With the Boy Scouts maintaining its policy of excluding gays from leadership, interest is growing in Navigators USA , an “intentionally inclusive scouting alternative,” according to a leader of a new chapter in Palatine.
Navigators Chapter 30 was founded last October, sponsored by Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist , and is growing steadily, said Elizabeth Vesto. Nationally the group has doubled in size over the past year.
Though it’s sponsored by a church, it’s open to anyone, even non-believers (unlike the Scouts), Vesto said. “We have a lot of people participating who would not be eligible for the Boy Scouts,” she said.
The chapter has about 25 members, mainly Junior Navigators  (ages 5 through 12), with twice-monthly meetings that Vesto charaterized as “family activity nights.” The chapter is focused on community service projects and learning the Navigator Traits, she said. (A Navigator is “truthful, respectful, inclusive, generous, dependable, resourceful, and cooperative.”)
Service projects range from helping to clear invasive species at the Deer Grove Forest Preserve  to making “support backbacks” containing a change of clothes and toiletries for ICE detainees, who may have been moved from other parts of the country and released in Chicago “with absolutely nothing,” Vesto said.
They’ve also participated in the Unitarian Universalists’ Ribbons Not Walls  project, protesting Arizona’s banning of ethnic studies. Chapter 30 has sent display panels they created depicting aspect of immigrant history.
The chapter will hold an awards ceremony and pot-luck brunch on June 2 and a two-day camp at Deer Grove East and Countryside Church on June 14 and 15.
On Wednesday, the Boy Scouts national council voted to lift its ban on membership by gay youth but maintained it for adults. “I was disappointed,” said Vesto, who supported her children’s involvement in the Boy Scouts for years. “I hope they do the right thing in the long run both for kids and adults.”
Navigators USA was founded in 2003 by leaders of Boy Scout Troop 103 in East Harlem, based at All Souls Unitarian Church. “Navigators USA is committed to providing a quality scouting experience that is inclusive and available to all children and families regardless of gender, race, religion, economic status, sexual orientation and social background,” according to the group’s website.
Today there are 47 chapters in states stretching from New York to Louisiana to California.
Through games, crafts, nature outings and civic projects, participants learn first aid and survival skills along with nature and ecology, community service, and leadership.
On Friday, May 31, at 7 p.m., Countryside Church will host a showing of Scout’s Honor , a 2001 film about the ousting of two gay Eagle Scouts and the efforts of Boy Scout members to overturn the organization’s anti-gay policies.