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Scouts in Summerside may soon have to shut down due to a lack of volunteers.
Prince Edward Island once had scout groups from O’Leary to Souris. Now, there’s only four in the entire island, including Charlottetown, Stratford, Kensington and the struggling group in Summerside.
Last year, West Royalty’s Scout group merged with East Royalty since they did not have enough leaders to run the group
“Ten years ago, it was definitely easier to find volunteers,” said Leigh Dyment, treasurer for Scouts Canada in Summerside. “The last two or three years in particular, it’s been pretty tough.”
Scouts Canada requires a group to have at least two volunteers for each section, which, currently, Summerside does not have. The group also lacks a group commissioner, who functions as a supervisor.
“Without a group commissioner, we could be told by our head office to stop all operations until further notice,” said Vanessa MacFarlane, a volunteer with the P.E.I. Scouts Council.
This year, Summerside Scouts only had one Scout, ages 11 to 14, register. She was transferred to Kensington.
Even though Summerside’s Cubs section, ages eight to 10, is still operating, they are doing so with only one leader. They also began their meetings in mid-October, opposed to their usual mid-September start.
The group has shut down Beaver registration, for ages five to seven, because they have no leaders. They currently have 11 Beavers on a waiting list.
Since Kensington’s Beavers only has one leader, they’ve capped the section at five and can’t take any from Summerside.
After making a post on Facebook looking for volunteers across the Island, MacFarlane was able to find five new volunteers for Charlottetown’s Scouts. She hasn’t had the same luck with the groups in Summerside and Kensington.
Darlene Maund, scouting relationship manager for Scouts P.E.I., said that the Island has seen membership levels decrease, with slight fluctuations, over the last few years.
“We knew we needed to do something, so we came up with a Strategic Opportunities plan for Prince Edward Island Scouting this year,” said Maund in an email to the Journal Pioneer. “We want to focus on providing more adventurous [and] challenging programming for our youth.”
MacFarlane and Dyment both hope to bring Scouts back to rural P.E.I. but know it’s currently not possible without volunteers to run the groups.
“Scouting was always in rural areas. In P.E.I., all across Canada,” said Dyment. “Year after year, the groups have been shutting down.”
MacFarlane said one of the Beavers on Summerside’s waiting list lives nearly an hour away in Bloomfield.
“This is how important it is to families to support a program like this in western P.E.I.,” said MacFarlane.
If the volunteer shortage continues, both MacFarlane and Dyment are concerned the club will have to shut down altogether.
“It’s kind of sad, really. The program is … designed for kids that may be good at sports, but also for kids that like to use their hands and their brains,” said Dyment. “It’s a shame to lose that.”
Kristin Gardiner is the Journal Pioneer's rural reporter.