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The Invisible Scout

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Matthew: As a College student' date=' when I'm discussing what I do with my life and Scouting comes up, very few people jump down my throat about the Boy Scouts of America's membership policy. More often that not, people who are polite, engaging people would ask "What do you think of the membership policy?"[/quote']

 

Ok, let me clarify a bit... very few people are overtly rude or aggressive about it; and I rarely feel "under attack" for bringing up Scouting nor do people "jump down my throat" just because I mention the BSA. Yes, it does happen from time to time that people are not civil and I have encountered a few people with a real chip on their shoulder and strong opinions that just want to get on a soapbox while you're simply trying to sell popcorn outside the local Walmart.

 

But this conversation is about recruitment, and I've found that the biggest barrier to successful recruitment isn't that people don't know what Scouting is or how to sign the son up (something a good flyer or a well-manned information booth at the right event, or going door-to-door, or producing a powerful TV commercial or a good website could fix)... it's not that they don't know what Scouting is; it's that they don't like what Scouting is and they don't want to support it. That's something that having me simply spend time pounding the pavement and trying to talk up Scouting with people on the street won't change - there needs to be a change from BSA national to open the doors to new recruits. I feel like I'm trying to sell bacon-cheeseburgers in a community of all Hasidic Jews - they're not going to picket outside my store, but I'm certainly not going to get a lot of new customers off the street (no matter how good my promotional efforts are).

 

Again, I don't hide my Scouting affiliation or my feelings towards the program. I'm not ashamed to be a Scout. When a co-worker asks on a Monday morning "so what did you do this weekend?" I'll answer "I went camping with my son's Boy Scout troop" or "I taught a course at the local Boy Scout council's training event" (or I may say "I went to a church picnic on Sunday.") I don't hide the fact that I'm a Scout, or that I enjoy Scouting or the benefits it's providing me and the community... just as I don't hide the fact that I am religious and attend church. All my co-workers know that I'm a Scout, and they all know what church I go to as well. But giving a "sales pitch" to join the BSA and telling them they should consider signing their son up for BSA summer camp is about as worthwhile as trying to give a sales pitch to come join my church or send their kids off to Bible camp. Not only is it socially awkward, it's also not productive or successful. So all the talk of building character, developing leadership skills, helping the community, teaching life skills, racing Pinewood derby cars, hiking at Philmont, sailing coral reefs at Seabase, zip-lining at the Summit, etc. is irrelevant to them when they know the organization has discrimination at its foundation. They don't care that their son can campout under the stars or learn to sail a boat or be a patrol leaders... because they hate the fact that their best friend is excluded from helping teach a merit badge simply because of who they are, or that the organization excludes and shuns exemplary members once they turn 18, or that the organization continues to promote a negative stigma towards a portion of the population, etc.

 

When the subject of Scouting comes up people will ask (often in a very polite or truly inquisitive way) things like "what exactly is the policy" and "why is that the policy,"or "what do you think of the policy" and "how do you justify supporting an organization with such a policy", or "how does the BSA justify the hypocrisy of their policies," etc. I do my best to answer their questions honestly (but sometimes my answer is a shrug and a "I dunno"), but I've found that you're just not going to win them over and convince them to sign up (unless your answer is somehow "the policy doesn't exist anymore")... they've already made up their mind that they don't want to support or associate with the BSA because of the policy.

 

It would be like going to a Catholic church on Sunday morning and handing out flyers on the street corner about converting to Judaism... the Christians going to mass probably won't be aggressive or hateful to the guy on the corner, but he's probably not going to get anyone new to show up at the synagogue next week and decide to renounce Jesus. In my liberal area, people won't run you out of town or have stones thrown through your windows because your a member of the BSA, but you might as well just put your "join Scouting" flyers directly in the trash because the people have already made up their mind... and until policies change, they'll be taking their kids elsewhere.

