Boy Scouts Prepared To Celebrate A Century

The Boy Scouts of America turns 100 years old this month. That's a century of merit badges, campfires, bowlines, half-hitches, jamborees and camporees, first aid and community service. Guest host Audie Cornish talks to Marcos Nava, who heads up Hispanic Initiatives for the Boy Scouts, and actor Jon Heder, an Eagle Scout and star of the film Napoleon Dynamite.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

The Boy Scouts of America turns 100 years old this month. That's a century of merit badges, campfires, bowlines, half-hitches, jamborees and camporees, first aid, and community service. Steven Spielberg was a Scout. And so was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Presidents Carter, Kennedy, Clinton, Obama, and George W. Bush all participated in Scouting. Half of all astronauts were Scouts too. As the Scouts celebrate 100 years, they've launched a new project to keep membership up.

To find out more we're joined by Marcos Nava. Mr. Nava, welcome.

Mr. MARCOS NAVA (Boy Scouts of America): Thank you very much.

CORNISH: Now, you're head of Hispanic initiatives for the Boy Scouts of America. Talk about what traditionally has the organization's involvement been with Latino communities.

Mr. NAVA: Well, let me start by saying that I've been with the Boy Scout for about 25 years. And during those 25 years we have had different approaches to include Hispanic families in the program. It's been done at the local level. Some are very good and some are actually assuming that the Hispanic community knows a lot about Scouting when in reality we had to take a step back and do a proper invitation by telling the Hispanic community what is Scouting, how Scouting works. Some things are different that we've done now, our Web page now can, you can go to Scouting.org, and the click in Espanol, and now we have a lot of really new information that explains what Scouting is all about.

CORNISH: And what is the end goal for a program like this? Latinos are the fastest growing demographic. So, is this an issue the Boy Scouts of America's survival?

Mr. NAVA: Well, you know, it's the mission of the Boy Scouts of America to serve all youth across the country. And let me give you some numbers. Out of 2.7 million of registered traditional Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts and Venturers, we only have about 130,000 that have recorded to be Latinos. So, we have a lot of room to grow. And we just want to make sure that every youth in America has the opportunity to join. In my case, I am charged to focus in the Hispanic community and make that invitation to them.

CORNISH: Marcos Nava, head of Hispanic initiatives for the Boy Scouts of America, thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. NAVA: Thank you, Audie. Thank you very much.

CORNISH: Boy Scouts have gone on to become scientists, politicians, astronauts, directors, Pulitzer prize-winning authors, and actors. I'm joined now by one such Scout. He played a character that introduced the world to the liger -that's a cross between a lion and a tiger and who was all about the cool skills.

(Soundbite of movie, "Napoleon Dynamite")

Mr. JON HEDER (Actor): (As Napoleon Dynamite) Well, nobody's going to go out with me.

Mr. EFREN RAMIREZ (Actor): (As Pedro) Have you asked anybody yet?

Mr. HEDER: (As Napoleon Dynamite) No, but who would? I don't even have any good skills.

Mr. RAMIREZ: (As Pedro) What do you mean?

Mr. HEDER: (As Napoleon Dynamite) You know, like nunchuk skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills.

CORNISH: That's actor Jon Heder as Napoleon Dynamite in the film of the same name. Heder has also starred in "Blades of Glory," "School for Scoundrels," and most recently "When in Rome." Jon Heder, welcome to the show.

Mr. HEDER: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So first of all, I should say, you're not just any Scout, you are an Eagle Scout, aren't you?

Mr. HEDER: Oh, that's right. Not just a regular Scout, no Tenderfoot here.

CORNISH: And I hear you come from a family of Scouts, actually.

Mr. HEDER: I do. My dad was a hardcore Scout when he was young and he became the troop Scoutmaster for many years, and even when he wasn't the Scoutmaster he was the quote-unquote, kind of the unofficial Scoutmaster. So I have four brothers. So five of us in all, all have the Eagle.

CORNISH: Whoa.

Mr. HEDER: Yeah.

CORNISH: So that is the meaning of hardcore?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HEDER: Yeah. Every troop has what they call the Scout closet, where somewhere in the local community center basement or closet they have the Scout closet where they keep all the troop gear, and he keeps that up in our attic.

CORNISH: Now, we played that clip earlier from your movie "Napoleon Dynamite" with the list of skills, and I'm not sure Boy Scouts teach computer hacking, but it sounds like...

Mr. HEDER: There is a computer - there's no computer hacking merit badge, but there is a computer skills merit badge.

CORNISH: Is there a nunchuks skills merit badge?

Mr. HEDER: I don't know if they have martial arts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HEDER: I think most of the boys would be qualified for the nunchuk one because I think it's a given at Scout camp that you have to make your own homemade pair of nunchuks.

CORNISH: Now, Eagle Scouts also have projects, and I want to know what yours was.

Mr. HEDER: Mine was kind of pathetic, but you know, I organized it. I did it. It was organizing a group of boys to all build like a whole bunch of bird houses to put up in an Audubon Park in our community so that they were trying to turn it into a nature trail, and you know, to help populate the park with birds, we put up bird houses. So we built them and then we, you know, installed them.

CORNISH: Now, did you happen to earn the cinematography merit badge?

Mr. HEDER: You know, the two merit badges I mysteriously, for whatever reason, did not earn was art and cinematography because at that age I was really big into art, and cinematography, and I don't know why I never got it, but I am working on cinematography right now with my Boy Scouts. I am a Scoutmaster right now.

CORNISH: You are?

Mr. HEDER: I am.

CORNISH: I don't know if I should know this, but do you have any sons? Are you carrying on the tradition here?

Mr. HEDER: Well - yeah. I do have a son, but he is six months old. So he is yet to become a Scout.

CORNISH: It's never too early though, you realize that.

Mr. HEDER: As soon as he can crawl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: Jon Heder is an Eagle Scout and an actor, who starred in the movies "Blades of Glory," "Napoleon Dynamite," and "When In Rome," which is in theatres now. Thank you for talking with us.

Mr. HEDER: Definitely.

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