I got asked to speak to our district committee recently about challenges our pack has faced, recruiting from a low-income area of our city. I think this is a worthwhile conversation to have, because all districts have some low-income families, and these families are often ones that receive the greatest benefit from Scouting. What are challenges faced in your area, and how do you meet them?
I have observed that:
- Transportation is a big factor. Many families have one vehicle, which may not always be available for Scouts. Some do not drive at all, and so are limited to bus-route meeting locations. Families that use bussing often cannot attend events due to the extended amount of time it takes to use bus service.
- Siblings are a big factor. Older sibling activities may trump scouting, where there are scheduling conflicts in a single-parent or single-vehicle household. Younger siblings can be overwhelming for a parent to bring along to a den meeting where they are asked to focus on a different child.
- Scheduling is tough. Low-income often means working second shift, which can prevent a family from being able to attend Scouts entirely during the week.
- Money does matter. The cost to enter Scouting is low, when spread over time, but quite spendy up front if you are on a tight budget. Our unit only charges national dues and the council’s insurance premium, and offers scholarships from the council, but then there’s the handbook and about $50 worth of uniform (more if they are pressured into getting pants/belt/socks/hat at the Scout Shop), once we get them in the door. Our pack has started collecting uniform shirts, and developed a policy where they can be loaned, and ultimately given, to Scouts who participate regularly. We do this with the financial support of our charter org.
- Communication. Many units rely on email, and many lower-income families do not have internet at home, instead using only their mobile devices for information. This may mean Facebook or texted replies are the only way to reach someone (and you hope they don’t run out of texts before the next reload kicks in).
- Fundraising is hard. When popcorn costs $20 and schools are fundraising aggressively too, the “buying to support you” market gets flooded quickly. Teachers are often happy to purchase popcorn, but they are finite in quantity. Some neighborhoods are not conducive to door-to-door selling, either because of physical safety or building policies against solicitation. This means popcorn booths in local stores (or in a more affluent neighborhood) are often the only popcorn sales a Scout has.
In our town, we also have a large East African population, many of whom are themselves refugees, or only one or two generations removed. At some point it was pointed out to me that a big component of the refugee experience is effectively camping, and so camping can be a PTSD trigger. Scouting’s emphasis on camping, in those cases, is an automatic turn-off.
That last subject is something I would love to know how to overcome. It would be a wonderful thing, I believe, for our Scouting community to include our immigrant community, and that shared experience could go a long way towards bridging what is too often a cultural divide. It would be lovely for a local mosque to become a charter organization, alongside the numerous churches that already are. I know there are such units in the Twin Cities, but haven’t found a connection to learn more.