Days after the Irving-based Boy Scouts of America announced its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, children with the organization set up their tents at Camp Wisdom, one of Texas’ oldest campsites, for a weekend-long camporee.
On the second day of the camporee at Camp Wisdom, scouts yelled as they yanked and pulled on either end of a rope in a match of tug-of-war. David Shuford, Crosstimbers District chairman, stood on the sidelines. Shuford has been involved in scouting off and on his whole life.
“Anybody that comes forward with any concern that their scout, or they as a scout, was abused in scouting, we want to take care of that,” Shuford said.
The bankruptcy follows a slew of sexual abuse lawsuits and allegations that have trailed behind one of the largest youth organizations in the country for decades, creating a financial force to be reckoned with for the BSA.
According to the BSA, the bankruptcy process is being used to create a compensation fund for victims of the alleged abuses.
“We filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to ensure that victims of past abuse in Scouting are equitably compensated,” the organization said in a statement on its website.
“I am outraged that individuals took advantage of our programs to commit these heinous acts. I am also outraged that there were times when volunteers and employees ignored our procedures or forgave transgressions that are unforgivable,” Jim Turley, BSA national chairman, said in an online statement. “In some cases, this led to tragic acts of abuse. While those instances were limited, they mean we didn’t do enough to protect the children in our care — to protect you.”
In the statement, the BSA said local councils, such as the Longhorn Council, which organized the camporee at Wisdom, are not included in the bankruptcy. According to the statement, these councils are “legally separate, distinct and financially independent from the national organization.”
When Shuford was a youth in the scouts, he, too, camped out at Camp Wisdom. He remembers hiking across what would turn into Interstate 20, which cut through the now-90-year-old site. Shuford left the scouts in 1971. A job and the birth of his three daughters took him away from BSA for a while until he had a grandson who wanted to get involved.
“When the grandson decided he wanted to be a Cub Scout, I said, ‘Well, I’m joining with you,’” Shuford recalled.
After so much time with the organization, Shuford said he was disappointed when the allegations of child abuse began to come out.
“I guess disappointment is one of the words you can use,” he said. “I know that scouting is such a great organization. It’s the greatest youth organization in the country.”
During the years Shuford was away from the Boy Scouts, the organization created its Youth Protection program to combat the issue of sexual abuse. He says the program has made the BSA one of the safest youth organizations in the world.
“The child abuse thing, it hit the Catholic church not too long ago. Now it’s the Boy Scouts,” he said. “We’re not making light of that at all. The Boy Scouts certainly aren’t. They’re openly saying, ‘Look, if you were abused by a scout leader, we want to know about that. We want to take care of you. We want to provide whatever help you need.’ They want to get all these cases out in the open and make the rest of the world know that scouting is one of the safest youth organizations in the entire world because of our Youth Protection program, which has been in place since the 1980s.”
Shuford says the organization had been in talks about the bankruptcy for about a year before it was finally announced. He says the filing is not only a way to compensate the victims of the alleged abuse. It is also a legal maneuver to help protect BSA’s national assets, which amount to some $1 billion, according to The New York Times.
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“The bankruptcy is making sure that the people that feel like they were affected by some kind of mistreatment, in some cases decades ago, are taken care of, while the assets of the Boy Scouts program are taken care of so that we can continue,” he said.
Fallen leaves crunched underneath the scouts’ feet as they ran around Wisdom, gathering materials to help ignite that evening's campfire. They’d sit around the fire that night and be awarded for their accomplishments during the camporee.
“Scouting’s been going on for 110 years this month,” Shuford says. “There’s been a lot of talk about [if] scouting still has value. It does. It teaches kids a lot of life skills that they might not learn otherwise.”
Scouting will live on, Shuford says. The bankruptcy is just a way to help ensure that it does live on.