Utah Scout-O-Rama donations drop from $70,000 to $8,000

Published March 15, 2013 7:37 am

The debate over gay members apparently hurt fundraising.
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The Boy Scouts of America's largest council, the Great Salt Lake Council, is set to kick off ticket sales Saturday for its big annual fundraiser — the Scout-O-Rama in May — but earlier this month it had collected just $8,000 of the targeted $70,000, according to email sent to hundreds of Scout leaders.

"Where the council makes its money for programs is from the sponsorships — companies and individuals that contribute to be recognized at the show," the March 5 email reads. "In the past we have received as much as $70,000 from these sponsorships, with a small portion of that going to subsidize the show costs. This year, because of the economy and some controversy surrounding the national organization, our sponsorships are down to just $8,000."

The Great Salt Lake Council comprises 73,400 youth and 31,700 adult volunteers in Tooele, Summit, Salt Lake and south Davis counties. Rick Barnes, Scout executive, and Kay Godfrey, director of development, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The national Boy Scouts said in January that it was considering lifting its ban on gay members and leaders and allowing local sponsoring organizations, such as the LDS Church, to decide membership policies for themselves. But it then quickly changed course, saying leaders needed more time and would take up the issue at the national annual meeting in May.

Local scouts will begin selling tickets Saturday for Utah's Scout-O-Rama, which in the past has been the largest in the nation, with some 30,000 participants. The Scout-O-Rama — a gathering with scores of Scout-run booths that showcase what they've done over the past year and a pinewood derby — will be held May 4 at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy. Tickets have jumped from $5 last year to $10.

Craig Greenberg, a council volunteer, sent the March 5 email. The council has drawn attention for its executive salaries — in 2010, Barnes was paid $176,336 in salary and benefits, while Godfrey received $116,136.

But most of the money donated for the Scout-O-Rama and other fundraisers "go to the council camps, not the salaries," Greenberg said. "The reality is we'll take a loss on it. We can't do raffles in Utah, so you only sell so much stuff."

He added, "You can only hit the same pool for so long. It's going to be interesting."

Greenberg said the Scout-O-Rama benefits Scouts because they get to show off their hard work. The sponsors for this year's event include local and national companies.

Chris Arnold, spokesman for Chipotle Mexican Grill, said the company will supply food for the event.

"In Salt Lake, the Scouting institution is very strong, and it is our chance to connect with customers in that community," Arnold said. "Currently, we would like to see the [Boy Scouts] in a place that's more inclusive than where they are now."

Two local sponsors and partners with antidiscrimination policies have opted to support or participate in the event.

The Clark Planetarium is owned by Salt Lake County, which has a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] antidiscrimination policy. Planetarium staff will hand out information about its astronomy merit badge program at the Scout-O-Rama.

Planetarium officials said in a statement that the publicly owned and operated facility "serves a wide variety of groups with science education programming. Visitors include thousands of Boy Scouts annually, who work on their astronomy merit badge through a fee-based planetarium program. As a county facility, the planetarium does not discriminate."

The Larry H. Miller Group has been one of the most generous supporters of Scouting in the past. In 2009, the Great Salt Lake Council dedicated the Larry H. Miller Aquatics Center in a 30,000-square-foot facility located north of Laketown in Rich County.

The Miller Group owns both the Utah Jazz and the Salt Lake Bees sports teams, which will be sponsors in this year's Scout-O-Rama.

One of the group's subsidiaries, KJZZ, has a nondiscrimination policy on its website that says, "Prospective employees will receive consideration without discrimination due to race, color, sex, age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation or other protected classifications."

In a statement, the organization said it and related companies "have been long-time supporters of the Boy Scouts of America because of the good they do in the local communities that they serve. In addition, we support the organization's effort to emphasize good citizenship, teach leadership skills, and gives boys access to opportunities that they might not otherwise have."

Other sponsors of the Scout-O-Rama include the Utah Blaze, IC Communication Group, Recreation Outlet, Utah Grizzlies and Chuck-A-Rama Buffet.

This week, the Boy Scouts of America sent surveys to 1.1 million scouts and their families around the nation asking whether to continue the ban on gay youth and leaders.

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which got its Scouting charter in 1913, has said it is waiting to comment until a decision is reached. The 14 million-member LDS Church has 420,977 youths in 37,882 Scouting units.

Peter Brownstein's son was the Great Salt Lake Council's top ticket-seller two years ago for the Scout-O-Rama, but the father said his son will not be selling tickets this year because of the anti-gay policy.

"The policy of the BSA is not our religious belief," Brownstein said.

rparker@sltrib.com

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