How Demographic Changes Affect The Program

I thought it would be good to take a moment to talk about demographics.  How do they relate to the OA, and the greater program of the BSA?  I would like to recount some observations from my previous Lodge.

I grew up in Southern California’s Inland Empire.  This area, East of Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and North of San Diego County, has seen a lot of change.  In the 19th century, it transitioned from a land of Mexican land grants to a set of primarily agricultural communities after the creation of the Washington Navel Orange.

In the 20th century, it retained its rural roots, but government and industry became more important.  Military bases popped up during World War II.  Steel was a big player, as Kaiser Steel was located in the Inland Empire.  Meanwhile, the Western Counties were large and expanding.  In the 1950s, for instance, Siwinis Lodge (Los Angeles Area Council) was among the largest Lodges in the entire country.

I became a member of the OA in 1990.  My Lodge was not small, but we weren’t among the largest lodges either.  We had many chapters, a strange mix of very small chapter in outlying desert areas, and some towns or regions split among a couple chapters.

Greater San Bernardino was an example.  It hosted two chapters, Luwillivon and Kaneeno, among the city and some satellite communities.  They were both large and active as well.  I grew up in a community about 15 miles away, and my parents often used the term, “…going to San Bernardino” when we needed to go shopping, visit a big store, etc.

San Bernardino really had 3 industrial strengths.  The first was the military, with Norton Air Force Base just nearby.  The second was steel, with Kaiser Steel located just down the freeway in Fontana (then a small community).  The third was the railroad, which was largely supported by steel.

In 1992, the Base Realignment Commission was formed as a reaction to what was then thought to be the end of the Cold War.  The Inland Empire had a lot at stake, with 3 Air Force Bases (George, Norton, and March).  March Air Force Base had just been the site of a great Section W4B Conclave.  In the end, the Inland Empire lost all 3 military bases.  On top of that, there was a larger recession that created even more intense pressure.

So what happened to those two chapters?  They consolidated, going to back to their old combined Whi-Al-Lum chapter, which they later renamed Wisumahi after the original OA Lodge in San Bernardino County.

In addition, the city of San Bernardino was devastated.  Kaiser had already closed its mills in the 1980s (now the land is a racetrack).  Losing Norton Air Force Base removed a large base of middle-class residents.  In addition, the rail industry collapsed as there was less freight to transport, and shipments moved to the trucking industry (following a nationwide transition).  This caused property values to plummet, which caused property tax revenue to plummet (which are limited in California by Prop 13), and created one of the largest municipal bankruptcies in the country.  The once-proud city was now housing their offices in an abandoned shopping mall.  And those trips to San Bernardino?  Well, we now got what we needed in town, or maybe a 5-minute trip to Redlands.

By the time I was an adult Adviser in the Lodge, there wasn’t a single traditional Boy Scout unit in the entire city of San Bernardino (over 200,000 residents).  The Chapter still existed, but most of the members were from the outlying mountain communities outside of town.  This incomprehensible change happened inside of 20 years.

There were other stunning changes as well.  As Los Angeles and Orange Counties grew, and property values increased, many more people chose the Inland Empire to find more affordable homes.  This also included many who moved from these counties after a collapse in the aerospace industry.  San Bernardino and Riverside Counties offered a lot of cheap land, fair weather, and room to grow.  Many suburban communities became some of the fastest growing cities in the country.  This brought a lot of middle-class families to other areas of the Inland Empire.

Areas that were considered minor towns in my childhood became powerhouses in Scouting and the OA.  This was especially true in communities like Moreno Valley (nee Sunnymead), Corona, Temecula, and Murrieta.  The chapter in Southwest Riverside County, Puyamak, was a small unassuming group of Arrowmen in the 1990s.  By the time I moved to my current Lodge, their chapter, Tahquitz, was something like 40% of Cahuilla Lodge.  Once again, this change happened inside of 20 years.

This points to a couple takeaways.  The first is that Lodges and chapters need to look ahead and be prepared to react proactively to changes happening in their communities.  Suburban sprawl has created powerful towns away from large urban centers, and the BSA’s community strengths have often mapped those changes.

There are also other changes ahead.  There will likely be further demographic changes in the next few years that will likely impact Western Region councils and lodges specifically (I won’t go further on this point, that’s a whole other set of articles).  In addition, I expect that gentrification will create further changes.  What’s happening in Brooklyn will likely impact the rest of the country in the next 50 years.  You may see another middle-class flight to gentrify major city centers, while others end up in the outlying suburban communities they are leaving.

Scouting and the OA also are active in an incredibly competitive marketplace for a teenager’s time.  Sports, band, and intense schooling pressure have forced prospective Arrowmen to make some really tough choices on how much they can commit.  In addition, while we say that an Arrowman’s first duty is to his unit, we paradoxically create a structure and foundation that can compete with that duty.  I am guilty myself, as I miss one Troop meeting a month to attend my Lodge’s LEC meeting.

The final point is something I don’t have much of an answer to, and something that really makes me sad about San Bernardino.  We just aren’t reaching minority communities.  We have to work harder to make sure the BSA program (which the OA’s demographics would then follow) can look, feel, and be comfortable as the communities they reside in.  We are too middle-class, too white, and too insulated.  The BSA does have great liberal program to address this like ScoutReach, and the LDS Community often creates Wards for specific minority communities.  We have to do more.  We have to expend more resources, and…money.  I believe the values that Scouting and the OA have are universal, but our message is only reaching one community of many.  Imagine how many lives can be impacted in a city the size of San Bernardino if our message could reach everybody without regard to ethnicity, religion, class, gender, orientation, or any other attribute?