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Scout leader blazes new path

Larry Pritchard recalls a homily he heard a little more than a year ago at a religious retreat in Allegany County. The friar spoke about how people come into the world with nothing and leave with nothing, so the material things they accumulate in between can never truly belong to them.

What people do with the things they are given, the friar said, is what matters the most. As head of the newly merged Otetiana and Finger Lakes councils of the Boy Scouts of America, Pritchard bases his work on that idea. Much is given to the council, and much is returned to the community and the young people involved in its activities.

"If he had struck me on the head with a two-by-four, it would have had as much impact as that did," says Pritchard, 58. "I have taken that idea with me since then. In supporting scouts, we get a pile of stuff, but it’s up to us how we use it and share it. Some get more than others, but it’s what we do with it that’s important."

The combined organization, called Seneca Waterways Council, will have annual revenue of $4.5 million and assets of close to $25 million, along with the equivalent of 40 full-time staff members plus 160 part-time workers at its three summer camps.

Because of the council’s substantial resources, it is able to serve 18,000 children through its activities, nearly one-quarter of the 80,000 youths in the target age for the agency within its geographic area. The percentage of children served far exceeds standards for most other Boy Scout councils, and Pritchard attributes that to the resources it is able to use.

Loyalty is among the virtues listed in the Boy Scout Law, and Pritchard epitomizes that. He has been involved in the organization almost his entire life and led the Otetiana Council for the last nine years.

He was a driving force behind the merger of the two local councils. As he prepares Seneca Waterways Council to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Boy Scouts of America’s founding next year, he has plans to grow programs on citizenship and advocacy.

Moving around
Pritchard joined the Boy Scouts in the fourth grade and, aside from the four years he spent in college, has been part of the organization ever since. After graduating from college in 1973, he became director of a summer camp in Springfield, Ohio.

While there he met a staffer from New Zealand-it is common practice for Boy Scout camps to hire workers from international branches to expose campers to different cultures-and together they went to work at a camp in Fort Wayne, Ind. In the late 1970s, Pritchard’s friend heard of an opening at Boy Scouts of New Zealand and encouraged Pritchard to take a look.

It was an opportunity Pritchard, then in his early 30s, could not pass up. He would be able to run programs for Boy Scouts of New Zealand and shape its advancement programs. Being a big fish in a smaller pond suited him well, he says.

In New Zealand he met and married his wife, Mary, a native of the country. Pritchard returned to Boy Scouts of America and a council near Chicago in 1984. He took his first job as a CEO in Bloomsburg, Pa., in 1991, then moved to the same position in Erie before settling in at the Otetiana Council in 2000.

Along the way Pritchard has gleaned some of the best practices of each of the organizations he has worked for, which he credits to the cooperative nature of the Boy Scouts of America councils. His international work also gave him a better perspective on the American organization and on the country itself.

"While in New Zealand, I came to see how Americans have an extraordinary sense of volunteering and being supportive in the community that we kind of take for granted," Pritchard says. "We are much more philanthropic as a society than what I see in most other parts of the world.

"Other people just don’t give their money to help community organizations do good; they expect that happens through the government and their taxes."

All the moving may be fitting for a man who grew up in a region with its own identity in flux. Pritchard came from northern Kentucky, just south of Cincinnati. It was below the Mason-Dixon Line-technically in the South-but Pritchard says he identifies more with the Midwestern values of the Ohio city, and he speaks with no accent noticeable to a Rochesterian.

Pritchard keeps his vagabond career in perspective with the words of another sermon, this one from a priest visiting his church in Erie.

"He said, ‘Everyone knows that God has a plan, right?’ and everyone nodded their heads," Pritchard recalls. "And he said, ‘Isn’t it a bit presumptuous of us to know more about the plan than God does?’

"That kind of stuck with me, that if I do what I’m supposed to do, God has a plan and is a whole lot smarter than we are. Every place we’ve been, it’s been for reasons that are professional and personal, and it’s where we were meant to be at the time."

The merger
The idea of merging the Finger Lakes and Otetiana councils had been floating around for perhaps five years, Pritchard says, but the impetus to take action had been lacking. Then, in December, the CEO of the Finger Lakes Council left the organization; at a retreat the next month, the council opted to investigate merging with Otetiana rather than hiring a new director.

"From there, things went fast," Pritchard says.

In February a steering committee met to study the merger, headed by representatives from each council. Task forces were formed to look at programs, finance, governance and training, to find common ground between the two organizations. Pritchard says the work came with one instruction: "Find what’s best for the kids."

All the groups chartered to use the Boy Scouts program, such as churches and schools, were given a vote on whether to merge. In summer, two separate but concurrent meetings were held, the Otetiana Council meeting in Bushnell’s Basin and the Finger Lakes Council in Geneva. The vote approving the merger was unanimous.