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Getting back to the original topic, I have some other suggestions on how to promote scouting -

1. Become active partners with your chartered organization. Do service projects for them. Do they have a newsletter, bulletin or other publication you could get an article or picture in. Have the SPL, SM or CM go to an appropriate meeting and give a "state of the Troop or Pack" report once a year. Thank the organizations leaders (pastor, board of directors, etc.) for their support.

 

2. Get your unit involved in your community. Do service projects (long & short term) for other organizations. Participate in community events. Once people see you doing things they will ask you to do more.

 

3. If your CO is a church, see if the boys can "serve" as ushers, ministers, cantors or other positions in the church. Is there a children's service or Sunday school program your scouts could help with? A youth group they could partner with. Are there church events where the boys could lend a helping hand? Have them wear their uniform (field or activity) to these events as often as possible.

 

IMHO scouting has become "invisible" because we have let it become that way. We participate in Scouting activities but most of the time those things happen far away from the public eye. If you want to be seen, you have to do things when and where people can see you. You have to make people pay attention to you.

 

And if all people ever hear is the negative things then we only have ourselves to blame for not sharing the good things scouting does.

I am not ashamed to be a Scouter and I tell other people about the good side of scouting all the time. Yes the membership issue can be a touchy subject for some people. The couple of times I have been asked about it my response has been that National sets the policy and my opinion doesn't really matter. If they still want my opinion I tell them that there is no place in scouting for any type of sexual behavior, period. I believe it is none of my business if someone is straight or gay or whatever. When I recruit leaders their sexuality has nothing to do with the qualities I am interested in.

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Getting back to the original topic, I have some other suggestions on how to promote scouting -

1. Become active partners with your chartered organization. Do service projects for them. Do they have a newsletter, bulletin or other publication you could get an article or picture in. Have the SPL, SM or CM go to an appropriate meeting and give a "state of the Troop or Pack" report once a year. Thank the organizations leaders (pastor, board of directors, etc.) for their support.

 

2. Get your unit involved in your community. Do service projects (long & short term) for other organizations. Participate in community events. Once people see you doing things they will ask you to do more.

 

3. If your CO is a church, see if the boys can "serve" as ushers, ministers, cantors or other positions in the church. Is there a children's service or Sunday school program your scouts could help with? A youth group they could partner with. Are there church events where the boys could lend a helping hand? Have them wear their uniform (field or activity) to these events as often as possible.

 

IMHO scouting has become "invisible" because we have let it become that way. We participate in Scouting activities but most of the time those things happen far away from the public eye. If you want to be seen, you have to do things when and where people can see you. You have to make people pay attention to you.

 

And if all people ever hear is the negative things then we only have ourselves to blame for not sharing the good things scouting does.

I am not ashamed to be a Scouter and I tell other people about the good side of scouting all the time. Yes the membership issue can be a touchy subject for some people. The couple of times I have been asked about it my response has been that National sets the policy and my opinion doesn't really matter. If they still want my opinion I tell them that there is no place in scouting for any type of sexual behavior, period. I believe it is none of my business if someone is straight or gay or whatever. When I recruit leaders their sexuality has nothing to do with the qualities I am interested in.

 

 

Chris, you are absolutely correct. In order to no longer be invisible we need to be...well...visible. One of things I've been doing lately is submit to the local fee neighborhood papers photos of our Scouts doing service in the community. This is free advertising and I've heard from people throughout the community that they read my articles and admitted they didn't realize Scouts were still out in the world doing Good Turns. Can you believe that?! Yes, negative press stays in ppl's heads longer than the positive stuff.

 

 

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In my area most Chartering Organizations don't know they sponsor 1 or more units and the unit leaders don't know who their Chartering Organization is or who their COR might be. How can we support each other if we don't know who we are and don't speak to each other?

 

A sad example - Last year our DE was having problems getting a units charter processed because he could not find someone to be the COR or IH and sign the paperwork. He said he was going to go park outside the Chartering Organization (a VFW) on Friday night and he would get the first drunk that stumbled out to be the COR and sign the paperwork. Of course he was joking (it's a really bad joke) but it says a lot about the relationships between the units and the Organizations that sponsor them.

