Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis is asking Utahns to renew vows once taken as Boy and Girl Scouts of America and reach out to "at risk" youth in the city who could benefit from a newly created "In-School Scouting" program.
The program targets 15 elementary schools - 4,000 youngsters who might not otherwise enjoy Scouting - in an effort to take a "pro-active" stance against some of the socioeconomic problems facing youths, DePaulis said.Already the program is on line at Whittier Elementary School, where 400 kids are participating for one hour each week in a Scouting class actually included, with the school district's approval, in the school's curriculum.
"We learn to be leaders. We learn to make totems," one Whittier girl wrote about In-School Scouting. "When other schools get In-school Scouting, I think they'll love it as much as I do."
Whittier Principal Lewis Gardiner called the program a "valuable supplement to the academic programs of the classroom" for "a large majority of young people who, I believe, may not otherwise have this opportunity."
Many children on the city's west side and in Central-City neighborhoods are in single-parent households and battling difficulties faced by many children in low-income families, DePaulis said.
"These are kids who are at risk," DePaulis said. "This is something we can do pro-actively . . . to build a much stronger sense of pride in young people."
"We think it's going to pay off big dividends in the future," he said. The payback will come in many different forms, including helping to fill a "leadership void" in Scouting in ethnic communities in Salt Lake City, mayoral Executive Assistant Pete Suazo said.
Suazo hopes children in third through fifth grades will be able to nurture their In-School Scouting experiences into a desire to lead their own Scout troops later in life, building a long-term commitment to Scouting.
Dividends will also accrue when In-School Scouting programs help mold youngsters into self-motivated, self-respecting citizens, DePaulis said.
"These are kids, if you want the cold hard facts, that are going to cost us," he said, referring to the cost of dealing with youths in and out of trouble and public institutions. "This is a way to break the cycle."
Many children growing up in Utah have not had easy access to Scouting, Suazo said.
"For all practical purposes, the Boy Scouts of America has been an LDS Church program. That's not to say that's not good, but a lot of the kids who could have gained some benefit from it haven't been exposed to Scouting," he said.
In a recent letter to area businessmen, DePaulis asked for help in supporting In-School Scouting, sanctioned by the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts, at other schools.
Citing the familiar pledge, "On my honor, I will do my best," DePaulis asked businessmen to support the program and to "recommit yourself to an oath you may have uttered, and perhaps forgotten, many years ago."
DePaulis is seeking cash and in-kind contributions to the program, which Suazo said could take years to fully implement. This year, Suazo expects to install the program in four schools but said, "we're being a little conservative. We could do more."
The program costs an estimated $10,000 per year for each school, Suazo said. But a contribution of $1,500 could fund an entire class for a school year, he said.