Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Christmas Scout

I got looking around for stories about Scouting and Christmas and found a great little story called "The Christmas Scout" by Samuel D. Bogan. It was published in Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul in 1997. I've seen it on several different web pages, which made me think it might be public domain, and I was about to copy it here. Then I looked at the book on Amazon and found the permissions page. That seemed to indicate it was copyrighted, so I won't post it here.

But I will give you a link to a site that did here.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Youth Basketball

I may be a little unconventional here, but I'm not that big a fan of church basketball. I remember when I was a boy we played basketball all the time. At scouts. At home. Even when I went on my mission, we played basketball regularly. So it's not that I don't know how to play, or even enjoy playing on occasion.

When I was called to serve with the Scouts, that's all they were doing. Even when the leaders had something planned, they would do it in the gym, which led to boys playing ball instead of participating with whatever it was the leaders were trying to do. My first goal was to get them out of the gym so we could actually do something with Scouts.

That worked really well. In fact, we haven't had basketball as our "default" activity for three years now.

But then there's the annual youth basketball tournament. I really struggle with this. I'll admit, sometimes I wish they wouldn't do it.

I don't know if other wards call a coach for this, but in my ward it falls to me as young mens president. I know several wards who essentially suspend Scouts during the basketball tournament so they can practice. I don't. In fact, in the last two years I've been YM president we haven't had a single organized basketball practice.

During the games, I don't even give them any coaching. I figure they all know what they're doing anyway. And the older boys will often step in and coach the younger ones when they need it. The only thing I've done is tell them when to substitute and for whom. And my goal there is mostly to give everyone a chance to play (and occasionally try to calm them down when they get a little hot around the collar). In fact, I've told them regularly that I don't care if they lose. Maybe that's bad, but its what I've done.

The last two years, they have taken first place in our stake and finished third in the local 5-stake tournament.

On Friday, they lost their first game of the season. It was during the 5-stake championship, putting them at either 3rd or 4th place (we didn't play for that place like last year) and ending the season. Afterwards, I took them all out for milk shakes.

After we ordered and were waiting for our shakes to come, the boys told me I was the best coach ever. They had noticed what the other team did during this last game. During the last quarter, they had all their young, small guys sitting on the bench and only played their older boys. They wanted to win. So did mine, but they thanked me for making substitutions and letting them play, even if it meant losing.

During the games, there was a poster sitting by the score table reminding everyone about the purpose of church sports. I don't remember exactly what it said, but it was similar to what is in the Church handbook regarding activities. Namely that they should provide meaningful experiences and build relationships.

Part of why I haven't been a fan of church sports in the past is because I haven't seen this happen. People get angry at each other, they get upset about losing, and relationships are strained rather than built.

But this time, I think we did it right. Our boys were great about letting everyone participate and have a shot. I think they really got it. Sure, they felt bad about losing. But in the end, they recognized that it wasn't about winning. I think they realized what I have been telling them the entire time, that its not really even about basketball.

The way I see it, if we have met those purposes outlined by the church for activities, then we have succeeded, whether we win or lose. But if we haven't, then it's been a waste of time.

Like I said, I'm probably a little unconventional when it comes to church sports. But I'm okay with it. And I think my boys are too.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Court of Honor

I've got a lot of thoughts about last night's court of honor and I'm not sure quite which ones to share or how to share them.

On the one hand, I'd like to focus on the positives:

Four out of six Venturers in uniform, only one of which was a Boy Scout uniform. The other three had the recommended green Venturing uniform. They sure looked sharp.

I was able to award a Venturing Bronze award to one young man. This is only the second bronze award earned in our crew. Ever (as far as I can tell). I think I've got some others who want to work on them, but need a little more motivation. The boy who earned his is now thinking seriously about trying for Silver. How cool would that be?

I think I got some interest from at least one boy in trying out the Varsity program. This boy was a real leader in the Boy Scouts (deacons) and was awarded his Life rank last night. He just turned 14 so will be joining the Varsity Scouts. He was the one I thought might take the bait. What was the bait? A promise of a hand made hiking staff (with some simple carvings and orange paracord handgrip involving two three-strand Turk's heads and French whipping) for the first boy to earn the Denali award. This boy came up to me after the meeting and asked me "so, what's the Denali award?" I directed him to his Varsity coach.

Three of my Venturers surprised me with a recognition of their own. These three had been on staff for our local Boy Scout camp (one being the staff Senior Patrol Leader) teaching merit badges to younger boys. One of the badges they were teaching was woodwork. During the process, they built a stool and carved the Venturing logo in the top. Last night they gave me the stool. I was blown away.

Then there are the negatives.

But I decided I'm not going to focus on those. I actually had it all written out and then deleted it. I decided I'd rather just look at the positive. Isn't that part of being Cheerful? Anyway, I'm going to stick to the good stuff--for this post anyway. Only let me comment that it's interesting that all of my positives had to do with the boys while all of the negatives had to do with adults. Hmm.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Climbing the Mountain

This comes from Ernest Thompson Seton, founder of the Woodcraft Indians. He was influential in the beginnings of the Boy Scouts and served as the first Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts of America.

Afar in our dry Southwestern country is an Indian village, and in the offing is a high mountain towering up out of the desert. It was considered a great feat to climb this mountain, so that all the boys of the village were eager to attempt it. One day the Chief said, "Now, boys, you may all go to-day and try to climb the mountain. Start right after breakfast and go each of you as far as you can. Then when you are tired, come back, but let each one bring me a twig from the place where he turned."

Away they went, full of hope, each feeling that he surely could reach the top.

But soon a fat, pudgy boy came slowly back and in his hand he held out to the Chief a leaf of cactus.

The Chief smiled and said, "My boy, you did not reach the foot of the mountain; you did not even get across the desert."

Later a second boy returned. He carried a twig of sagebrush.

"Well," said the Chief, "you reached the mountain's foot, but you did not climb upwards."

The next had a cottonwood spray.

"Good," said the Chief, "you got up as far as the springs."

Another came later with some buckthorn. The Chief smiled when he saw it, and spoke: "You were climbing; you were up to the first slide rock."

Later in the afternoon one arrived with a cedar spray, and the old man said, "Well done. You went half-way up."

An hour afterwards, one came with a sprig of pine. To him the Chief said, "Good; you went to the third belt, you made three-quarters of the climb."

The sun was low when the last returned. He was a tall, splendid boy of noble character. His hand was empty as he approached the Chief, but his countenance was radiant, and he said, "My father, there were no trees where I got to--I saw no twigs, but I saw the Shining Sea."

Now the old man's face glowed, too, as he said aloud and almost sang.

"I knew it! When I looked at your face, I knew it. You have been to the top. You need no twigs for token. It is written in your eyes, and rings in your voice. My boy, you have felt the uplift, you have seen the glory of the mountain."

Oh, ye Woodcrafters, keep this in mind, then--the badges we offer for attainment are not "prizes"--they are merely tokens of what you have done, of where you have been. They are mere twigs from the trail to show how far you got in climbing up the mountain.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advancement Woes

As a Venturing leader, I don't often deal with advancement issues. I'd like to get my boys to work more on their Venturing awards, but that's ultimately their choice.

Most of my advancement issues go something like this. I'll have a young man who, around his 17th birthday, decides he needs to get serious and finish off his Eagle before he turns 18. He then comes to me for help.

They always wait until the last minute, despite my efforts to encourage and persuade them to do it earlier.

