September 2020 – The disappointing decline of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) began in May 2013 when more than 60% of BSA’s 1,400-member National Council voted to allow openly gay boys to become Scouts beginning in January 2014.
Following that decision, Christian and conservative parents alike were left wondering if there was any organization that might offer the same outdoor adventures, character development, and mentorship for boys, but without the political correctness and loss of moral values that had infiltrated BSA.
They did not wonder for long, because the very next month a wide coalition of leaders met in Louisville, Kentucky, and founded Trail Life USA (TLUSA).
While many similarities exist between the offerings of BSA and TLUSA, the two groups are worlds apart in regard to values.
TLUSA CEO Mark Hancock spoke with AFA Journal about the organization and the opportunities that exist for young boys.
AFA Journal: How is TLUSA different from BSA or other similar organizations?
Mark Hancock: Well, there are two fundamental differences between us and Boy Scouts of America, and they’re essential. One is that we are Christ centered, and the other is that we are boy focused. Now if you don’t care about those two things, then you may not be able to see a difference between the organizations, but our unapologetically Christian stance and our focus on boys in a time when boys are really struggling in our society make us different than Boy Scouts.
As far as differences from other ministries, you don’t find a lot of specifically male programs out there. Also, we are transdenominational. We have dozens of different Christian denominations that charter our troops. Additionally, we meet on a weekly basis, which is different than men’s groups.
So, when you line those things up – the male focus, transdenominational emphasis, and a weekly meeting – you don’t really find other organizations that are doing all those things at the same time.
AFAJ: With the prevalence of adult males preying on innocent victims, how does TLUSA protect young boys from both leaders and other troop members?
MH: We have what we consider to be the gold standard in youth protection.
Every single adult member has a criminal background check performed on him. Also, unlike other organizations, there’s a personal reference required for each adult member. So, there’s somebody who is a representative of the local church that charters the troop who is personally vouching for the leader being considered. So, an adult can’t just sign up and join Trail Life.
Also, all of our adult members go through child safety and youth protection training online.
Then at the troop level, we have what we call our one, two, three policy. Number one, there’s never to be an adult and a boy in a one-on-one situation, other than a father and son.
Number two, we require two-deep leadership, which means there are two adults present at all times within eye shot or ear shot of each other, whether that’s in a building, at a campsite, or wherever.
And number three, we have buddy systems of three. We require that our boys, whether they’re camping, traveling, or just going to get a drink of water together, they go in buddy systems of three.
In today’s world, there’s increasing boy-on-boy abuse, so we use that buddy system of three boys in the same age group so you don’t have a power imbalance between boys.
There’s no way to keep it perfect, but we take these steps, and we go beyond what any other organizations are doing presently to keep boys safe.
AFAJ: What types of activities can be expected in a troop?
MH: In the same way that churches have different personalities, the troops chartered by those churches display different personalities, and their activities will likely reflect that.
So, we run the gamut from the highest adventure sort of thing like days in the mountains, hiking, and primitive camping to more localized outdoor activities like hikes in parks and things like that.
There are plenty of opportunities for the boys whether it be whitewater rafting to rock climbing to service projects that they do for the community, or fundraising opportunities for the troops.
And we have a robust awards program. The boys are completing all sorts of badges in order to progress in the program.
AFAJ: Are the activities confined to local troops, or are there national gatherings and events?
MH: Well, it’s a combination. Most activities are done at the troop level, but then we also have the country broken up into areas. On an area level, you may find three, four, five, six, or eight troops who gather for an area event. And they come together for a campout or a day at a shooting range or other similar activities.
And then we also have a regional basis. The country is broken up into eight regions. And we generally have regional events that take place during the summer.
Then occasionally we have national events. Those are kind of rare because we don’t like to interfere with the local or area troop schedules. We prefer for them to do the things they appreciate locally.
“AFA commends Trial Life for its commitment to raising godly young men,” said AFA vice president Wesley Wildmon. In a troubling time when the culture is painting masculinity in a negative light, boys need an environment where they can be engaged and challenged to become the men they are destined to be.
By participating in outdoor adventures, making lifelong friends, connecting with fathers or mentors, and most importantly being pointed toward Jesus, boys involved in TLUSA are real men in the making.
Get started down the trail
Getting started with Trail Life USA is straightforward. “Just go to the website where you’ll search for the nearest troops by your zip code. You’ll be able to find out more about those troops and get their contact information,” said CEO Mark Hancock.
There is the option of starting your own troop as well. “If you don’t find a troop in your area, your church can charter one,” Hancock added. “It must be a Christian church that has a Trinitarian statement of faith that agrees with our statement of faith and must also agree with our values. It takes five adult leaders to form a core leadership team. Once they have their background checks, references, and online child safety training, the troop will be chartered, and they can start adding boys.
“It’s all online and is a really easy process to follow. As you go through the process, it gives you an updated graphic that shows exactly where you are in the process and what needs to happen next. All of our awards and advancements are tracked there as well.”
Though TLUSA is for males only, parents of girls interested in similar activities can check out TLUSA’s sister program, American Heritage Girls (AHG) at americanheritagegirls.org. AHG is Christ-centered and seeks to develop character and leadership skills as they mentor girls ages 5-18.
Learn more about Trail Life at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit traillifeusa.com.