 

And I know it sounds obvious that you have to make yourself visible if you don't want to be invisible. But that is what it boils down to.

 

A better story - There is a pack in a small town near where I live. A few years ago (5 or 6) they had about 6 scouts and 2 or 3 leaders that were trying to keep the pack running. They wanted the pack to grow, they wanted to teach their kids to be involved in their community, and they wanted the community to know about their Pack. They started doing service projects for the church they meet at. Things like food drives, clothing drives, raking leaves, etc. They also participated in community events like the Christmas parade, the local spring festival and Veterans Day Events. Most pack events were publicized in some way - local newspaper, facebook, twitter, church bulletins etc.

 

The next year, for the first time in a long time the school let the pack hold a recruiting night at the school and passed out flyers inviting all the boys to attend. The pack grew a little bit. They continued doing service projects and more organizations from their community would contact them and ask for help. They helped the school with the spring carnival. They held a community flag retirement ceremony on Veterans Day. And they continued to publicize as many events as possible. Over the next few years they grew and participated in more service projects and community events.

 

This pack now has roughly 50 kids with enough adults that they have at least 1 den leader for every den, a CM and an assistant, as well as a full committee. This pack does thousands of service hours for all different types of organizations all year around. They have the full support of the local schools and many churches in town. Last year the Pack received the Governor's Award for Community Service from their state Governor. This year a local restaurant donated a full pasta meal, with salad and dessert, for over 200 people, to the pack for their Blue and Gold Banquet.

 

As a result of "being seen" the pack is now reaping the benefits of having the support of their local community. It was not easy. I know most of the leaders from this pack and they are very dedicated people. And I personally witnessed how hard they worked to get where they are today. But I am sure they would tell you that it has all been worth it to see the great things that can happen when local communities come together to help and support the people,

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Yes, negative press stays in ppl's heads longer than the positive stuff.

 

It does not help that the negative is almost always publicized by most papers and such, but you have to lean over backwards to get anything positive beyoned a paragraph or line buried in a community activity page with dozens of other similar ones. Reality says few people see those things, especially in our too fast world where if people even look at a paper, they simply scan it.

 

 

 

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Reality says few people see those things, especially in our too fast world where if people even look at a paper, they simply scan it.

 

 

Oh, you're so skeptical! Who's being negative now?? :D

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~~""As a result of "being seen" the pack is now reaping the benefits of having the support of their local community. It was not easy. I know most of the leaders from this pack and they are very dedicated people. And I personally witnessed how hard they worked to get where they are today. But I am sure they would tell you that it has all been worth it to see the great things that can happen when local communities come together to help and support the people, ""

 

Well, there you go. If Scouting is worthwhile, if we (WE...) think it is of benefit to our boys, then that is what you have to do. It is not for you and me, we've been there, done that. If Scouting is in our background, if it "helped" us to see straight and do well, then we need to see that it is available to the next bunch. To get Biblical about it, "who are my boys?" It isn't just the kid in the back bedroom of your house, it is any boy that has never worked as part of a team or watched the sun come up thru pine woods.

 

Like I said, all we are offering is an opportunity. Getting that opportunity in front of the boy seems to have become the hard part. Unsafe vans, background checks, insurance fees, sexual proclivities, computer screens, media bias, lack of camps (sold out from under us?), overly protective parents, folks that don't seem to have time for the kids they produced , lots of obstacles out there, huh?

 

Is it worth the effort?

 

 

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Reading through the various suggestions there is something lacking, the F word! Fun! You can have all the worthy community service events you want and a million and one photos in smart uniform and courts of honour etc. But that's not why kids or adults sign up. They sign up to set fire to stuff in the words, go climbing and kayaking and generally enjoy doing something muddy and/or adventurous. If that's what you and it's what sells then put loads of photos of you doing that out there. Far too many group websites, on both aides of the Atlantic, have a front page with a stilted photo of teenagers in smart uniform. There are a huge number of people, kids and adults that will see that, think "lame" and vanish off to Facebook. So make the fun stuff easy to find!

