Bob Mazzuca, chief executive for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), has a message for our country's youth: the Boy Scouts can help save many of you from an unhealthy, obese life that will probably shorten your years on Earth.
Addressing the Legion's 94th National Convention, Mazzuca cited recent congressional testimony that claimed America is on the verge of producing the first generation of citizens in its history that will be less healthy and likely to live fewer years than their parents.
"The sedentary lifestyle of kids today - we can't even choose up a team of kickball on the playground anymore, because somebody might get chosen last and that will be bad for their self-esteem," Mazzuca said. "Physical activity today is at an all-time low for young people."
If such a trend continues, Mazzuca asked, what kind of workforce will America have in the near future? How will America pay for such an unhealthy next generation? "We can't figure out how to pay for the health-care issues we have today," he said.
Mazzuca leads an organization with almost 1.2 million adult volunteers who serve more than 2.7 million of our youth. The American Legion has had a close relationship with the Boy Scouts since 1919. Today, more than 2,500 Scout units are chartered to Legion posts. Mazzuca said his organization has always placed great value on its relationship with the Legion, "especially in these times, when it's great to have the Legion at your back."
In 2010, BSA marked its 100th anniversary. In celebrating the centennial, Mazzuca said the organization could have talked about the good old days, "or reintroduce scouting to the American people, because, you see, for well over a decade we had allowed ourselves to be defined by others."
"We'd allowed ourselves to be co-opted by others for other agendas, kind of a bunker mentality, and I really believed it was time to reintroduce scouting to the American people, because a whole generation of Americans had wondered where the Scouts went."
So BSA began a dialogue again with Americans about the great role that Scouting plays in our society. Mazzuca, who has been working 42 years for the Scouts, said "it has never been more important for Scouting to deliver what it delivers to communities across America than it is today.
"And the slippery slope that we're on, the dearth of leadership with integrity, children facing perils that none of us ever thought of, it's absolutely critical that we stay the course."
BSA owns 983 camping properties that can help America's youth get back into the great outdoors, Mazucca said.
Many Boy Scouts get their start at American Legion posts, and Mazucca described how such a start ends up with impressive results. Boys memorize the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. Then they might go into the community to run a food drive and start to realize what it feels like to help other people.
"All of a sudden, that little chromosome is embedded in the DNA - to help other people at all times," Mazzuca said.
Boy Scouts get elected as patrol leaders, scribes, quartermasters, then senior patrol leaders in charge of entire troops that are dependent on their decisions.
"And at the end of that boy's journey is embedded another chromosome called leadership," Mazzuca said. Other values have been embedded: service, duty to God and country, leadership and respect for others. "I'd say that's a pretty good product."
"The Boy Scouts of America could not do that alone," Mazzuca said. "But in partnership with this marvelous organization called The American Legion, and dozens of others across the country, we change lives every day."