March 1, 2010
My Boy Scout Experiences
I wrote about Scouts in a previous entry when I was talking about living with death. But you don't have to read that entry because I'm going to copy and paste the contents into this current entry dealing with just my scouting experiences. Of course you can still read that one if you are curious how scouting relates to living with death.
When I was young, I was in Cub Scouts. I remember it was a lot of fun. I remember it was difficult for our family to afford the book, the dues and the uniform, but somehow I got them. I loved the activities we did and the snacks and the great leaders. We had fun doing the activities and playing games. I also remember doing and making our pinewood derby cars with my dad. Of course my dad got totally into it and helped us strategically place the weights and polish the axles so our cars would fly down the track. We even tried liquid weight so it would shift as the car went over the hill, giving it an extra boost. I think that's illegal now, but I don't think they had a rule against it back then. Our car didn't win anyway, but it was fun trying to come up with some new strategy to make it faster. We also used graphite on the axles so the wheels would spin faster. We actually won some races and made it to the finals I think once or twice. So it was cool, and fun. I think Pinewood Derby is a good experience for kids if they get to work with their dads or moms or another relative and if the boys get to do the work on the car, with a little help.
When It came time to move on to the next level, Webelos, (WE'll BE LOyal Scouts), The meeting location was different, we had a different leader and I only went for a little while before dropping out. I think I just mostly was having more fun playing with my other friends then and wasn't getting anything out of my new group. And that was the end of my childhood scouting experience.
Then when my son was old enough, he came home from school with a slip advertising a scout recruiting meeting coming up at his school. So I went with my son to check it out. I think it was my son's idea and he wanted to do it. I'm not sure though. I had good experiences with cub scouts so I wasn't opposed to it. But I do remember I was really busy with work then. I was working for a software consultant doing training and technical support and programming. That was a challenging job that devoured my free time.
The first night of cubscouts was an organizational meeting, where we were supposed meet our son's new leader. That first meeting should have have been a warning sign of what was to come. The Cubmaster forgot her key to the church. So all of the parents and their boys sat on the little strip of grass between the church and the street and organized into groups by age: Tiger Cubs, Wolves, Bears, Webelos, in that order. So there we were sitting in our group with other boys the same age as my son, but we didn't see a leader with us. We waited. The Cubmaster finally came over and said, "Well, your group doesn't have a leader yet, so one of you will have to be the leader."
We all looked each other and asked her a couple of questions. Then she said, "It's easy, we'll show you what to do. Just pick a leader and it'll be fun." Then she walked away. The problem was that none of the people in our group wanted to be the leader. I did not have time for this for sure, so I did not volunteer that first night. I did what a lot of parents do. I had an expectation of scouts that did not include me working on lesson plans and teaching boys. I wanted to be able to just drop my kid off and let him have a great experience with someone else leading it. That's how I thought it ran. In reality I found out that Scouts is an all volunteer organization and the leaders are there because they care. And they put a lot of energy into the program.
So, two ladies reluctantly volunteered to co-lead the group, but they did not want to put much work into it or get uniforms or get training. After a couple of meetings, I was lying awake at night worrying that my son was going to have a bad experience in Scouts and quit. So I decided that if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right and putting some effort into. At the next meeting I volunteered to be the leader. I think those mom's were really happy to be relieved of the duty. And I do believe we all gave those boys some good experiences. And we did some cool things together.
That was the beginning of my seven years as a Scout Leader. During that time I held most of the positions in Scouting, such as Denleader, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Trainer, etc. I went to all of the leader roundtables and training opportunities. I came back with some great ideas.
I put my heart and soul and resources into running the program and working with the boys and their parents. This was a great experience, but also overwhelming. We took boys camping almost every month, made realistic dogsleds for their klondike derby and of course, did pinewood derby. We also taught them how to carve and tie knots and start fires. I even taught the boys how to start a fire with wet wood. I learned an incredible amount as an adult and had a lot of fun helping to raise a lot of boys.
Some of my favorite things about scouting? I learned to love one my favorite life-long hobbies; woodcarving. Bob Plant taught me how to do and teach woodcarving. I loved that man. He was so good with teaching and was a nice guy to be around. He was always encouraging the boys and getting them to try doing things on their own.
I also learned a lot about dedication and determination in the face of unbelievable odds. We did fundraising together, we recycled aluminum cans together, we did state fair cleanups together, we built stilts and sleds and cars, and of course went camping. We also did archery, rappelling, horseback riding, bb-gun shooting, canoeing and swimming. I taught a dozen or more boys how to swim for the first time.
I remember Ku was so scared of the water the first time we took him to the pool that he would not leave the edge. I mean he would not even go into the pool from the edge. Eventually he learned how to swim. That was glorious. That was amazing. I am so glad I was there to be part of that.
Everything changes though and scouts was no different. I kept leading even after my son moved on to other activities, mainly because I knew there were a lot of boys that needed a good leader and role model. And I was having fun.
Eventually though, I got stretched too thin. Work was really demanding and I transitioned into another job and I had to keep the rest of my life afloat at the same time as spending nearly every day keeping a big scout program floating. Even with the few others that were true hard-chargers, we couldn't maintain a quality program without sacrificing something. We kept trying to get the parents involved, but it was difficult. As a result all of us leaders put in heroic efforts to keep it going. By the time I stopped doing it, I was dedicating 3 or 4 nights per week working on something Scouting related, plus monthly campouts and a weeklong summer camp every summer.
When I finally stopped doing it I wasn't relieved. I was sad. I was worried what would happen to these boys, and I was feeling guilty for stopping. When I told the few dedicated leaders that I was going to stop leading this unit, they were also devastated, but realizing the short-staffed situation we were in, no-one wanted to take over my position. The whole unit folded with about 40 boys losing out. But I couldn't continue working the way I was, and I saw the deterioration of the quality of our program so I did what I had to do. It was very sad. I was so involved, then it came to a stop. All of it. I mourned the loss for a while, then moved on to other volunteer work.
It happened in the same way. I happened to be where things were falling apart, where they needed help. It was like looking at a car accident or a train wreck. I cannot just stand by while someone needs help. And that's exactly when my engine gets into motion. I'm not moved into volunteer work by bigger causes like saving the environment or saving the world, but I am moved into action when someone needs help.
I have so many more good scout stories to tell, so maybe for future entries I'll tell some stories. Like when I challenged the boys, "I bet you that I can start this fire with one match and wet wood." I proceeded to fill a large bucket up with water and throw my sticks into it, soaking them and challenging the boys again. They all took the bet. I won. ;-)