In every case so far, these young men haven't done a thing with their Boy Scout advancement in three years. They earn their Star or Life by 14 and then just stagnate. (Interpret: chronic lack of leadership in our ward's Varsity program.)

I had another one to deal with just this week. A young man came to me (after I gave him a summary of his advancement) saying he was finished with his Life and needed a Scoutmaster conference and board of review. We sat down and looked through his handbook (frankly, I was amazed he knew where it was). The first thing I noticed was that his mother had signed off on three of the requirements (see Guide to Advancement, p. 19). This wasn't too big a deal, since he had actually done those requirements so I signed them then.

Then we got looking at merit badges. We've had some issues in our district as we've moved to Internet advancement. It seems like not everything got transferred over during the switch. Nearly every boy I sit down with has a record of merit badges earned that don't show up on the advancement report. This hasn't been a problem; as long as they have the record I can get it fixed easily. Well, this boy had some just like all the others.

I got the dates from his book (he didn't bring the cards, but assured me he had them) had a scoutmaster conference and then spoke with our committee to schedule a board of review. When I got around to recording his merit badges something hit me that I should have picked up on before. The date for one of his merit badges was during the time I was his leader.

What that means is if he did, in fact, finish that merit badge, he never brought the blue card back to me so I could record it (I know, it should be taken to the advancement chair on the committee. Too bad we don't have one.)

I went to the boy's house as soon as I had a chance and spoke with him and his mother about it. Apparently, he had two cards (not the blue cards, the recognition cards) that were blank--he didn't know what merit badges they were supposed to go to. He felt like he had done that one so he wrote a date down in his book.

We visited for a bit about the proper procedures for merit badges, and told him that without any documentation he would have to do the merit badge again. Even if he really did do it before. I just wish someone had explained this sort of thing to this boy and his mother earlier. It would have saved us all a few headaches now.

I know full well all the things that go wrong with Scouting in my ward. I get really frustrated that we can't get a committee together to help. I get especially frustrated that our Varsity leaders haven't done anything. I am constantly struggling with how our Scoutmaster runs his program.

I have tried to let others do their jobs, but I have stepped in occasionally with responsibilities outside of my own when I thought it was necessary to help the boys. Perhaps I've done too much. I sometimes wish I could jump in and take care of it all--not for my sake, but for the boys who deserve better.

That's not to say that I am the best leader out there--I'm not. I have my own set of problems. But I can say this: I have tried. I have tried to get all the training available. I haven't missed roundtable in three years. I have read the manuals and handbooks and have tried to follow procedures. I have tried to run the program I was asked to do. I have tried to help the boys with the things they want to work on, and the activities they want to do. I have tried to encourage and persuade other leaders to do the same. I just wish they would. Not for me, but for the boys.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Saving boys

At a Little Philmont training I attended last Saturday, brother Gary Dollar, who was influential in establishing the Varsity program said this:
If I gave you a program, already developed that could save most, if not all of your boys, would you use it?
 Anyone who cares about boys would immediately answer YES. If the program is already there, why not take advantage of it? If it works, why not use it? His point, of course, is that we already have such programs: Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Venturing. We just have to use them.

Too often leaders think they can do better. A lot of the time, "better" means disorganized basketball.

I had a conversation with a stake young mens president a few weeks ago. Over the summer he had an opportunity to attend LDS week at Philmont.  

[Someday I will go to Philmont. I don't know when or how, but I will go.] 

During that training he and his stake president were challenged to develop a program that would be better than the Scouting programs we already have. For two hours they sat and thought and brainstormed and developed. Every time they though they had a good idea and presented it, they were told "that's pretty good, but it looks just like this." And they were handed a document or something from one of our current Scouting programs. Every good idea they had was already in use in our Scouting programs.

We have programs that will save our boys. We just have to use them.

Aaronic Priesthood or Scouting?

At a Little Philmont training I attended last Saturday, a Brother Allen from the LDS church department of risk management said that one of the most troubling things he hears is "well, we don't want to have to do all that paperwork (or training, or whatever) so we'll just call this an Aaronic Priesthood activity and not a Scouting activity."

I'm sure we've all heard that before. That same approach is used to justify activities that are prohibited by the Guide to Safe Scouting. My answer to that has always been that you cannot separate Scouting and the Priesthood. If it is an Aaronic Priesthood activity, it is a Scouting activity. I've also always tried to follow the rule of thumb that you follow whichever rules are more strict.

Brother Allen's answer to this issue was a little different. His answer is, "Why would you want to do that? Why would you not want to take advantage of all the resources and training and help the BSA makes available to you? Why would you want to expose yourself and the church to that liability? Why would you want to?"

I thought that was a pretty good answer.

A message from President Monson

At a youth fireside on Sunday Morning, Elder Ochoa, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told us about when he was set apart to that calling by President Monson.

President Monson, as you may know, has served on the national board of the Boy Scouts of America since 1969. He loves Scouting, and he loves boys.

Anyway, when he set apart the Young Men general presidency, he gave them a message to deliver to young men leaders throughout the church. It was this:
Tell the young men leaders not to lay the ladder flat. If you lay it flat, boys will just fall through the holes. Don't lay the ladder flat. Raise it up.
The message here is that boys need to do hard things. If we make it too easy on them, they will just fall through the holes. But by raising the ladder up, and expecting them to do hard things, they can climb to greater heights.

Elder Ochoa said this not at the adult training on Saturday, but at the youth fireside on Sunday. He was speaking both to adult advisers and to quorum leaders. He spoke at some length about the importance of youth leadership in the Aaronic Priesthood quorums (and by extension, Scouting).

Except for the Bishop, it is the youth who hold the keys of presidency in the young men program. In fact, 50% of the people who hold Priesthood keys in a ward are young men. The Lord trusts young men to lead. Elder Ochoa insisted that it be so.

He said we were at war and unless the quorum presidencies are presiding then the enemy is winning every single battle.

Presiding over their quorums is one of those hard things youth need to be doing. Don't lay the ladder flat.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Recent training

I think I've attended more training this last week than at any time since Wood Badge. Last Thursday I attended a Young Men adult leader training with President David Beck, Young Men general president for the LDS church, Elder Gary Doxey (area Seventy), and Brother Egan from the Young Men general board.

On Saturday, I attended a Little Philmont training meeting with Elder Ochoa, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency, Gary Dollar, who was influential in starting the Varsity program, David Pack (LDS-BSA relationships committee), and a Brother Allen from the Church department of Risk Management.

On Sunday morning I attended a youth fireside with Elder Ochoa.

That comes to about 5 1/2 hours of training in young men and Scouting. I learned quite a bit and took lots of notes. In some way, I'd like to share a bit of what I learned but I can't do it all at once.

I think, then, I'll share snippets from the different meetings in several different posts.

First is this, from President David Beck:
The most important qualification as a Young Mens leader is his relationship to God.
President Beck spoke a lot about relationships. He said that when surveyed, missionaries site their relationships as the most important influences that got them on a mission. First, their relationship to God. Following that, their relationships to family, leaders, and friends.

How many of those relationships are built or strengthened through Scouting? All of them.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How do you measure success?

Just the other day I had a fellow Scouter tell me that I have the only successfully run Venturing crew he has seen. That's not the first time I've heard that, by the way.

My reply has always been that it depends on how you define success.

When I first started, I thought if I could just get them out of the gym and do something other than basketball as the default, I would count it as a success.

Later, I thought if I could just get someone to earn a Venturing award, it would be a success.

