It comes as no surprise that Utah has a lot of Eagle Scouts.
For over a century, the state’s predominant religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has partnered with Boy Scouts of America and made Scouting part of the faith’s program for young men.
In 2018, over 5,000 Scouts in Utah achieved the rank of Eagle, which means over 5,000 Eagle projects were completed across the state with the intent of improving communities and helping Scouts become leaders.
Not only do these projects provide an opportunity for Scouts to grow, but they also help nonprofits and municipalities gather groups of volunteers for large projects.
However, with the partnership between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America set to end in January, the future of Eagle Scout projects in both the state and Cache Valley is uncertain.
Elaine Thatcher is the executive director of the annual Summerfest Arts Faire in Logan and said her organization relies on service provided through Eagle Scout projects.
“It would be impossible to have the festival of the caliber that it is without that kind of help,” Thatcher said. “We have other volunteers too, but the Scouts really help us with those heavy-duty projects that require a lot of moving materials and setting things up and so forth.”
Each year, Thatcher said the festival has anywhere from 5 to 13 Eagle Scout projects. This year about 9 or 10 groups participated.
Thatcher said the projects Summerfest provides to Scouts include things like setting up and tearing down the event, managing trash and keeping tables clean.
“Some people think that the Scout has to come up with their own project, but that is not the case,” Thatcher said. “We have defined projects, but the Scout has to put together his team and he has to manage them to get the job done.”
If the number of Scouts in the valley pursuing their Eagle drops once The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is no longer involved in Scouting, Thatcher said she is unsure of whether or not there will be groups interested in completing those same large-scale service projects.
“It is going to be brand-new territory for us to understand how to work with the community to get the help that we need for the future,” Thatcher said.
Similar help, smaller scale
Other nonprofits and municipalities in the valley have benefited from Eagle Scout projects as well, though often not on the scale of Summerfest.
In Wellsville city, Eagle Scout projects have included things like pouring cement pads for bleachers, putting in park benches and planting trees. According to City Manager Scott Wells, two or three projects are completed for the city each year.
If the number of Scouts seeking Eagles decreased, Wells said the city would still find ways to accomplish these projects, but it would look different.
“We will have to be creative in how we get those done because Wellsville city doesn’t have a lot of money to put out to get these projects done,” Wells said.
The Stokes Nature Center is another organization that benefits from one or two Eagle Projects each year. Patrick Kelly, the education director, said although the center receives regular volunteer service from other groups, such as Conservice and 4-H, Eagle Scout projects fill a different need.
“When a Scout comes to you with a project, they are really invested in that community space in whatever mission they are doing,” Kelly said. “It is the pinnacle of an exercise of service for that organization.”
Kelly said the projects Scouts have helped with in the past have included things like landscaping projects or creating education components for visitors to enjoy at the center.
If Eagle Scout projects decrease, he said the center will still get these projects done but will lose the valuable component of having youth invested in bettering the community.
“There is something really important about young people contributing to their community in meaningful ways,” Kelly said.
For next year’s Summerfest, Thatcher said she plans to look for volunteers using the website JustServe.org, created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to connect community members with service opportunities.
“Our hope is that we can work with whole wards or priesthood groups … that might want to do service, or youth groups through the church and of course other churches too,” Thatcher said.
Thatcher said in the past they have worked with the local Boys & Girls Club and businesses like Paul Mitchell The School and Conservice, which may also help as she seeks large groups of volunteers.
“Getting these large group projects, that is sort of the bread and butter of keeping the festival operating,” Thatcher said.
According to Kelly, if Eagle Scout projects decline in the community, Stokes Nature Center will also re-evaluate where they can find large groups of volunteers.
“We have the infrastructure in place to keep things up to snuff and keep developing but in terms of expanding out beyond what we already have, I think that would take a bit of a brainstorming session and trying to figure out: Are there other organizations that are looking for service projects?” Kelly said.
While it is impossible to exactly predict the long-term effects of the partnership between the Boy Scouts of America and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ending, Wells said he imagines members of the faith will still seek out community involvement.
“I don’t know what the next step is for the LDS church, but they are very service-oriented so I would foresee that there will be some who will continue to do a service project here and there,” Wells said.