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People With Purpose

Latinos Bolstering Boy Scout Membership

Top Latino leaders take on the task of promoting a U.S. tradition.

"Whether you are in business or the Boy Scouts, Hispanics are an important segment of the population. Without succeeding in this market, you may not succeed overall," de la Vega says. Underscoring the point are numbers: Hispanics now comprise 20 percent of U.S. children, a number that is projected to reach 35 percent by 2050, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Hopes are high that the Scouts will succeed in reaching its goal of 100,000 new Hispanic recruits—boys and girls—in 2010. The Soccer and Scouting program, designed to attract Hispanics, has already enrolled more than 15,000 scouts. The organization tested its new slogan, "Valores para toda la vida," and translated its manual into Spanish. Boy Scouts are forging into new territory, such as the recent Los Angeles Latino Book & Family Festival produced by actor Edward James Olmos, 63, who was himself a Scout.

 "When people ask me what helped me the most, I first say my mother, father, and grandparents who raised me; and then it was the Boy Scouts of America," Olmos says. "The values promoted by the Boy Scouts helped me get where I am today."

The tradition of value-shaping experiences continues. At the Halloween Cub-Boo-Ree at a Long Beach, California, campground, new Cub Scout Nocolas Sanchez, 6, received his first merit badge.

"I really didn't know anything about the Scouts," says his mother, Bonnie Sanchez, who accompanied him to the event. "I knew they taught good values and that there was a lot of camping and hiking. We don't know much about that, but we can always learn."

Suddenly, Nocolas and his new friends tone down, quiet enough to hear only the crackle of the campfire. The boys peer beyond the canopy of willow trees and look for the moon, for the U.S. flag placed there decades ago. In unison, they begin, "I pledge allegiance..."

It is a scene that Robert Elizondo has led many times in Texas, often with goose bumps on his arms that signal the pride he holds in leading boys into manhood. These days, he's comforted by the thought that he soon will be part of all this again: grandson Tommy, 5, becomes a Cub Scout next year.

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