Now that I've had one boy who has earned Venturing Silver, I think I would really like to see more Venturing awards earned. But is that success?

This fellow Scouter told me his measure of success was that I had a boy earn Silver. Considering he's the first Venturer in our district to do so makes it quite an accomplishment. That is certainly a good thing for this young man, but does it mean my crew is successful? Not necessarily.

How does one measure success in Scouting?

Some would talk about the number of boys who earn their Eagle. Others might take a slightly broader view and ask look at how often boys are advancing, or earning badges. So often it comes down to advancement in some way or another.

At the moment, in my crew, I'm looking more at youth leadership than advancement. I often think that if I could get the crew officers meeting more regularly, taking a greater role in planning and leading activities it would be a great success. My view of success has changed a bit in the three and a half years I've been doing this.

But is that a good measure of success? I'm not sure. I think to really measure success in Scouting, we have to go back to the fundamental purposes of Scouting.
Mission Statement: The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.

Vision Statement: The Boy Scouts of America will prepare every eligible youth in America to become a responsible, participating citizen and leader who is guided by the Scout Oath and Law.
While advancement is good, a better view of success would be in the character of the men those boys become. But that's not a very easy thing to measure. However, if we run the programs correctly, we will see some success.

The BSA has given a tool to help us do better at running our programs. It's called Journey to Excellence. This tool gives us benchmarks to shoot for. It gives us a guide as to what we should be doing in our programs and, I think, will help us improve--if we use it.

Here is the 2011 scorecard for Venturing: http://www.scouting.org/filestore/mission/2011_JTE_Crew_Requirements.pdf

I have to admit, we haven't done very well. I haven't used this tool as I should, and I think if I was to actually try to come up with a score, we probably wouldn't make the bronze level. In that sense, we haven't been very successful. Part of that is that I haven't done as much as I should. Partly it's because we don't have a committee working quite like it should. Partly, perhaps, it's because I have had difficulty getting the youth to lead (whether that is my fault or theirs, I don't know). Whatever the cause, we aren't quite where I would like to be.

But I'm going to try to do better. I plan on sharing this scorecard with my youth and with my committee. I hope to set some goals with my youth and make this a major focus. Because the important thing here, I think, is that we are trying to do better.

Every troop, team, or crew is at a different level. Everyone is going to view success differently. Some may simply want to move beyond unorganized basketball. Some will be looking at advancement. Some at participation at summer camp. But as we chart a course toward success, and eventually reach our goal, our vision should change. We should be constantly trying to do better.

And maybe that's the true measure of success. Maybe success lies in improvement and growth. Isn't that what Scouting is all about anyway?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Venturing Date Night

As my wife and I were dropping off our daughter at my mother's house on Saturday, she asked me a question. "Since when did the church start sponsoring date nights?"

You see, we were on our way to meet up with the young men and their dates for a Venturing activity. Apparently, she thought that was a little unusual. I thought it was a great idea.

First, it was an activity that the boys wanted to do. They planned and organized the whole thing. That alone is great. There would also be plenty of adult supervision--myself, my wife, the Bishop, and his wife.

More important than being a fun activity that the boys planned and led, however, is how it meets our purposes.

One of the six activity areas of Venturing is Social. One of the methods is Group Activities. I thought this worked quite well with both of those.

In addition, another method of Venturing is Adult Association. Who says that association has to be just in a leadership role? Why can't it be in something like this? I can imagine all sorts of good things that could result from teenagers associating with respected adults in a setting such as a group date.

Perhaps more important than the Venturing aspect of things, is the Priesthood side of the activity. Section 8.1.3 in the church handbook of instructions gives 8 purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. Two of them are to prepare to become a worthy husband and father, and give proper respect for women, girls, and children. Where better to practice and learn these principles than in a setting like this?

I thought it worked really well as a Venturing activity, and I had a lot of fun.

During our lesson on Sunday we talked about the purpose of dating, and preparing for eternal marriage. We talked about our date and what went well, and what could have gone better. I think they will be planning another date, making the improvements we talked about, keeping in mind the purpose of their dating at this age.

I just love it when activities come together like this. And to have the follow-up we did the next day was even better.


I've had several interesting conversations recently that reminded me of a talk Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave in General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in October of 2000, titled The Challenge to Become.

One of the lines in that talk, that I have remembered well since it was given, is this:
"In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something."
I think it is important to emphasize that for our LDS young men, part of the gospel of Jesus Christ is Scouting. There is a reason the church embraces Scouting. The gospel embraces all things that are good and true, including Scouting.

Anyway, the idea of becoming something has been the focus of several discussions of late. During each of these discussions, someone has said something to the effect that if all we're teaching our young men is to get their Eagle, or go on a mission, then we have missed the boat. One stake YM president went so far as to say we've failed.

That's not to say that those aren't good things. The point is that if our end goal is to earn Eagle, or go on a mission, or even get married in the temple, it isn't enough. How often have we seen someone achieve one of these goals, only to stop in their progression? How many missionaries get home from their mission only to decide they "need a break," and they stop coming to church? How many people have you seen get married in the temple because they're supposed to, only to fall away afterward?

A mission, or Eagle, or temple marriage shouldn't be the end goal. We need to be teaching our young men to become something. This is reflected in the mission statement of the BSA:
The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.
If we've done our job right and our young men have become the person we want them to be, they'll go on a mission because they want to share the gospel. They'll get married in the temple because they believe that families can be together forever. They'll earn their eagle because the are a Scout.

I think this is at the heart of what Robert Baden-Powell was really trying to get across. When I read Scouting for Boys and a few of his other writings, I came away with the idea of being a Scout. It seemed to me that he would hold up examples of manhood, or skill, or character and say in effect "this is what it means to be a Scout, and if you follow these examples you can be a Scout, too." I came away wanting to be something; to be better because that's what a Scout would do.

I don't know if our current handbooks do this. Maybe they do and we just aren't using them right. Maybe we're too focused on advancement and not enough on the Scout Oath and Law and the daily good turn.

We've got great examples of Scouts in the church. Helaman and his 2,000 stripling warriors (more than once I've told my boys about Helaman's 2,000 Boy Scouts), Captain Moroni, Ammon, Nephi, the pioneers. All are great examples of the kind of person we want our boys to become. They were Scouts. They never earned a single merit badge. None of them was an Eagle. But they were Scouts.

Monday, October 31, 2011


Last week was a little discouraging. I had hoped to begin training our new crew officers with the new Introduction to Leadership Skills for Crews. We've been talking about getting this started for several weeks now, but we hadn't been able to because all the boys have been involved in cross-country at the high school. They've had a meet every Wednesday, which meant that they couldn't be around for our activities. Now that it's over, I had thought we could get started. I had two boys show up.

I tried giving them some training anyway, but the games don't work very well with only two people. It was discouraging. I know that they are busy young men--most of them were working that night--but it still got to me.

After we were finished we had a "committee meeting." I put that in quotes because there were only three of us--the committee chair, the scoutmaster, and myself. And technically, the scoutmaster and I aren't even on the committee.

I got really frustrated with that (I hope I didn't show it too much at the time) because our committee chair keeps talking about things that the committee can do to help, such as entering advancement reports, helping with fundraising, planning courts of honor, etc. The problem is that all we ever do is talk. We have the same conversations over and over and over and yet nothing ever gets done, unless I do it. With all the talk you'd think our chairman could at least get the committee together for a meeting, but that hasn't ever happened.

