Scouting has a proud tradition of leadership. Across the nation in 1999, more than 1.2 million volunteers and 3,300 Scouting professionals led 4.9 million young people through the adventure-packed program of the Boy Scouts of America.

It takes more than merit badges, handbooks, and uniforms for Boy Scout councils across America to have successful Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, and Venturing crews. It's the people on the front line—council and district volunteers and unit-serving executives—who make the real difference in bringing the quality program of the Boy Scouts of America to the youth of our nation.

In 1998, the Boy Scouts of America took up a call to arms with a National Strategic Plan that defined what Scouting would be two years into the new millennium. One critical issue of this plan focused on the ever-growing need for strong leaders with strong values at every level of the organization. The hope was that every new unit-serving executive who came on line would cultivate 50 new units, 350 new volunteers, and 1,100 new youth.

Two years into the plan, councils nationwide have answered the call and are hard at work reaching out to more and more youth. Nationally, the number of unit-serving executives increased slightly in 1999, volunteer numbers grew, and youth participation jumped 4.2 percent, totaling more than 4.9 million participants.

In the Black Hills Area Council in Rapid City, South Dakota, the addition of just two unit-serving executives has made a difference in expanding the program into a rural service area. The council has three unit-serving executives who work with just over 3,300 Scouts in a 14-county area in western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. It had a total membership and unit growth of about 4 percent in 1999, and its volunteer base grew by 5 percent.

Lee Groskopf, 1998-99 council president, attributes these increases to the council's own five-year strategic plan—revised and adopted in 1998—which enabled the council to hire a new unit-serving executive in a service area that had never had one.

"We have realized for a long time that the secret to council growth is to hire additional district executives," says Groskopf.

So that's what the council did despite questions of how to pay for the new position. "We found a gentleman very interested in Scouting who was able to get out in the community and raise nearly enough money to cover his salary for the first year," says Groskopf. "Because of him, we're gaining Scouts, units, and volunteers."

In 1999, the Black Hills Area Council introduced Scouting in two small communities that hadn't had Cub Scout packs for five or more years and onto the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which has a population of 20,000 Lakota people. The council also saw growth in volunteerism, which has allowed one district to have its first ever commissioner meeting and to be named a Quality District.

"We have momentum for Scouting in the Black Hills area," says Groskopf. "There's no doubt this is the result of efforts from the council's professional staff and volunteers."

The Northern Lights Council, in Fargo, North Dakota, had a similar success story in 1999. The addition of two unit-serving executives and several paraprofessionals to work in the rural areas of the large council has yielded an increase in youth participation despite a declining youth population in the council's service area. Nine unit-serving executives work with 16,300 participants in 538 units in North Dakota, 18 counties in northwest Minnesota, and two counties each in Montana and South Dakota.

"We've made progress," says Dave Ouradnik, 1999 council president. "The council has realized a 20 percent increase in participation since 1995, and certainly the addition of unit-serving executives has contributed to that bottom line increase. We certainly have seen an increase in participation and the quality of the program in the rural areas where we have introduced professionals."

One district has shown a 9.7 percent increase in youth participation, and the council as a whole has added more than 200 volunteers, or 4.5 percent, which has been especially beneficial for council funding and increased youth involvement.

"We have seen that when we infused the right caliber of people into the program, our challenges seem to go away or don't seem so difficult," says Ouradnik. "I think it's terribly important to not lose sight of just how important it is to recruit at the top level as much as possible. If we have the right volunteers and professionals—working together as partners—we'll be able to accomplish whatever success we want."