Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April Round Table

A few months ago I was asked to be an Assistant Round Table Commissioner for the Venturing program in our district. That means I get to lead the Venturing round tables every couple months. I was in charge of the one for April, which we had last Thursday. I'm just now getting around to saying anything about it.

I decided the topic should be youth leadership. It seems like whenever I talk to other Venturing leaders, most of them are having some good activities. But I almost always get the impression that the adults are planning and leading them. I'm struggling with it myself. But it should be the youth who are planning and leading the activities.

So, for round table we discussed the activities we are all having, what works and what doesn't and I asked who was leading the activities. Nobody said anything. I think they all knew the youth should be, but weren't. So we played a game.

The game is called Helium Stick. Everyone lines up in two lines, facing each other. They hold out their index fingers so they are all lined up, and a rigid, light-weight stick is laid across the middle. The goal is to work together to get the stick on the floor, all the while maintaining finger contact (you can't hold it or curl your finger around it). If anyone's finger comes off, you start over.

I had never played this game before, or seen it done, so I wasn't entirely convinced it would work. I found the lightest stick I could think of (the stalk of a Phragmites plant). As soon as I put the stick on their fingers it started to rise. The eventually got it to stay still, but found it almost impossible to get it to go down. They finally found a way to make it work, but some might have considered it to be cheating.

The point of this game (from my perspective) was to show that sometimes we try too hard. We're all so focused on not letting our fingers off the stick that we end up going in the opposite direction. With our young men, we are sometimes so focused on making sure an activity works that the ultimate goal is compromised. Sometimes we need to let go just a little. We need to let the young men lead. We need to be willing to let them fail, not in a way that will hurt them but in a way that will help them grow. We might need to be willing to eat whatever it is they decide to cook, even if it ends up burnt. We might need to wait until 10:00 for dinner on a camp because they forgot to get started earlier. We might even need to be willing to occasionally not have an activity if the boy in charge didn't do his job.

We also discussed the election and training of youth officers. I gave some ideas of my own and discussed resources available for training our youth.

We had a really good discussion. There were some who were struggling with having only one boy. (How do you teach a boy to lead when there is no one for him to lead?) There were others who have several young men, but none of them are interested in Scouting or are too busy with work or girlfriends or otherwise just don't come. We weren't able to come up with answers to everything, and maybe there aren't answers to some of those concerns.

My feeling is that, whatever the situation, we need to let the young men take the lead. It takes time, along with a lot of training/mentoring/coaching to get them used to it. Some will do better than others. Sometimes they will fail. Far more often they will succeed.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Camping We Will Go...

I just got back from our first camping trip of the year. It went pretty well, overall.

It was originally scheduled to happen in February, but we cancelled it due to extreme cold (-30ยบ). We rescheduled for March, but it was a day I couldn't go. My understanding was that the other advisor and a parent were going to take them, but it didn't happen. We had already planned this one for April and it worked.

There was a question about whether or not we would be able to do this one because of a track meet. Some of the boys thought it would be best to reschedule. However, we had one young man who was determined not to reschedule again. He had one requirement left for his Venturing Gold award, and this camp would do it. He insisted that we go, and convinced the others to go along.

We arranged to go to a local state park and camp in the campground. We chose that location because it was the closest place we could think of to go camping and would be the shortest bike ride. Yep, part of the plan was to ride bicycles to the camp.

The Advisor and I took the camping trailer and all our gear up to the park earlier in the day, then we all met at the church to start our ride. We ended up with four young men. It took us about an hour to ride the 7 miles into the park. The Bishop even joined us on his motorcycle.

When we got into camp, they young men started in on pitching the tent and the Bishop started making dinner. I wish he hadn't. My plan was to let the young men do it all. And I believe they would have, but the Bishop decided that he didn't want to wait around for them to do it. He wasn't as okay with going hungry as I was. We had some really good food, but I think we missed a chance to teach the boys an important lesson.

We also had a couple of special guests come and talk to us about their missions; one in New Zealand and one in Japan. One of the young men invited them as a part of another Venturing award. It worked really well.

We tried to do an ethical controversy after that, but it was getting late and we had too many adults and not enough youth. The adults dominated the discussion and didn't follow the rules. It wasn't the most successful one we've done.

The bishop and our special guests went home last night leaving the four young men and two advisors to stay the night. It got a little cold, but the weather was as perfect as we could have hoped for a camp in April.

I got up around 6:30 this morning, expecting to be the first one up. To my surprise, two of the young men were already up and had a fire going. They were also starting to get breakfast ready. This is exactly what I was hoping would happen. I knew these young men were capable of leading and taking care of all these jobs, but I don't think they've ever been given a chance to do it. They're used to having adults take care of everything and, I think, they're usually content to let them.

