responded to a national call for action by selling Liberty bonds and war savings stamps totaling more than $355 million, and they collected 100 railroad cars full of nutshells and peach pits for gas mask manufacturing.  During the 1930’s, President Roosevelt called on the Scouts to help with the distressed and needed of the country, and they responded by collecting 1,812,284 items of clothing, household furnishings, foodstuffs, and supplies. During WWII, Scouts were again called on by the White House and asked to help encourage people to recycle scraps of metal, rubber and rags for military surplus. Over 1,600,000 young Scouts were responsible for putting up promotional posters in over 2,300 communities around the US.

As you can see, when mobilized for a cause, Scouts have responded in huge numbers with a significant impact. Today, the world has changed and we will be called up to complete a great service project. As we define what issues to focus on, I pose this question to the Scouting community: “What is the next national call to action for the Boy Scouts of America?” There is so much work that needs to be done in this country; how can Scouts help?

On my road trip, as I visit BSA properties across the nation, I like to discuss this question with scout executives, camp directors and campers. My personal belief is that the youth of today have the passion, energy, desire and skills to change the world. I believe it is this generation and the next will develop the leaders needed to build a more sustainable future.  So why don’t we, as a country, call on the youth to shift our current trajectory? More important, why don’t we call on Scouts, who are already trained as community leaders, to help pave this path?

I will continue to explore this topic and share peoples reflections throughout my travels this summer. My goal is to gain enough support from the Scouting community that we can approach the Department of the Interior with a request to call on Scouts as leaders in developing solutions for a more sustainable planet.

Here are some responses I’ve heard thus far from BSA leaders:

  • “I think that Scouts should get back into Victory Gardens and help their communities become more self-reliant by growing their own food.  Local healthy school food programs, community supported agriculture (CSAs), farm-to-table restaurants, urban farming – these types of programs are spreading very quickly.  With the dedicated help of the Scouts, we can greatly increase our local food production and food security, which will improve the health of our community and reduce the impact of the industrialized agricultural industry.  Not to mention, will probably help solve problems of hunger in this country.”
  • “Scouts should become sustainability community leaders.  They are already trained as excellent leaders – now we should focus their leadership on teaching their own community about sustainability.  Imagine if Scouts taught community lessons on energy efficiency in the household, how to grow food, collect rain-water or the importance of shopping local.  If Scouts can be empowered as hands-on sustainability leaders with a purpose to support and encourage sustainability locally, we would witness change happening on a scale never seen before.”
  • “Sustainability is not enough. We need to train our Scouts to be regenerative leaders.  Carbon emissions are the primary cause of climate change.  It is not enough that we just reduce these emissions – we must quickly shift to sequestering the carbon in the atmosphere in an attempt to reverse future trends of environmental instability. New studies are now showing that we can accomplish this through organic farming and composting. If we trained Scouts how to sequester carbon through developing community compost programs and organic farming initiatives, we stand a great chance to reverse many of the potential challenges we face from our changing environment.”
  •  “I think Scouts can play a huge role in revitalizing our State and National Park systems. Scouts are trained in Leave No Trace, nature preservation, trail maintenance and community leadership – all things that apply to working in a park. During a time when our parks are consistently losing funding, laying off workers and closing their gates, we need to find creative solutions to keep these parks open, protected and utilized.  Scouts would be the perfect volunteers across the country to fill these gaps and help keep our park system protected and running smoothly.”
  • “What scares me is the failure of our country to respond quickly to communities who have experienced climate disasters. I think Scouts can play a huge role in this area. After a disaster, communities typically set up temporary housing structures, commissary kitchens, organize food and clothing drives, clean up debris and repair broken infrastructure. I see Scouts as our country’s best option for second responders in these situations. Scouts are trained leaders; they know how to serve food, set up tents. They can help rebuild or clean up. I believe each Scouting troop should be connected with the local National Incident Response Team (NIRT), police and firefighters and be seen as a critical resource when mitigating the after-effects of natural disasters.

I’ll continue to update this list with additional responses from the Scouting community and leaders. I also want to pose this question to all the Scouters out there reading this blog:

“If you were the Department of the Interior and could ask Scouts across the country to respond to a need, what would it be?”  Please leave your suggestions or insights in the ‘Comments’ section. With your help, maybe we can call on Scouts to serve our country in the most important way possible: as community leaders building a more sustainable future.

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Throughout summer 2014, Zach Carson will visit over 40 BSA High Adventure Bases to learn how they incorporate sustainability and conservation into their programs. You can follow his "sustainability road trip" at