Scout troops blaze Spanish trails

Rico Martinez is a lucky 8-year-old. His mom can communicate with the other parents at his Cub Scout meetings because she speaks English.

But that’s not always the case for some Hispanic children in the area, and the Boy Scouts of America is trying to change that.

In Whatcom County, a new Spanish-language troop is forming — with the hopes that Spanish-speaking parents will want to volunteer their time to be troop leaders and to spend time with their young Scouts.

It’s not just the Boy Scouts. The Girl Scouts of America have had a program in Whatcom and Skagit counties for more than 20 years that caters to migrant families during the summertime. There is also a Girl Scout troop at Sterling Meadows Apartments in Bellingham, an affordable-housing development for agricultural workers.

The organizations not only want Hispanic children to be able to participate but they want their parents there as well.

Dwayne Rogge, district director for the Boy Scouts’ Mount Baker Council, said nationally the Scouts are trying to change a stereotypical image.

“Scouting has the impression of being a middle-class, white association,” he said, “and we don’t want that.”Rogge and other local Scout parents took the initiative recently to reach out to parents at Roosevelt Elementary — where more than 20 percent of the children are Hispanic, according to state figures — in order to explain scouting and learn about concerns. The answer was simple: Communication is key.

“They’re often not comfortable putting their children in something they can’t participate in,” Rogge said.That’s the attitude the Boy Scouts want from parents.

“We’re not a baby-sitting service,” he said. “We’re an organization where (children) get involved with their parents.”

That’s where Tobi Martinez comes in. Martinez already has her son, Rico, in a bear cub troop. She was recruited by Rogge to help start up a Spanish-language troop so Hispanic parents would be less hesitant to spend time with their children at scouting events.

Martinez has been involved with the English as a Second Language program at Whatcom Community College for 18 years, and is fluent in Spanish. While not Hispanic herself, her ex-husband — Rico’s father — is, as is her husband, Pedro, who is from Guatemala. Spanish is part of her life.

She agreed to help Rogge, with the understanding that she and Rico have a history with their cub scout troop and hope to return to it while she helps set up the new group. She’s hoping other parents out there with the language skills necessary will become leaders in the organization and will be able to encourage other parents to participate.


Without their own group, boys have been participating in a summertime Spanish-language Girl Scout program. Though the situation is not ideal, organizers have been more than happy to include as many children as possible.

Young boys and girls have participated in Circulo de Manos, which means Circle of Hands in English, since 1985.Beth Sanchez runs the group, and has participated in it since high school when her mother, Karen Aven, created the group for the Girl Scouts.

“In Skagit County she was trying for years to put together a troop,” Sanchez said of her mother. But in the 1980s, many Hispanic families in the area were migrant and didn’t stick around long enough to maintain a year-round group.

Aven decided to make it a summer program for girls in migrant camps to participate in Girl Scout events.“It was hard to invite the little girls and tell them their brother couldn’t come,” Sanchez said with a laugh. So the boys came, too.

The group was more than just about Hispanic families, Sanchez said, because at the time many southeast Asian families were in the migrant camps. And the group provided a link to different segments of society.

When families came together, she said, people realized communication wasn’t much of an issue in an organization where the goal is fun.

“I always tell people that language is not the most important thing,” Sanchez said. Even she has problems communicating sometimes, she said. Although fluent in Spanish, some of the immigrant families are from areas like Oaxaca, Mexico, where they speak a native language rather than Spanish.

Back at the Boy Scouts, Rogge said it can be beneficial to branch out.

“We want to reach those that are hesitating (to join),” he said. “That’s our fault, so we’re trying this.”