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Reading through the various suggestions there is something lacking' date=' the F word! Fun! You can have all the worthy community service events you want and a million and one photos in smart uniform and courts of honour etc. But that's not why kids or adults sign up. They sign up to set fire to stuff in the words, go climbing and kayaking and generally enjoy doing something muddy and/or adventurous. If that's what you and it's what sells then put loads of photos of you doing that out there. Far too many group websites, on both aides of the Atlantic, have a front page with a stilted photo of teenagers in smart uniform. There are a huge number of people, kids and adults that will see that, think "lame" and vanish off to Facebook. So make the fun stuff easy to find![/quote']

 

This made me think of a story when my son was a Web 1. His resident camp t-shirt had a map of the camp on the back of it. He said that several kids asked him what camping was like and were asking about his experiences (one kid ended up joining) I am willing to bet that if he wore his uniform to school it would not of generated the interest that a t-shirt with a map on it did. Camping is fun wearing a uniform is not interesting to the non members.

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But that's not why kids or adults sign up. They sign up to set fire to stuff in the words' date=' go climbing and kayaking and generally enjoy doing something muddy and/or adventurous.[/quote']

 

You are correct. In fact, I know that my Scoutmaster friend from down the road made a comment about how emphasizing the outdoors and high adventure is the only way she is able to recruit new members to her Troop. In her experience, uniforms aren't highly thought of in her Troop or neighborhood. Also, she says that parents in the area aren't interested in the Troop's meddling in the formation of moral character.

 

Personally, I find this contradictory to what Scouting is about. Uniforms and Ideals are a part of the Methods. So is the Outdoors, obviously! But we can't neglect part of our Methods to appease the masses...Or should we?

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Also' date=' she says that parents in the area aren't interested in the Troop's meddling in the formation of moral character. [/quote']

 

How could parents object to "formation of moral character" unless the troop has a very narrow definition of "moral character" (it's immoral for boys to have long hair)?

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How could parents object to "formation of moral character" unless the troop has a very narrow definition of "moral character" (it's immoral for boys to have long hair)?

 

 

Basically, it's like, "don't you tell me how to raise my child! I'll take care of that on my own." I think it has to do with the membership policy, to be perfectly honest with you. It's a pretty big deal around here.

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You are correct. In fact, I know that my Scoutmaster friend from down the road made a comment about how emphasizing the outdoors and high adventure is the only way she is able to recruit new members to her Troop. In her experience, uniforms aren't highly thought of in her Troop or neighborhood. Also, she says that parents in the area aren't interested in the Troop's meddling in the formation of moral character.

 

Personally, I find this contradictory to what Scouting is about. Uniforms and Ideals are a part of the Methods. So is the Outdoors, obviously! But we can't neglect part of our Methods to appease the masses...Or should we?

 

 

Of course uniform and formal moments are part of scouting. One of my proudest moments as a leader was when I took some scouts to Amsterdam. We went to visit the grave of a leader from our group who was a bomber pilot in the air force in the second world war. He was shot down and killed and buried in Amsterdam. The gentle and quiet respect showed by a normally noisy and rowdy bunch of teenagers that sunday morning in Amsterdam made me glow with pride.

 

But.

 

That respect and behaviour and respect came from already having bonded as a troop and thus appreciating those who had gone before them. That bonding came when they were climbing and hiking and kayaking together and in turn seeing that that was what their friends were already doing was what go them through the door in the first place.

 

The photo of scouts stood quietly by a grave will not get new kids through the door. To think it will is frankly naive. What will get them through the door is photos of fires and rock climbing and kayaking.

 

You don't have to drop the formal moments from the programme. What you do is think about what elements of the programme you actively use to promote your troop.

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