United Way cuts hit Scout Reach program

8:31 AM, Sep 26, 2012   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- Cleveland's United Way says it can't fund an organization that supports discrimination: the Boy Scouts.

The decision to cut funding is a result of the scouts ban on gay scouts and leaders.

A spokesperson for the greater Cleveland Council says United Way is referring to a national membership policy that has been in place for decades. The cuts will cost the Cleveland scouts about $97,000, or three percent of their budget.

But that support had a very specific purpose, funding the salaries of part-time program aids who serve as scout leaders in tough neighborhoods.

Now its those scouts, already underprivideged in many cases, who stand to lose the most.

Since Wardell Cooper joined the Boy Scouts as a program aid three years ago, he's gone from nine cubscouts to dozens at four Cleveland elementary schools.

"We have increased some because they see what they other kids are doing, and how much fun they are having," said Cooper, who was a scout himself, and volunteered when his own sons were young.

Tuesday these scoutmasters were brushing up on skills for a new school year, but it stands to be the last, after Cleveland United Way announced plans to stop funding the Scout Reach program.

Jerry Scott, a special education teacher who took on the part-time duties at Marion-Sterling, says for him, it's an opportunity to change lives.

"I don't do it for the money, I do it because it makes me feel good," said Scott.

While it's not a forum for same-sex ed, leaders say the Scout Reach program did more for 1600 kids, like teaching them respect, well-roundness, and offering them new experiences.

"We go beyond just learning the sign and the handshake," said Scott. "I would hate to see this go away because you're helping so many kids, kids that wouldn't get this any other way."

"We're losing too many kids to the streets, and like I said, I can't save all of them, but if I can save one or two, it's well worth it," said Cooper.

Without United funds, the Scouts hope others in the community will fill in the cracks.

"They are excited about it. To keep that excitement going, we need all the help that we can get," he said.

The Scouts plan to step up their own fundraising efforts, hoping supporters will help recoup lost money. They say closing the program is not something they'll consider.

The United Way did point out that if donors earmark their United Way contributions for the Boy Scouts, the money will still end up with the Scouts.


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