I was more than a bit discouraged. By the time I got home, I was fairly fuming. I'm afraid my wife heard more of it than any spouse should ever have to. Sorry, wife.

At first I was honestly tempted to throw in the towel and give up. I kind of wanted to call the bishop and tell him to find someone else to do it. But I resisted. I haven't given up hope completely. It has taken me a few days, and I still don't have the answers, but I do have something else. Perspective.

I'm sure everyone has heard the analogy about throwing a pebble in a pond. It creates ripples that spread across the surface of the water and have an impact far beyond the reach of that first small pebble. Well, I've been thinking about ripples.

On Sunday, the father of one of my former young men told me something I needed to hear. When I first started, that young man came home and said that "Brother Mathis won't let us do anything." Well, being the bishop, that young man's dad told him that I was following the rules and that he supported me 100%. Last week he was talking with his son again and the son commented about how much fun he had with the Priests, and with me.

I also had a visit last night from another young man I've been working with. Last week, this young man passed his Eagle Board of Review. At that time he told me that I was one of the reasons he finished. He visited me last night not as a scout, but as a friend. He and his dad were going around taking treats to their home teaching families and he thought about me. When we first moved into this ward, he and his dad were our home teachers, and they were the best home teachers I've ever had. Their assignment was changed about a year ago but he came last night anyway. We visited for a while and then he asked if there was anything he could do for us. I've been asked that question a lot, but never as sincerely. He really meant it.

That same young man has a twin brother. This is the one who really got interested in Venturing. He earned his Silver award and is currently working on the Sports bronze and the Trust awards. His leadership has really blossomed over the last year and a half or so. He even got several friends together and recruited leaders to create the first community based, co-ed Venturing crew in our district. He was elected as their first president. I told my Wood Badge patrol that he was the result of my ticket. That is exactly the kind of thing I wanted to see happen. I can't take credit for everything, but I know I planted a few seeds and have had some role in nurturing them. And I hope that this Venturing crew is around when my daughter is old enough to join.

I've been thinking today about these ripples that are the result of my little pebble. There may be others. I hope more of my young men have benefited from my efforts. I hope I had some impact on our Wood Badge participants this year. I hope I've had a positive effect on those who come to round table each month. I've also thought about those who impacted me--most of whom probably don't even know it. I thought about my parents and their support of my Scouting as a boy. I thought the ripples that started with an unknown Scout doing a simple good turn in a London fog.

I also thought about my father-in-law who didn't get his Eagle because his leaders gave up.

So, no matter how frustrating things get; no matter how much the boys don't seem to care; no matter how much I have to do seemingly on my own, I'll keep doing it. Not for me, but for those boys. Because you never can tell what the result of those ripples will be. As the scripture says, "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

To be, or not to be... a merit badge counselor

I just got my wife signed up as a merit badge counselor. It made sense. As our ward's family history specialist she has taught classes at the local family history center and in our ward. She's good at it too, what with a degree from BYU in family history research. After hearing Elder David A. Bednar's recent conference address we've been discussing getting a class started for the young men and young women in our ward. Since there is a genealogy merit badge, we decided that we might as well get her signed up. That way, the young men can take this class and earn a merit badge at the same time. So we registered her as a counselor; it made sense.

This has raised within me the old debate about whether or not I should do the same. I could probably be reasonably qualified for several merit badges including bird study, environmental science, fish and wildlife management, mammal study, nature, plant science, and soil and water conservation. There could be a few others as well (family life, reading, hiking, camping, geocaching, etc) but I haven't looked into those much.

The committee chair in my ward thinks I should. One of his arguments was that if I was registered and we happened to be doing those activities anyway, I could sign off the boys for a merit badge. Pretty much what we were thinking about with my wife and her family history class.

But so far I've resisted; I haven't registered. Mostly because I have been a Venturing leader instead of a Boy Scout leader and merit badges are not a part of Venturing. I've thought that if I'm getting my young men to do activities and we can pass off requirements, those requirements will be for Venturing awards, not merit badges. As a Venturing leader I haven't wanted to get bogged down with merit badges. I haven't wanted to even think about it.

But then I question that decision. Maybe I could be a counselor and help some of the other boys. Just being a counselor doesn't mean I'd have to work on merit badges during our regular meetings. I could actually do it right and insist that the boys come talk to me and set up their own time to work on things and pass off requirements. Maybe I could be a resource to some of these young men. Maybe I could offer them a chance to work on some they wouldn't have thought about before. Maybe I could help some with a few that are required for Eagle.

I haven't registered yet. Maybe I won't until I'm moved from Venturing to Boy Scouts. But then again, maybe I should.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Patrol Method?

I have often heard that Robert Baden-Powell said something like "the patrol method is not a way to operate a Boy Scout troop, it is the ONLY way." (I have yet to see the actual sourcing on that quote, however.)  

I can see the point there. When used properly, the patrol method drives the entire experience. It's what makes Scouting really work. Maybe someday I'll actually see it happen. So far, my experience has been in small LDS wards where there are barely enough boys for one patrol. And the Scoutmaster usually doesn't know what the patrol method means. 

After attending Wood Badge, both as a participant and a staff member, I've seen how the patrol method can and should work. I would really love to see that actually happen in a troop.

That said, I don't think the patrol method applies to Venturing. I might cause a small ruckus in certain circles with that statement, but from everything I've read the patrol method is not a part of Venturing.

Let's review the methods of Scouting for a moment. Here are the eight methods of Boy Scouts, as listed by the National Eagle Scout Association (nesa.org/methods.html):
  • Ideals
  • Patrol
  • Outdoor Programs
  • Advancement
  • Association with Adults
  • Personal Growth
  • Leadership Development
  • The Uniform 
Now let's have a look at Venturing's methods (see Venturing Leader Manual, p.2):
  • Leadership
  • Group Activities
  • Adult Association
  • Recognition
  • The Ideals
  • High Adventure and Sports
  • Teaching Others
Notice, there are no patrols (or uniforms, or advancement, but that's another topic). I pointed this out at my commissioner basic training a while ago and I don't think it went over very well. The trainer was of the opinion that "group activities" were the same thing as patrols. Well, maybe. But I don't think so.

Group activities can be anything. It could be the entire crew. It could be a smaller division within the crew. It could be an inter-crew competition. I suppose in a large crew the leadership might decide to break up the crew into smaller groups to facilitate meetings and outings, but that would have to be a decision of the crew presidency. And if a crew did that, they would have to create their own leadership positions, which is fine, but that's a decision to be made by the crew.

You could probably argue that dividing a crew into smaller groups to facilitate meetings and outings would actually run counter to the patrol method anyway. Green Bar Bill is supposed to have said that "a Troop is not divided into Patrols. A Troop is the sum total of its Patrols."

I have seen no official BSA publications anywhere (with one exception I'll get to in a minute) that say anything about patrols with Venturing crews. Not in the Venturing handbook. Not in the Venturing Leader Manual. Not in the Venturing Montly Program Forum (round table guide). Not in the Venturing Leadership Skills Course. Not in the Introduction to Leadership Skills for Crews. Nowhere in any official Venturing publication that I have seen is any mention of patrols. None.

I mentioned one exception. It is my 2011 Wood Badge Staff Guide. I don't have it with me, so I can't quote the exact wording or give the exact page number. There is a section that is talking about patrols, and their use at Wood Badge and there is a mention that the patrol organization can work as well for the dens of a Cub Scout pack, the squads of a Varsity Scout team, or the teams of a Venturing crew. And, if I remember correctly, that statement isn't even a part that is specifically shared with participants.

