Wednesday, May 9, 2007

  Young Adult Leaders in Scouting

The May-June issue of Scouting Magazine features an article on how units and others can keep Scouts who recently turned 18 involved in Scouting, and I'm featured in the article as an example of someone who, instead of becoming involved in a unit, became involved in Council/District activities. Though the article is short, I think it's a good first step in addressing what I consider to be a challenging issue for the Scouting program: why don't more Scouts become Scouters prior to having children in the program? I've had a few opportunities to discuss this with professionals and experienced volunteers, and the thinking on this seems to fall into two camps:
  1. We need to do a better job of retaining Scouts as Scouters.
  2. It's good for Scouts to leave the program when they turn 18/21 (Boy Scouts or Venturing, respectively), go into the world, find themselves, and then return to the program when they're relatively successful/have kids/have time.
To be sure, point number two is very compelling: depending on what's going on in an individual's life, their time could be packed--trying to graduate college, start a job/make a good impression in a job, find a spouse, start a family, etc. The few Scouting activities in which I currently participate are generally at the mercy of my job (case in point: it looks like I won't be able to attend the 2007 World Jamboree due to a work obligation), making it difficult to commit to activities far in advance and/or leading to great angst when I have to back out of a commitment I've made.

But I don't think that's necessarily always the case. I think that most Scouts don't become Scouters because they're familiar with unit operations and the time commitment involved in being a unit leader--one meeting per week, an activity every month, summer camp, etc. That's a lot of time to commit, and it seems overwhelming. Other volunteer roles, such as serving on committees at the District or Council level or serving as a merit badge counselor, require far less time (60-90 minutes per month) but aren't as well promoted, in my opinion, as a viable volunteer opportunity to keep Scouts engaged as they start their life in the "real world."

Staying involved in Scouting is important for Scouting--younger volunteers are better able to relate to Scouts, and the more volunteers a Council has, the more they are able to do. The Merit Badge University I ran in Boston was possible only because we were able to find counselors willing to spend two Saturdays teaching Scouts. That's a time commitment that can be easily made by a young volunteer, but we need to know how to reach them in order to get them involved. All of my friends in college who were former Scouts were not involved as Adult Scouters, but they were willing to help out at the Merit Badge University; the trick was knowing to ask.

As a movement, I don't think we do a good job of tracking where our Scouts go. Many Scouts reach Eagle just prior to their 18th birthday and then head off to College, often in a different location from their hometown. With no way of passing that information to the council covering their college, it's generally incumbent on the individual to reach out to Scouting, rather than for Scouting to reach out to him. Fixing this would take a lot of time and effort, and it may very well be that that time and effort is better spend elsewhere, on higher-priority items. But, declaring defeat doesn't seem to be a good strategy, either.

I'm not sure if this rambling has added to the general discussion, but I believe it is important to keep young adults involved in the Scouting program as volunteers. It's our responsibility to find a volunteer opportunity for them that is attractive and compatible with their life; events such as Merit Badge Universities fit this bill, and there are certainly others out there. The challenge is taking steps to reach out, but the rewards and benefits for both Scouting and the individual are numerous.


posted by AJM  # 10:30 PM  
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