Speculation about the future of the Boy Scouts of America began almost as soon as the group's leaders voted last month to discontinue a ban on gay members. A headline on an Associated Press story shouted: "Some churches cutting ties to Boy Scout groups." Then the Southern Baptists upped the ante by "condemning" the organization.

If you're wondering how the story has played out in the East Bay, here's the quick answer: What story?

"We heard from one church that no longer wanted to sponsor a troop and one or two individuals," said John Fenoglio, CEO of the Mt. Diablo Silverado Council. "Otherwise, nothing's changed."

Instead, the local council, already 14,000 members strong, is hoping to broaden its reach and attract even more youngsters.

Fenoglio and Executive Council President Lou Paulson, both former Scouts, are two of the organization's best salesmen, eagerly explaining how Scouting has adapted and modernized throughout its 103-year history to meet each generation's interests.

"One of the things we started in the last 18 months is the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program," Fenoglio said. "We're developing some programs with the labs in Berkeley and Livermore. We've partnered with the (aircraft carrier) USS Hornet, where they have STEM programs, to do an overnight.

"There are a lot of new merit badges. One of the newest is Game Design; it's computer game programming."


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Paulson jokes that the clichéd image of a uniformed Scout helping an old lady across the street needs a 21st century update that includes rock climbing, cave exploring, whitewater rafting and zip-lining. But community service remains a major emphasis even now.

"We do just about everything but hang gliding and bungee jumping," Fenoglio said.

The two men's passion for the institution lies in the values they've seen instilled in young men: leadership and a desire to help others.

"Leadership is the greatest thing we teach," Fenoglio said. "Boys get to lead their peers. They plan and execute what they have to do, whether it's a meeting or an outing. There are very few opportunities for kids to learn that anyplace else."

One of the requirements for advancement in virtually every rank is completion of a service project; the project required of an Eagle Scout, which must be approved in advance, is one benefiting the community.

"One of the Scouts in my troop did a book drive for an underprivileged school in Antioch," Paulson said. "He collected 1,300 books for the school library."

The Mt. Diablo Silverado Council awarded the rank of Eagle to an impressive 397 Scouts last year, a number that Fenoglio would like to see grow even larger.

"Our mission has always been to get kids into the program," he said. "We can't affect their lives if they're not in it."

That brings us back to Grapevine, Tex., on May 23, when Paulson was among the 1,232 delegates at the national council meeting awaiting the results of the gay ban vote.

"This was an emotional issue, and the national president didn't know the outcome," Paulson said, "but before he opened the envelope and read it aloud, he said, 'This decision is not going to destroy scouting.'"

Anyone who thought otherwise doesn't understand the Boy Scouts.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.