We had a great breakfast of pancakes and sausage and were finished with breakfast by 7:30. We had the entire camp cleaned up and packed back into the trailer by 8:00. I didn't think I would ever see that happen. The last camp I took them on we were struggling to get breakfast by 8:00. Of course, they had a little more motivation. They were all going on a "day-date" for prom today. They needed to get back and shower.

Overall it was a good experience. The young men stepped up and took the lead on the planning and work. I think they just needed a chance to lead without a well-meaning adult stepping in and doing it for them. My hope is that this success story will show them that they are capable of doing it themselves and will motivate them to lead more often. And that's how it should be.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I went turkey hunting over the weekend. It didn't go very well. It had been raining all night and things were pretty muddy. I eventually found a few tracks, but never any turkeys. And then it started to snow. I eventually gave up.

While I was out, however, I had a chance to be on the mountain, all alone in the cool of early morning, and just sit and listen. It's been a while since I've had an opportunity like that. I do get out into the woods for work quite regularly, but I don't often get to just sit and enjoy where I am. I got to do that this weekend, and found I've really missed it.

While I was there I had a poem come to mind. Now, I'm not a big fan of poetry, but I did just start reading a collection of poems by Robert Service (the author of The Cremation of Sam McGee). One of the poems was titled The Three Voices:

The waves have a story to tell me,
    As I lie on the lonely beach;
Chanting aloft in the pine-tops,
    The wind has a lesson to teach;
But the stars sing an anthem of glory
    I cannot put into speach.

The waves tell of ocean spaces,
    Of hearts that are wild and brave,
Of populous city places,
    Of desolate shores they lave,
Of men who sally in quest of gold
    To sink in an ocean grave.

The wind is a mighty roamer;
    He bids me keep me free,
Clean from the taint of the gold-lust,
    Hardy and pure as he;
Cling with my love to nature,
    As a child to the mother-knee.

But the stars throng out in their glory,
    And they sing of the God in man;
They sing of the Mighty Master,
    Of the loom his fingers span,
Where a star or a soul is a part of the whole,
    And weft in the wondrous plan.

Here by the camp-fire's flicker,
    Deep in my blanket curled,
I long for the peace of the pine-gloom,
    When the scroll of the Lord is unfurled,
And the wind and the wave are silent,
    And world is singing to world.

So what does any of this have to do with Scouting? Maybe nothing. But I've heard it said that the outdoor programs achieve more of the aims of Scouting than any other single method. Perhaps it's because of those "voices" Robert Service speaks of. When we get young men into the woods, around a campfire, or gazing at the stars something happens. They hear those voices. They hear the stars "sing of the Mighty Master." They draw closer to God.

Thinking about it in this way, I've realized it is no coincidence that the young men I have the hardest time reaching on a spiritual level are the ones who never come with us on our trips and outings. I'm not sure what to do to get them to come. But I really hope I can. Perhaps the wind and the stars can teach them the things they don't want to hear from me.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Recent Events

We've had a couple of noteworthy events (both good and... questionable) over the last week that I've been wanting to post about. I'm just now finding the chance to do it.

Last Wednesday we had a Court of Honor. I'm still not quite sure what to think about it. A couple weeks beforehand, one of the Scouts asked me if he could be in charge of this one. I thought it was a great idea, and invited him to our committee meeting so we could help him work it out. He didn't come. Neither did our committee chairman, or any of our committee members. It was just the leaders of the different programs.

The Sunday before the Court of Honor I found out why this young man wanted to lead this event. He had a hiking staff he was making for our Scoutmaster and wanted to present it to him. I thought that was wonderful. Here we had a young man who recognized the hard work his leader was putting in and wanted to do something about it. Great!

The night of the Court of Honor, I started to see a different picture emerge. I was content to sit back and let the boys do what they had planned and lead the meeting. Instead, Scoutmaster's Wife took charge of the entire thing. She assigned boys to specific jobs, she wrote out the agenda, she even interrupted the young men and wouldn't let them speak. She was in charge. It really made me wonder if she hadn't planned the entire recognition for her husband and told the boys they had to do it. (It also really  makes me wonder about her two sons who are Eagle Scouts...) The entire evening was, frankly, embarrassing.

That event, and a few advancement issues beforehand, simply served as a reminder to me about how broken things seem to be with our scouting program, especially our committee. It was terribly frustrating.

On a more positive note, we had a really nice weekend with our older boys. The bishop got tickets to the Priesthood session of the LDS Church's General Conference. We took five of our older boys to Salt Lake to see the session on Saturday night in the Conference Center. We then got into the Tabernacle for the Sunday morning session before heading back home. It was a really great experience, one I wish we could have shared with more of our young men.