So, the only "official" mention of anything like patrols for Venturing comes as a passing statement in a document that most Venturing leaders will not see. Hmm.

I'll say it again. The patrol method is not a part of Venturing. Venturing is a completely different animal from Boy Scouts. It is different enough that most Scouters I know don't know quite how to deal with it. It gets a bit frustrating at times. But it is a fantastic program. I hope it stays around for a good long time.

Monday, October 17, 2011

This weekend's activity

I have been trying to get my Venturing crew to have more weekend activities. I mean, what good is Venturing if you don't do stuff? Since our yearly calendar fell apart (we really need to do better with our presidency meetings) and we haven't finalized our new calendar, we've kind of been coasting. I suggested we do something for a weekend activity this month and the boys decided a hike would be a good thing to do.

We had planned to do a relatively short hike--maybe 2 miles round trip--but at least we'd be out doing something. We scheduled the day, planned to grill some burgers for lunch while we were up there, and got ready. But something unexpected happened. Nobody showed up.

I found out later that two of the boys got new jobs and had to work, a third hurt his ankle and couldn't go. One decided he needed to do homework, or something like that. One just didn't want to go, and one, who wasn't there when we planned the activity, was never told about it.

Maybe it's my fault--I did volunteer to lead this activity. Maybe I didn't do enough. But whatever the reason, the activity fell through.

But it didn't turn out all bad. I ended up taking my wife and daughter. We didn't do the hike, but we did go up and have lunch, and we had a wonderful afternoon together as a family. I realized that I should be doing that kind of thing with them more often. It really was great.

So, on Sunday, when I found out what happened to all the boys, I told them it was okay. In fact, I had such a wonderful day with my family that I actually thanked them for not coming. I hope that was an okay thing to do.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Scout Leader Training

I've been thinking a lot lately about a scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 107, verses 99 and 100:
99   Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.
100  He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand. Even so. Amen.
This applies to all church members in any calling, even Scout leaders. Let's take a closer look.

"Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty..." - Scouts and Scout leaders raise their right arm in the Scout sign and take a solemn oath to "do my best to do my duty." How can we expect to do our duty unless we know what it is? This requires that we receive training. Not just fast start and basic training. We need to attend Wood Badge and round table. These are, in my opinion, rather basic steps to understanding what our duty really is. Furthermore, we need to actually read our leader manuals. I know, that's a radical idea, but it works!

"...and to act in the office in which he is appointed." - LDS Scout leaders don't normally volunteer. They are appointed. The Lord knows you didn't ask for this, but He gave it to you anyway, and expects you to act.

"...in all diligence." - Let me again mention Wood Badge, round table, and reading the handbooks.

"He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand..." - I'm not going to try to describe what slothful looks like, but I think we've all seen it. But the part I find interesting is the not being counted "worthy to stand" part. Worthy to stand where? Does this refer to our eternal salvation? Maybe. Could it mean the temple? Maybe. I'm not suggesting Bishops should revoke a temple recommend if the Scoutmaster doesn't go to Wood Badge, I just think the wording in the scripture is interesting. We should keep this in mind as we go about our work.

"...and he that learns not his duty... shall not be counted worthy to stand." - There's that "worthy to stand" phrase again. Only this time it is connected not to the action, but the learning. He that learns not his duty.... How are you supposed to act in all diligence unless you learn your duty? Get trained! Please!

I know, in the church, we sometimes have a problem about calling Scout leaders and not getting them trained. Part of this is that the person extending the call doesn't know what the training is supposed to be. The new District Executive in my district has seen this problem and created a tool to help combat it. It is a checklist for new Scout leaders--their "Steps to Success." (Check it out, here.) In my opinion, this is a great tool that needs to be used more. I shared it with my bishop, who I hope shared it with my new second counselor in the young men. Perhaps I'll share it again in presidency meeting....

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Next year...

Last night our crew president showed up ready to plan our super activity for next year. This was pretty significant since we hadn't planned to do that. In fact, most of our plans have fallen through lately. That seems to happen about this time of year. Anyway, our president had other ideas.

He gave a brief introduction about why we do activities, focusing on the fact that the young men will get out of Venturing just what they put in. If they were willing to work and plan, we could have a fantastic year.

At the end of the night we had the beginnings of a plan for our activity next year. Over the coming weeks we'll refine it and develop other activities to help us get there, but we now have something to shoot for.

We will be spending a week around Bear Lake--scuba diving, water skiing, mountain biking, maybe hiking. We might take a day and go down to Logan for a movie. And at some point, I will apparently be dressing up as Darth Vader with all of the boys following me around as storm troopers. But it should be a really fun trip.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Troop Guides

As I was wandering through the sagebrush at work the other day, my mind, as it often does, drifted toward Scouting and the problems and issues we face in our local unit. A lot of the problems in our local unit are, I believe, pretty common to those faced by other church sponsored Scout units. This particular day I was thinking about the New Scouts.

In the church, in order to preserve quorum identity, we don't have the new Scouts (11 year olds) join with the Scout troop (Deacon's quorum) for meetings or activities. We will invite them to Courts of Honor, if anyone remembers they are there. But for the most part, the new Scouts function completely separately from the rest of the troop.

I understand, and agree with, maintaining quorum identity by using separate Scouting programs, but I often wonder if we could do better where our new Scouts are concerned. Too often they are isolated. They are no longer Cub Scouts but we don't let them really be a part of the Boy Scout troop. The new Scout leaders are isolated, too. They aren't always invited to committee meetings. They never meet with the Scoutmaster. They function entirely separately from the rest of the troop and the other Scouting programs of the church.

I believe this should change. Since we use Scouting as an activity arm of the priesthood, we should be using Scouting to help new Scouts prepare to receive the Aaronic priesthood and join the deacon's quorum. The LDS Scouting handbook says that we can have our new Scouts participate with the rest of the troop in "occasional daytime activities" as well as up to three overnight camping experiences. And yet we never do. We should. They should be involved in Courts of Honor with the rest of the troop. We should involve the new Scouts with the troop as much as is reasonably possible for activities while keeping separate meetings to maintain quorum identity.

As I was out at work, wandering through the sagebrush thinking of all these things, an idea struck me. Troop Guides.

At Wood Badge this year I had the opportunity to be a troop guide to the bear patrol. It was fantastic.

The position of troop guide is one that, in a normal troop, is held by a youth member of the troop. His responsibilities are to be a guide to new scouts in the troop. He helps them understand the troop and patrol organization. He coaches the patrol leader of the new Scout patrol in his duties. He helps teach Scouting skills to help new Scouts earn the rank of First-Class.

He should live the Scout Oath and Law. He should correctly and enthusiastically wear his uniform. In short, he should be a model of what it means to be a Scout.

I have never seen it happen but I believe we should be using this position in the Church. Imagine what would happen if one of the more experienced Scouts was asked to attend new Scout meetings and guide them through their first year. He could help the adult leader in teaching skills. He could help train youth leaders. He could inspire the new Scouts to earn advancement. He could encourage proper uniforming. He could be a friend and mentor to younger boys. Most importantly, he could help prepare boys to receive the priesthood and join the Deacon's quorum.

