By: Mike Walton (blackeagle)
Posted On: 2019-10-07
Troop 102 Photo by Mike Walton
(From "Settumwhat?" by Mike Walton (c) 1998)
I quit my job two days ago (in 1996). Technically, I requested a leave of absence in order to go with other members of my Army Reserve organization back to Germany. Most of us would not be going to Germany, but rather to Bosnia to assist with the peacekeeping mission being staged in that country. Either way -- Germany or Bosnia -- I was not coming back to the computer startup I was initially excited about being a part of.
I loved the opportunity to be on the ground floor of an Internet Service Provider -- ISP. There were ISPs springing up all over the nation, but none in the Tri-State area around Evansville, Indiana. We -- Jessica, her mom, Kelly the cat and I -- all lived across the river in Henderson, Kentucky and I cannot speak for them, but I loved it. I loved being in a home as opposed to an apartment; loved the pocket doors separating the living area from the bedroom; loved the garage-turned-office room for Jessica and I as we would spend evenings looking at computer screens and stealing glances and smiles at each other. We were in love, and we were happy. Bills and car repairs be damned!
The ISP brought us up to Henderson, whereby Jessi found work right off with a regional bank and quickly rose up that ladder. I found something I was good at -- customer support and relations -- and while I spent more time than my boss wanted, the accolades and referrers came in. There was a guy on the other end of the phone who not only knew what the hell he was talking about -- he seldom needed a set of pages to explain it to someone in simple American English. Because we were a startup, there was little money for actual raises, but they did their best. That first year was great!
The second year, however, became more of the first year. We asked to rearrange the office space to give the impression that we had more "workspace" than what we really did. We tried to sell different products -- mice, routers, laptops. We never went to a single trade show -- even the ones being hosted in town. Eventually, people started leaving, and that is when after two and a half years, the Army came calling and while I had a choice to go or stay -- I was that senior -- I left.
I share all of this with you because your participation in a Boy Scout Troop is like you finding work in a startup and working there. The first year, everything is so new -- the terms, the uniform, the traditions, the way you even say "Boy Scout." After that first year, however, unless you are a part of a good Boy Scout Troop, you'll get mired down into the same old - same old...and your son will want to find something else to do. How to keep that from happening?
First, find a Boy Scout Troop which emphasizes PROGRAM over anything else. As a former Scoutmaster, I assisted Troops which first are run by the boys -- yeah, I help coordinate things and talk "adult stuff" with other adults -- but if you asked anyone associated with the three Troops I served as Scoutmaster of; or the Explorer Posts or the Varsity Team -- and they will tell you that "Mr. Mike" or "Mr. Walton" was "just over there", they would point to where the coffee maker was, "staying out of our way unless we needed him. Same goes for his Assistants too."
Next, good successful Troops ALWAYS has something going on (sorry Scoutmaster wives...it's part of the package). Not everything was "Scouting-related." For instance, one night for three months, we would go swimming. Not to earn a badge or skill award (belt loops back in the day), but just to go swimming. They pick the pool, they bring the pool money, they hold a brief meeting to discuss next week's stuff, they go in the pool, and they don't come out until ten minutes before the place closes. One of my Troops makes a monthly trip to the shopping mall, in uniform. Walking around and potentially seeing their classmates. We eat dinner at the steakhouse. Talk about the next meeting and whatever, and we leave and go home. Another one of my Troops goes to the movies, seeing shows that their parents approve of in writing in advance. Or to the arcade.
What does ANY of this have to do with BOY SCOUTING?? A LOT! First, that group of boys is bonding -- they bond at campouts, they bond at hikes, but they also bond at the movies, at the steakhouse and the shopping mall and the swimming pool. They are making choices and working through their options. When the last bus departs before they get to the bus stop, they have to "work through Plan B" ("C" or "D"). They help to reinforce the Scouting ideals and principles -- more than having some adult "stand in front of a room and force them to repeat after him." At the swimming pool, Scouts see who are the weaker swimmers, and those are the ones they watch for closer. They also learn swimming strokes and the stupid "Marco Polo" game from each other.
They all realize that Scouting isn't coming to the Scout Hut and tying those same eight knots or listening to the same stories over and over -- that it is genuinely "interactive".
Between meetings, spend some time with your son. Ask him to share what was right and "lame" about Scouts the previous week. The fact that you asked him about his Scouting experience shows that you are indeed interested in him participating. You don't have to serve as a "leader" or "counselor" or anything unless you genuinely want to...but by you interacting with your son over his Scouting efforts will help him -- and you -- understand that this Scouting thing isn't just a "place to drop off kids once a week and perhaps over a weekend."
I train volunteers and professionals. When they ask me, "what's the secret sauce to keeping units alive and growing," I simply tell them it's "program, program, program." Longtime Scoutmasters have realized this -- it is not a colorful patch, a flag streamer or a plaque or trophy -- all of those are nice, mind you. Keeping a Scouting unit going and growing requires the adults to hand off the reins to those youth who were elected, not expecting or demanding anything close to perfection (or what one sees on those BSA videos), and being there when they need help. It also requires the youth leaders to take their responsibility seriously, to do the best job they can -- even if their job is a "lower tier one" like Historian or Den Chief, and to pitch in when needed when things get tough.
When it becomes no more fun, however, find a Troop which meets your needs at that time. There is no harm, no foul in switching teams -- athletes do it under something called "free agency." You are not "locked-in" to a specific Troop although you may have paid dues to that Troop in advance for the entire year. The BSA even ENCOURAGES "free agency" by allowing your son's registration card to be good to participate with ANY Troop, ANYWHERE -- as long as the Scoutmaster approves of his participation (and let's be for real here: what Scoutmaster running a good, quality Troop will turn away the potential for a new member -- and his family?)
Scouting has worked for well over 100 years because of one word: PROGRAM. It's the PROGRAM engineered, developed and executed by the YOUTH with some adult guidance and parameters to ensure health and safety. That is why kids join -- and stay -- with Scouting.
(And to be honest, that's why adults join -- and stay -- with your firm or business concern too if you want to apply all of this to your organization. Your workflow will be more productive, more energetic, more creative -- and your bottom line will increase, just like in a Scout Troop, the more active your program, the larger and more attractive your Troop will be to others.)