HARLINGEN, RGV – Rudy Gonzalez, Scout Executive for the Rio Grande Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said that Scout membership is surpassed by cartel and gang membership in the Rio Grande Valley – a trend he is hoping to reverse.

“Right now, there’s a lot of gangs, and down here in the Valley, the cartels have more members than we have in Scouts,” said Gonzalez. “And, so we don’t want the cartels and the bad people and the gangs taking over. We want to give kids that opportunity to become good people in life and give back to the community instead of destroying the community.”

Rudy Gonzalez

The Rio Grande Council serves Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy, Starr and Zapata counties, and is divided into four districts. Gonzalez says that, currently, there are about 3,500 Scouts across the region, but he would like to triple the number to reach even more youth who might be ensnared by the promise of easy money. He says that what Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has to offer is much more valuable.

“What we have to offer them is being alive … because you can have all the money in the world, but if you’re dead it doesn’t serve [a purpose],” said Gonzalez, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian. “ … These guys that are in cartels, you know, they’re dead quickly. Why? Because there’s always someone else trying to take their business away.”

Robert Gates, former U. S. Secretary of Defense and BSA National President from 2014-2016, spoke at a breakfast event at the Harlingen Country Club as part of the Rio Grande Council’s “Adelante con Camp Perry” fundraising campaign. Gonzalez says that he and Gates discussed the problem the Valley faces with gangs and cartels, and that both were aware of the consequences if it continued.

“Instead of becoming good leaders, they’re going to become the next cartel leaders and gang leaders that we’re going to have to invest more taxes to put them in prison,” said Gonzalez. “And, so he understands that we don’t want to do that with those resources. We want to prevent all that from happening.”

Through the “Adelante con Camp Perry” campaign, the Rio Grande Council is trying to attract more kids to join the Scouts. Camp Perry in Rio Hondo is the main Boy Scout camp for Scouts in the area and the oldest continuously operating Boy Scout camp in Texas. Located on the banks of the Arroyo Colorado River, the camp is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. After so many years in operation, the site is in need of renovations and new facilities. “Adelante con Camp Perry” hopes to raise the $6.1 million needed to do this.

“We have a strong Scouting presence. We have a successful council. But, we have so many youth – we have such a young population – that we’re not tapping the percentage of the population that we need to tap,” said Harlingen Mayor and council officer Chris Boswell. “So, the revitalization of our Boy Scout camp we think will be a strong tool for reaching more youth.”

With some of the poorest counties in Texas under their jurisdiction, Gonzalez and Boswell say that the council needs the community’s support – financial and otherwise – to help them continue their work of shaping tomorrow’s leaders.

“They have to support Scouting to help volunteers organize units and get kids in this program,” said Boswell. “It’s a great program … It’s really about teaching teamwork and leadership and character development and a life of public service.”

Boswell said that Gates’ speech at the breakfast event highlighted the importance of the program.

“What really strikes you is somebody with his level of achievement and accomplishment has such a strong belief in this organization and the positive impact it can have on youth,” said Boswell “ … It’s just inspiring, especially to those of us who are life-long Scouters also, to hear someone like Robert Gates reaffirm the things that we believe as well.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Hispanic, Caucasian, African-American. Being a leader, it doesn’t matter where you come from,” said Gonzalez.

To reach out to every potential Scout in Rio Grande Valley, Gonzalez had one final message from the council:

“A todos los papás y a todos las familias que están en las comunidades aquí del Valle, los queremos invitar que sean parte de los Scouts. Porque los Scouts van a preparar a sus hijos para que sean los líderes, para que sean la gente de negocio que va cambiar las comunidades donde vivimos.”

For more information about the Rio Grande Council of the Boys Scouts of America or how to donate or volunteer, visit their website at www.riograndecouncil.org

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Scouts leaders at Camp Perry, the main scout camp in the Rio Grande Valley.