- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. - Towering pines, shimmering lakes, bike trails, target shooting and cookouts. For Julian White, Boy Scout camp in the northern Georgia mountains is a world away from his life on the streets of Atlanta.

“You can’t find this kind of stuff in the city,” said the dreadlocked 15-year-old, who ordinarily would spend the dog days of summer playing basketball on cracked asphalt courts.

Julian is part of Operation First Class, a national program designed to draw more inner-city boys, mostly blacks and Hispanics, into the Scouts by waiving registration fees, providing free uniforms and offering scholarships for camps.

The program has been under fire in Atlanta since an audit in May found that the area’s Boy Scout Council inflated the number of its program members, purportedly to help bring in more funding. The audit concluded that pressure to demonstrate increased membership led some council staffers to inflate the numbers.

“It’s been very embarrassing for us,” said Joe Arnold, an Atlanta Boy Scout Council board member.

Prior to the audit, the Atlanta area council reported having 10,238 Scouts in the program. The May audit found that only 5,361 boys were registered. As a result, the council’s largest donor, the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, last month withheld $250,000 — roughly a quarter of its annual funding for the Scouts.

The Atlanta council isn’t alone. In January, the FBI launched an investigation into whether the Greater Alabama Council inflated its membership numbers. A Scout group in Texas removed thousands of names from its membership rolls, and a federal grand jury looked into the matter two years ago, although no charges were filed.

One of the biggest problems in Atlanta has been a shortage of adult volunteers to recruit and lead inner-city boys. “We will probably not get appropriate numbers of volunteers just looking in largely underserved communities,” Mr. Arnold said. “We have to be creative. … We have to go to suburban units to assist us.”

The Atlanta council is trying to attract inner-city members by providing free transportation to and from Scout events, such as the camp near Blairsville, about 80 miles north of Atlanta.

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