SILK HOPE — When Troop 911 was first chartered in 1956, it quickly became a thriving troop, serving scores of Silk Hope Boy Scouts over the years.
Now, following more than a year of pandemic challenges and in the wake of residual fallout from national Boy Scouts of America scandals, the troop is down to just four members — only three active — and all are set to graduate this year or working toward Eagle Scout rank.
Troop 911 Occoneechee Council Unit Commissioner Mack Thorpe is on a mission to not let the troop die.
“They love the Boy Scouts and the Cub Scouts in that community at Silk Hope,” Thorpe, a longtime Pittsboro resident, said. “And I think if a troop is not there — that’s just one avenue taken away for young men to have a nice good experience in growing up.”
Thorpe joined the Scouts when he was a high schooler in 1965, later becoming an Eagle Scout and then an assistant scoutmaster until 1975. In 2019, at age 67, Thorpe decided to get involved in the Scouts — joining Troop 93 in Pittsboro as an assistant scoutmaster.
Last spring, he decided to also get involved as a unit commissioner with the Occoneechee Council in Raleigh. That’s when he met Troop 911.
“That’s when I learned that they were in trouble,” Thorpe said. “Membership-wise, had been affected big time by COVID, but also the fact that their Cub Scout pack was dissolved because of COVID — they lost their feeder into the troop.”
But Boy Scout enrollment has suffered in many places in recent years, Thorpe said, and not just because of COVID-19 challenges which impact meeting frequency and Cub Scout recruitment.
Declines in membership are due in part to competition from sports, busier family schedules and the idea from some that troops are old-fashioned perception by some families that they are old-fashioned. Fallout from the national sexual abuse scandal hasn’t helped, Thorpe said, in addition to controversy among some parents about BSA’s 2018 decision to change its programs name and allow girls to join (in separate, all-girl troops).
Membership for Cub and Scouts BSA programs dropped from 1.97 million in 2019 to 1.12 million in 2020, a 43% plunge, according to data reported by The Associated Press in June. Court records show membership has fallen further since then, to about 762,000.
“It’s a big challenge,” Thorpe said regarding Troop 911’s enrollment. “But we will make this happen.”
Troop 911 Scoutmaster Arlene Cheek said she thinks the cost to participate might also hinder some families from joining. According to BSA’s website, scouts annually pay about $115 to join, including registration and handbook costs; leaders pay $45.
“The cost to join keeps going up and a lot of families cannot afford that. Plus they want you to have a full uniform, which I don’t require,” she said. “If they come I’m not worried about the uniform, we’ll get you a T-shirt and that can be your uniform. But it’s still not helping out any.”
Cheek became scoutmaster last year, after the previous scoutmaster stepped down when his son earned Eagle rank. Her son joined Troop 911 when he was 10, so she’s volunteered with the troop since the
“Of course,” Cheek said, COVID put a damper on everything.”
The troop meets once a month now, something Cheek said the boys decided on. She’d also like to see the troop survive, but thinks there’s value to a small troop too, and how much closer the boys can get, and how much they can talk about what they learn.
For Thorpe, it just matters that there’s still a Troop 911 next year for boys to join. After a 50-year break from scouting, he rejoined to give back to the organization that had given so much to him.
“In the case of Troop 911, it is a challenge, but it is a challenge I’m willing to take on,” he said. “I think the value to the community is you’re training young men, young boys to go into leadership, character, fitness and citizenship.
“And I wanted to make sure the community didn’t lose that.”
For more information on joining Troop 911, contact Thorpe at 919-630-5600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.
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