The troop guide, of course, would continue to meet with his own patrol and quorum, but he would also be a guide and mentor to the younger boys. Think of the possibilities, not only for the new Scouts, but for the boy who is asked to take that responsibility.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Unit Commissioner

Last weekend I attended Commissioner Basic Training in my capacity as an assistant Venturing round table commissioner. While the training was focused mostly on unit commissioners I still found it very helpful.

Part of what I really liked about it is that now I know what I can or should expect from my own unit commissioner. I knew I had one and I knew who he was, but I didn't know how that position fit with anything else, or what I could expect from him. Now I do.

So, here are the responsibilities of the unit commissioner:
  • Help the unit earn the Journey to Excellence Award. (formerly Quality Unit Award)
  • Know each phase of Scouting and its literature. Be able to describe how each works.
  • Visit meetings of assigned packs/troops/teams/crews regularly, usually once a month.
  • Visit regularly with the unit leader.
    • Be aware of unit leader concerns and challenges.
    • Serve as the unit leader's coach and counselor.
    • Build a strong, friendly relationship.
    • Help the leader see opportunities for improvement.
    • Encourage unit participation in district and council events.
  • Work to ensure effective unit committees.
    • Visit with the unit committee periodically.
    • Observe the committee, offer suggestions for improvement, and work to solve problems.
  • See that unit leaders have adequate training.
  • Facilitate on-time charter renewal of all units.
    • Help the unit conduct a membership inventory of youth and adults.
    • Help the unit committee chairman conduct the charter renewal meeting.
    • See that a completed charter renewal application is returned to the council service center.
    • Make arrangements to present the unit charter at a meeting of the chartered organization.
  • Attend all meetings of the commissioner staff.
  • Become trained.
  • Set the example.
    • Adopt an attitude of helpfulness.
    • Keep promises.
    • Be concerned about proper uniforming.
    • Be diplomatic.
    • Be a model of Scouting ideals.
  • Know the resources available to the unit in the neighborhood, district, and council.
 Now that I know what my unit commissioner is supposed to do I can say that, for the most part, mine hasn't done his job very well. I haven't had any visits. Our committee hasn't had any help--and I know they could use it. I could be wrong, but I suspect he doesn't know much about the Venturing program. As far as I can tell, he hasn't done anything to help our leaders get training. He hasn't attended commissioner staff meetings, at least in the time I have been attending them in my role as a round table commissioner.

I didn't mean this to be a complaint about my unit commissioner. Its just that when you learn what is supposed to happen, it gets discouraging to see that it isn't being done. But maybe I can change that. Now that I know he is supposed to make visits, I can invite him to our meetings. I can ask him for help with Journey to Excellence. I can ask him for suggestions about how to improve our program. I can ask for help in encouraging our other leaders to get trained.

As I said before, this training was a great experience. I think it would be great for every unit leader to have this training, if only so they will know what they can expect from their unit commissioners.

Monday, September 19, 2011

September Round Table

At round table this month we discussed how to get a Venturing crew started. I put together a list of steps that crew leaders can take to get things started. Most of this information I got directly from the Venturing Leader Manual. There is also a Venturing guide specifically for LDS crews. See http://www.ldsscouting.org/venturing/venturing.html.

1.      Program Capability Inventory
The program capability inventory is a tool that will help you identify resources and consultants that will be available to your crew. This will help shape your crew’s program.
Ideally, a member of the crew committee will keep and maintain this file. After crew officers are elected, the Program Vice President will work with the crew committee to use this in recruiting consultants for activities.
Information and forms can be found in the Venturing Leader Manual, pp. 27-29, or you can create your own. The LDS church provides a Talent and Interest Survey that could also be used (http://lds.org/service/serving-in-the-church/aaronic-priesthood/leader-resources/mutual-and-other-activities?lang=eng

2.      Venturing Activity Interest Survey
This tool is used to survey the interests of crew members. When crew interests match with available resources from the PCI, a viable program is born. This process is used in planning the yearly program.
After crew officers are elected, the Program Vice President should collect and maintain these interest surveys.
Information and forms can be found in the Venturing Leader Manual, pp. 30-31, 35-36. You can use the forms available or create your own. The LDS church’s Talent and Interest Survey could also be used.

3.      Election of Crew officers
Information regarding the election of crew officers can be found in the Venturing Leader Manual, p. 31
For LDS crews, follow the guidance of the LDS church Scouting handbook, p. 3: “Each Scouting unit should be led by a young man who is nominated by the bishopric and sustained by the quorum members. For Scouting purposes this constitutes an election.” (http://lds.org/bc/content/shared/content/english/pdf/scouting-handbook-2011.pdf?lang=eng)

4.      Crew Officer Training
Training Venturers to be leaders is an ongoing process that begins immediately when a Venturer accepts a leadership position in thecrew. Leadership experiences can be frustrating and disappointing for a Venturer who is not given the knowledge, skills, and encouragement that are needed to fulfill a leadership assignment. The following resources are available to help you train your crew officers:
  • Crew Officers Orientation
This is an on-line video that introduces crew officers to their responsibilities. Also available on CD through the scout shop. (http://www.scouting.org/Training/Youth/VenturingOrientation.aspx)
  • Introduction to Leadership Skills for Crews
A new leadership training course that replaces the old Venturing Leadership Skills Course. This equates to Basic Training for youth officers and should be conducted as soon as possible after officer election takes place. (http://www.scouting.org/filestore/training/pdf/511-013WB.pdf
If several weeks will pass before this course can be taught, conduct a crew officers briefing right away. Information about the crew officers briefing can be found in the Venturing Leader Manual, p. 34
5.      Crew Officers Seminar (annual planning retreat)
This is perhaps the most important meeting of the year. In this meeting, crew officers will learn and practice their responsibilities, and develop a program of activities for the coming year. Information about the crew officers seminar can be found in the Venturing Leader Manual, pp. 34, 47.
Information about program planning is contained in Chapter 3 of the Venturing Leader Manual.

6.      Open House
In a community based crew the open house is an opportunity to recruit new members. You share information about your crew and your program and invite others to join. In an LDS crew you won’t likely be recruiting anyone, but an open house is a good opportunity to share with parents your plans for the coming year.
Have an activity, share photos and stories about your past activities and introduce your calendar for the coming year.
Information about open houses can be found in the Venturing Leader Manual, pp. 37-40.

7.      Crew officers meetings
This is a critical step in turning your plan into an actual program of activities. Crew officers should meet regularly (monthly) to review crew business, make assignments for future crew activities, and assess crew activities and progress.
These meetings should be led by the youth officers. A sample agenda can be found in the Venturing Leader Manual, p. 33.
In an LDS crew, this probably should be held in conjunction with the Priests quorum presidency meetings.

8.      Regular Crew meetings/activities
Crew meetings should have an opening and closing, using the Venturing Oath, and prayer. The crew president should lead the meeting using a detailed, written agenda. Business and announcements should be handled quickly and effeciently to allow time to focus on the crew’s planned activity.
Activites should be planned and led by youth activity chairs with assistance from consultants identified through the program capability inventory. Adult leaders should advisers, not lead players.
Information about crew meetings can be found in the Venturing Leader Manual, pp. 41, 43.

I think the two main points here are first, that the program is centered around the activities that the young people want to do. It probably should revolve around the yearly super activity and, ideally, incorporate Venturing award requirements. But if you are doing activities that the youth want to do, and if the youth are planning and leading them, you've got a program going. The first two steps are focused on this.

