MANKATO — Frank Samlaska grew up in Fairmont in the 1960s and '70s, having been exposed to very little diversity until attending St. Cloud State University.
All these years later in Mankato, he's watched as the community's non-white population has exploded. And having served for decades in various leadership roles through Boy Scouts of America Twin Valley Council, it dawned on him: “We need to be more proactive in seeking out these fellow Americans,” said Samlaska, vice president of membership.
“We weren't being aggressive enough in that regard,” Samlaska said. “A lightbulb went on. We're missing the boat here.”
Since then, efforts have been greatly increased to recruit various underrepresented populations — including Hispanics, Sudanese and Somali — and the fruits of the organization's labor are emerging. The latest accomplishment this summer was getting an Islamic scouting group off the ground. Last recorded, Samlaska said there were 18 Islamic youth participating with meetings held at the Mankato Islamic Center.
“It's a growing population, and we want to at least offer them the opportunity to come check us out for their youth because I think it's a great (organization),” said Samlaska, who also was in scouting in his youth.
The Islamic pack is just one of various diverse scouting groups under Twin Valley Council. Building off of years spent working to bolster diversity in scouting in southern Minnesota, Twin Valley Council's Diversity and Inclusion Initiative Plan outlined this summer calls for additional changes, said Rene Maes, district director.
The plan calls for diversity training for staff and the executive board by the Greater Mankato Diversity Council; hiring additional program aides to work in diverse communities; and working to bring scouting programs to Mankato's Hispanic community and Albert Lea's Hispanic and Sudanese communities.
A great deal of progress already has been made in Twin Valley Council, which serves 15 counties in southern Minnesota. With 86 children registered in the Diversity in Scouting programs, about 9 percent of Twin Valley Council are minorities.