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

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 (

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.” (

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. (
  • 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. (
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.....