The second thing is that you have to have crew officers elected, trained, and functioning. In my crew, we've had officers in place for a year and a half, and we've had yearly plans for the last two years. But I haven't done a very good job in getting them to hold officers meetings. I've provided some training, but could do better. As a result, a lot of our activities fall through. Our plans go by the wayside and the youth aren't involved as much as I would like.

I think that if you can get your crew officers to meet regularly, everything else will fall into place. That's where my focus is going to be for the next little while.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Committee? What Committee?

One of the struggles I have had with Scouting is on the committee end. In the three and a half years I've been working with the Venturing program, I have not had a committee functioning. I wasn't really even sure what they were supposed to do, which made things a little tricky when the Wood Badge troop guides decided to do their staff project about Scout unit committees. Anyway, this is what we came up with (click on the image to see a larger size):

We developed organizational charts to explain the committee functions and responsibilities. Perhaps the first thing to notice is that the Scoutmaster/Coach/Advisor is not actually a member of the committee. I think we often do that wrong in the Church. Too many times the Scoutmaster/Coach/Advisor are the committee.

You'll also notice we have a separate committee for each group. The reason for that is that they are separate programs with different emphases and responsibilities; they deserve separate committees. I have never seen an LDS ward do this. We usually end up with two: one for cub scouts, and one for everything else. Part of that is probably because most wards I've seen ignore the varsity and venturing programs and just worry about the boy scouts. That's wrong, in my opinion.

I've been told by several people that having separate committees might be a good idea but would never work. "How could we ever get separate committees when we can't even get one?" That is a valid concern but not a reason not to try. It reminds me of a quote from one of our Wood Badge participants: "Just because that's the way you've always done it, doesn't mean it isn't incredibly stupid."

I think the real problem with Scout committees in the LDS church is in who we choose as the chair. If you get a good chairperson, they can make the committee work. And if you had three good committee chair persons you could get functioning committees for each of the older boy programs. The trick is in who you ask. As I was working on the organizational chart for Venturing, the thought I kept having was that the most practical choice, the obvious choice, of chairperson would be the Bishop.

Extend that out a bit further and have each member of the bishopric serve as the committee chair for each of the older boy programs. I've shared this idea with a few people and the response is always negative. "That would never work." "The bishopric are too busy, they have too many responsibilities already. You want to make them go to more meetings?"

I see it a little differently. Each member of the bishopric is already responsible for one of the quorums of the Aaronic priesthood. The bishop is president of the priests quorum. They should be intimately involved with the quorum anyway. Having the bishopric serve as the committee chair for that quorum's scout group would facilitate their existing responsibilities to that quorum and those young men. It would provide a framework for them to do what they should be doing anyway. The LDS church handbook on Scouting says that a member of the bishopric should serve on each Scout committee anyway--why not make them the chair?

Yes, Bishops and their counselors are busy. But they have responsibilities for the young men anyway. If we could get ward councils, Elder's quorum and Relief Society presidents, and High Priests group leaders to take over more responsibilities (like we've been asked) then the bishopric could be freed up to fulfill their responsibilities to the young men. And the committees could provide a framework for that.

I had one person tell me that this idea actually goes against what the church is trying to do. "The bishopric should be on the side of the boys--encouraging them--and the scout committee sometimes has to say 'no, you can't do that.' The bishopric shouldn't have to be in that position." My response is that the bishopric is already in that position. They review our activities in BYC and tell us when we can't do something. I also said that the committee should also be on the side of the boy--it isn't an antagonistic relationship. He tried to tell me

Having the Bishopric serve as committee chairs would also solve another problem I see with LDS scout committees. We usually call someone as committee chair who isn't already involved with the young men. They may or may not have a relationship with and/or interest in the boys, but they are coming from outside the young men's organization. And that often leaves them out of the loop.

As young mens president, I sit in on ward council and PEC meetings. We'll often get scouting information coming down through the stake by way of our high councilman. It gets handed directly to me. The committee chair never even sees it. They are out of the loop. Having the Bishopric serve as committee chairs eliminates that problem.

It also eliminates the problem I mentioned earlier. We often can't get one committee functioning because we can't get the committee chair to function. I believe if the bishopric members served as committee chairs, they would be able to get their committee to function. A good leader will create a good team.

There is another obvious choice for who could serve as the committee chairs--the young mens presidency. Generally, they are called either as the Scoutmaster/Coach/Advisor or assistants, but there isn't any reason I can see that would prevent them from being committee chairs instead.

Sure, these ways of doing things would create other issues but the more I think about it, the more obvious it seems. Have the bishopric serve as the committee chair for three separate Scout committees. It makes sense. I think it would work.

Of course, I say that having never been either a committee chair or a member of the bishopric....

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wood Badge

I got home Saturday from the second weekend of Wood Badge. I went as a participant two years ago and felt like it was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. It was a little different being on staff, but still a wonderful experience. And one I would love to have again.

It's interesting to me that a Scout camp can be such a spiritual thing. Part of that, I'm sure, is the fact that all of the staff and participants were LDS, so we were comfortable talking about gospel principles along with our Scouting discussions. It would be a little different in a mixed faith setting. I believe, however, that part of why it can be such a spiritual experience, is because the principles at the foundation of the Scouting movement are true and correct. If they weren't the Church wouldn't sponsor Scouting.

For the last couple years, as I've become increasingly involved in Scouting, I've had a real desire to see how Scouting would work when run the way it is supposed to be run. One of the "problems" with Scouting in the church is that, often as not, we don't use the program the way it was designed.

We charter a troop/team/crew with every ward. I understand why we do it that way, but the effect is that we are limited in the number of youth who participate. We can't recruit members outside of our ward boundaries. My experience has been limited but I haven't ever seen a troop bigger than about 8 boys. It's hard to use the patrol method when you don't even have enough boys to form two patrols.

One of the other problems is that leaders don't get the training they should. Part of that comes because the person calling the Scout leader doesn't know what training they should have, or where to go for information. Our new District Executive is working on changing that in our area, but in the past, that has been a real problem.

Without proper training in how to do their job, too many Scout leaders don't train the boys to do their jobs. They often fail to help our youth develop the leadership they will need as they grow to manhood.

Another problem with our Scout leaders is that sometimes they just don't care. They ignore the scriptural command: "Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand." (D&C 107:99-100)

It may be a bit simplistic, but it seems that the answer to all of these issues is Wood Badge. If we could just get all our Scout leaders (and COR's and Bishops and committee members) to attend Wood Badge, I think we would solve most, if not all of these problems.

Wood Badge helps leaders learn their duty. In order to attend they have to first have Basic Training in their position. That is an important step, but Wood Badge adds polish to that. Not that it teaches those things specifically, but it demonstrates proper leadership. You learn how to run a program by participating in a well run program.

More importantly, however, is that by participating in Wood Badge, leaders become converted. They go home wanting to "do [their] best to do their duty." They have seen how a program can and should work. They have done the things we expect of our boys, and have a better idea of how to help. And they have made a commitment and set goals to improve.

I love Wood Badge. It has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. I know my experience has made a difference in me, in my young men, and in my family. It takes a lot of time. It requires you to take time off work and away from family, and that can be hard. From my perspective, it's worth it.

Now I need to make it to Philmont.....

Monday, August 29, 2011

I used to be a... Bear!

I'm back from the first weekend of Wood Badge. I somehow ended up being the troop guide to the Bear patrol. I was told that we should be a guide to a patrol other than the one we were in, but somehow I managed it.

What a great experience this has been, although, I must say that it's quite different from the perspective of staff.

