An organization formed in the wake of the Boy Scouts of America's decision to allow openly gay members officially launched on New Year's Day.
Trail Life USA now has nearly 500 troops that have either entered the pre-charter process or are fully chartered and are already registering members, according to Mark Hancock, the organization's chief operating officer. Most of the troops are chartered to churches, he told The Christian Post, though some are chartered to Christian homeschool associations, camps and other organizations that agree with Trail Life's faith values.
Troops are being organized in at least 42 states, Hancock says, and estimates suggest there is an average of between 25 and 30 boys per troop, though Trail Life does not have precise numbers at this time.
"We purposefully have not been focused on numbers," he says. "What we're really focused on is building a quality program for families to help their boys become good, godly men."
It was never voiced, Hancock says, but he believes Trail Life's leaders all expected a vast majority of the new troops to be former BSA troops. About 40 percent of them, however, are being chartered to churches that did not previously have a Boy Scout troop.
The most challenging part about starting Trail Life, Hancock says, was how quickly it was put together.
At the end of June a group of about 50 people met in Louisville, Ky., and agreed to start a new organization, and from that meeting a six-person steering committee was formed. Approximately two months later 1,200 leaders gathered for the organization's first national convention, and the program officially launched on Jan. 1.
"There's an expectation that we've put on ourselves to be all that we're used to. And to do all that in six months has been challenging, but it's amazing the progress that has been made," he said.
The organization currently has "hundreds" of volunteers across the country and is shipping handbooks to members and leaders, says Hancock.
Trail Life programs are divided by age group. The Woodlands Trail program includes Foxes (grades K-1), Hawks (grades 2-3) and Mountain Lions (grades 4-5). Other programs include Navigators (grades 6-8), Adventurers (grades 9-12) and Guidon Units (ages 18-25).
The BSA began accepting openly gay members on Jan. 1, though a ban on openly gay leaders still exists. Scouts are permitted to acknowledge their own sexual orientation, according to one BSA document, though in doing so they may not "reach the level of distraction, which may include advocacy, promotion, or the distribution of information of a sexual nature." They are also not permitted to use scouting to push a political or social agenda.
Trail Life affirms that any sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman is sinful, according to the group's membership standards. The organization accepts "adults and youth who do not engage in or promote sexual immorality of any kind, or engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the program" as members.
The organization is also "undergirded by biblical values and unapologetically reflects a Christian worldview," though it accepts boys as members regardless of their religion, race, socio-economic status or national origin.
Hancock says Trail Life's attitude toward the BSA is to "honor their legacy," but the new organization wants to "raise the standard" in 2014. BSA troops have become groups that "meet in a church," he says, though Trail Life leaders hope their troops become an "extension of the church."
"We want to be the type of organization that parents want to enroll their sons, because they like the character and the leadership development, and boys really want to be a part of because they love the adventure," he said.