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.