The merger will mean that the money the organization takes in can be used more efficiently, since administrative costs will be reduced, Pritchard says. Programs will be shared, so there will be more opportunities across the region.

The committee solicited 40 to 50 suggestions on names for the new organization but ended up with one of its own. Seneca Waterways Council was chosen to give a new identity to the organization and reflect the importance of the area’s lakes, rivers and Erie Canal.

Work remains to smooth out differences between the organizations, such as varying processes for reviewing Eagle Scout applicants or collecting summer camp fees.

Pritchard did a good job of identifying areas of concern early in the process, says Peter Pape, CEO of the Riverside Group and co-chairman of the merger’s steering committee.

"Whenever there is a merger, there is one group that has different concerns than the other, but we got those on the table and addressed them," Pape says. "We had a series of meetings with volunteers from both sides of the council, using a process called ‘enlarging the circle.’ We took more and more people in to hear what we’re doing and give us input, and it really helped figure out the problems."

Family and scouting
As much as Pritchard has learned from his long career with the Boy Scouts, he says the bulb did not really turn on until 1994, when his sons joined.

He started with son Gerard as an assistant den leader, then became den leader for his other son, David. There he was able to see firsthand the effect scouting had on their lives. Pritchard worked on projects with his sons to earn badges, watched as they participated in fundraisers and was able to take them on national trips.

"They both sold popcorn and earned their way to the national jamboree in 2000," he says.

Speaking from the council’s office, a converted mansion in a string of non-profit headquarters on East Avenue, Pritchard adds, "The amazing part was they were able to come here, into this building, for their Eagle Scout boards of review."

He speaks with pride of his sons’ accomplishments as Boy Scouts. David originally had planned to clean up historical markers for his Eagle Scout service project, but after learning that recipients of food stamps cannot use them for goods such as diapers and shampoo, he organized a collection drive instead. He rounded up 4,000 items.

Pritchard also recalls when Gerard was asked about his proudest accomplishment in scouting. Gerard, who has spina bifida, said he was offered accommodations to help him through scouting but never took advantage of them.

The boys’ influence on the family has been great. As teenagers they learned of Church of the Assumption in Fairport, which offered a Mass for teenagers on Sunday nights. After their sons took them there a few times, Pritchard and his wife both became deeply involved in the parish. He has finished a three-year term on the parish council and is a continuing member of the church finance council.

Outside church, Pritchard is a member of the Council of Agency Executives, leaders of non-profit organizations who work to improve human services in Monroe County. He led efforts to get these groups more involved in community planning projects.

"We developed a plan to try to get non-profit leaders at the decision-making table," says Joyce Strazzabosco, the council’s administrator. "Our ultimate aim is that as people are building a group to make decisions, they’ll make sure they have our sector represented. Larry has always been helpful and open and candid in his efforts with these projects."

Areas of emphasis
Those familiar with Boy Scouts may think of merit badges or summer camps, but Pritchard says there is much more involved. In the 1970s the national organization decided to modify an outdoor adventure program to focus on career development and make it co-ed. The program was tested in a few places across the country, including Rochester.

Today the Explorer program has more than 120 posts in career fields such as sciences, many aspects of the automotive industry and law enforcement. Nationally most Explorer programs reach roughly 2 percent of the high-school-age population in a given region, but locally the number is more than 10 percent.

"There’s been an ongoing commitment from us to do something for high-school-age youngsters," Pritchard says. "It’s an important part of our mission that teens continue to understand their responsibility and opportunities as American citizens."

Pritchard has the council working on national campaigns as well. He is helping with efforts to warn young people about the danger of Internet predators by bringing the message to a younger audience.

"When we first started visiting with folks in town, they were all focused on older high-schoolers," Pritchard says. "We thought, ‘That’s important, but we may need to be talking with younger folks as well.’ Kids are certainly technologically savvy, but unfortunately predators are too."

Another effort, shared by the Boy Scouts of America and the National Safety Council, has advocated a ban on texting while driving. Both efforts are part of a greater plan to give back to the community on the organization’s 100th anniversary, Pritchard says. He also plans to hold a large gathering locally to watch a broadcast of the national jamboree.

All of Pritchard’s actions-from his leadership during the merger to plans for expanding programs-show the work of a lifelong scout, Pape says.

"I never get a sense that Larry is doing any of it for him," Pape says. "He’s doing it for the right reasons, which is the good of the organization."

Larry Pritchard
Position: Scout executive and CEO, Seneca Waterways Council
Age: 58
Education: B.A. in psychology, Morehead State University, 1973
Family: Wife, Mary; sons, Gerard and David
Residence: Perinton
Activities: Golf
Quote: "In supporting scouts we get a pile of stuff, but it’s up to us how we use it and share it. Some get more than others, but it’s what we do with it that’s important."

11/13/09 (c) 2009 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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