Black Gold District Boy Scout executive explains opportunities for youth
The speaker for Centralia Rotary Club’s Feb. 25 meeting was Joe Blasko, who is a member of the Mt. Vernon Rotary Club and is the District Executive for the Black Gold District of the Greater St. Louis Area Council for the Boy Scouts. Joe is a native of Springfield, IL and a graduate of Quincy University but now lives in Mt. Vernon. He wasn’t a boy scout growing up, but he was involved in Kiwanis, another service organization for helping children. He was a member of the Key Club in High School and Circle K while he was in college. He has continued to be very active in Kiwanis, having served in numerous leadership roles on the club, district, and international levels.
Joe has been in his current position with the local district of the Boy Scouts for two years now. The Black Gold District covers Clay, Jefferson, Marion, Washington, Wayne, and part of Clinton counties in Illinois. After the Decatur district joined the Greater St. Louis Area Council (adding 3,000 new scouts), the Council has 23 districts, covering 63 counties, and has 69,000 youth involved. The Black Gold district has 935 scouts, 750 of them are Cub Scouts. In 2018 our district had six new Eagle Scouts, down from the ten who made Eagle Scout in 2017. (Fun facts: 40 of the scouts in our district are girls, and there are 8,000 girls in the Cub Scout program in the St. Louis area — mostly in places where the Girl Scouts presence isn’t very strong._
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) believe in helping their scouts reach their full potential by strengthening character, families, and communities. They have many activities to help achieve these goals. One of them, Scouting for Food, is usually held in November before Thanksgiving. Thousands of Scouts throughout St. Louis, southeast Missouri, and southern Illinois collect food donations in bags they dropped off to local homes and businesses the weekend before. Last year the drive accumulated 1,985,026 items of food to stock local food pantries’ shelves just in time for the holidays.
Another opportunity for growth Blasko mentioned comes from the Exploring program. Exploring is a career exploration program for students from 14 to 20 years old. Exploring pairs students directly with local companies and organizations for career exploration. The youth involved participate in unique, real-life opportunities to experience various career fields such as Aviation, Engineering & Technology, Fire & EMS, Health Care, Law Enforcement, Law & Government, Science, and Skilled Trades, etc. The purpose is to help youth to save valuable time by learning if certain careers are a right fit for them while still in high school and college. Mt. Vernon has an Aviation Exploring post with eight participants in it. They hope to work with the high schools and the hospitals to start Health Care Exploring groups soon.
And, of course everyone knows about the advantages of going to camp, but today’s camps are not like they were 50 years ago. They have day camps, weekend camps, and camps called twilight camps that are done from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. They also have many different programs for their camps. One option is a science tech program called STEM. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The BSA’s STEM program gives Scouts an opportunity to explore STEM-associated ideas and how they are used in everyday life and in some professions. Joe said this is achieved locally by working with local colleges such as SIU to have STEM weekends.
To help pay for camp costs, the scout may sell coupon cards called Camp Cards for $10 and they get to keep $5 to help defray the costs of registration, summer camp, uniforms, or equipment. The program is risk-free because they can turn in any unsold cards. If you would like to help, you may also participate by donating to the Friends of Scouting Campaign which provides direct funding for programs, like camping, that program fees alone don’t cover.
Blasko concluded by answering questions about scouting and the local area. He hopes to see scouting increase to help even more of our area youth.