As a participant, everything was new and exciting. I was constantly thinking about what I needed to learn and what I could do to improve Scouting within my circle of influence. It was an incredibly emotional experience.

This time around, I've been focused not on myself or my own leadership responsibilities, but on the participants. Am I doing everything I can to make their experience as good as it can be? Instead of internalizing the lessons and thinking of how I can use them, I'm watching my patrol and trying to judge their reactions. Instead of developing my own ticket, I'm giving feedback on theirs. I wonder, are they getting the same things I did? What is affecting them? Are they really here to learn or are they just going through the motions? If they didn't want to come at first, has that changed?

I can't know exactly what they are thinking. I hope it has gone well for them. I hope it has been a great experience. I worry that a couple of presentations and activities fell flat, but that could be a result of my different perspective.

Even with these differences, I wouldn't miss it for the world. Even if I did have to play a dyslexic granddaughter in a skit revolving around the story of Rindercella. I even had to slop my dripper. But it sure was fun. I can't wait for next weekend.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Back to Gilwell, happy land!

Tonight I am headed back to Gilwell. I'm going over tonight so I can be on-site to help set up first thing Wednesday morning. Participants arrive for the start of Wood Badge on Thursday. I can't believe it's really here already!

I am feeling quite a mix of emotions, and for some reason I feel the need to write them out. Perhaps I just need to try to make sense of them all.

First, I am really, really excited. I absolutely loved my Wood Badge course two years ago. It was one of the best and most uplifting/spiritual experiences of my life. I can't explain why, but it was. So, I am excited to return to that.

At the same time, I'm pretty nervous. Going as a staff member is a little different from going as a participant. Then I didn't know what to expect. This time I do. But now I am also partly responsible for making this a fantastic experience for the participants. As a troop guide, I will be presenting several lessons to my patrol (especially the first weekend). I've spent quite a bit of time getting them ready and practicing. I think I'm prepared, but still I wonder what I'm missing. I worry that I won't teach them as well as they should be done.

In addition to the lessons, I will likely be the go-to person for my patrol for any questions about nearly everything. From the schedule, to their responsibilities, to their tickets. Possibly more I can't anticipate. I worry that I won't be able to answer everything, that I won't be the guide they will need.

I also worry about the social aspect of the course. I've never been a very social person. I don't make friends easily. I make conversation even less easily. And yet I feel as if I need to be outgoing and sociable. I need to be friendly and cheerful--everything a Scout should be. I hope I can do that. I need to let go of my inhibitions and not be afraid to have fun, to speak up, to be outgoing. But I worry that when I get in that big crowd that I'll withdraw inside myself and make a mess of things. It's happened before. There's a good chance I'll let it happen again. At the same time, I can see the possibility that this course will bring me new friends and acquaintances that I will treasure, and I look forward to that. I want that association that comes through shared interests and experiences. Like I said before, my Wood Badge course was one of the best experiences of my life, and I expect this one to be just as good.

And then I wonder if I have packed everything I need. I'm sure I'll forget something. Will it be something personal I can make do without for a few days? Will it be something for one of my lessons? What is it? I'm sure I'll be okay. I hope. At least I'm not in charge of food. That could be a disaster.

I will also miss my wife. I joked with her that I'll miss her when I have the time. I know I'll be busy and will not always be thinking about what she needs. But I also know that any quiet moments to myself will bring my thoughts around to her. And I know she will miss me. It will be especially hard for her to have me away for so long, and that pains me. I want her to have everything, but I won't be able to be there for her. But she is supportive and loving and wants me to go. I will get to see her tomorrow night for our staff dinner and beading ceremony where they will present a third bead to the staff.

I'm excited. I'm grateful for this opportunity. I'm also nervous. But, whatever happens, I'll be back at Gilwell. And that is good.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

August Round Table

We had a special treat for our August Round Table. The young man in my ward who earned his Silver Award came and spoke to us about the Venturing awards, why he wanted to do them, and what we can do to get young men (and leaders) interested in the Venturing program.

We then spent a while talking about our yearly planning. Since we've all just done our big activities for the summer, it's time to start planning for next year. We talked about the process and how to make it work.

I'm especially glad my young man was there. Now he'll be able to better lead us in our planning. Maybe I should have him come to Round Table more often....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

River Trip

I've wanted to post about this for a couple days now, I just haven't been sure how to do it.

We took our Venturing Crew on a camp/river trip last weekend. We've been planning this trip for months. We floated down the Green river from Flaming Gorge Dam to Little Hole. It is a very popular spot, both for rafters and fishermen.

We went up on Thursday evening and set up camp. I finally got my wish to have the young men do all the cooking, except for the peach cobbler they requested from me. (Of course, cooking is really easy when you do a can of beef stew for dinner, cold cereal for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch.)

We spent most of the day on Friday rafting the river. That evening, the boys cooked a fantastic dinner of Dutch oven chicken and potatoes, cornbread, and chocolate cherry cobbler. Later, we sat around the campfire and shared stories. Scary stories, jokes, even a few true stories from leaders' LDS missions.

We got up Saturday morning and headed back to town. It was a pretty good trip. Mostly.

The troubles were with the rafting. Now, this section of the river does not have any really serious rapids. It's pretty tame, actually. Which means that the fun thing to do along the way is to have a water fight. Everybody knew going in that we would get wet. That was the plan. Everyone knew it.

We had one young man, however, who didn't want to get wet. At all. "Why can't we just casually float down the river and enjoy the scenery?" he asked. Well, after a while the water fights stopped and we did just that. I really think the other guys were trying to be nice and gave a little to make his trip more enjoyable.

As far as I could tell, though, he didn't even like the casual trip. He didn't seem to be enjoying the scenery. He just complained. He didn't even want to come, he said, but his mom made him. He would rather be at home playing video games. "Why is it that we can have a water fight where we could get hypothermia and die but we can't have a paintball fight?" It was pretty tiring.

After we finished the first run we ate lunch and went back for a second run. This time, the other guys were going to have a water fight. That's what they came for. They gave in on the first run, but not this one. Sure enough, we got wet. And we heard complaints from the one young man the entire time, with one exception.

At one point, we came up on another rafting party, this one containing young women. I saw our complainer, who didn't want to get wet, sitting up on the side of the raft with his leg dangling in the water. Later that evening as we were going to bed, I overheard one of the other boys ask this young man if he had any fun. The answer was no. The first boy persisted, saying he thought it looked like he was having fun. "I was just pretending to have fun because of the girls. I was really thinking that I'd rather be home playing [some stupid video game]."

This just confirmed in my mind what I suspected the whole time. I think if he had just been willing to loosen up and join in that he would have had the time of his life. But he refused.

What do you do with a young man who refuses to be a part of the group? Someone who is so determined NOT to enjoy the activity that he refuses to let himself have fun? What can you do?

But that seems to be pretty typical with this young man. He moved into the ward a few months ago, so he doesn't have the same connection with the others that they all have. Naturally, he is having a hard time fitting in. He seems to want to fit in, but only if everyone else bends to fit in with him. He is so far unwilling to give even an inch in order to belong. And I think it's having a negative effect on the others. Toward the end of the second river run, one of the other boys told me they thought it would be more fun. Apparently, a single poor attitude dampened the entire trip.

I don't want to be angry or upset with this young man. I know he has different interests from the others. But I see everyone else trying, at least a little, to include him. I don't see that from him. And I don't know what to do about it.