Scouts gather to shape the BSA’s future (while adults sit back and watch)

Nobody complained about the Randy Travis song strumming out of the speakers.

Sure, the 24 Scouts, Venturers, and Sea Scouts in the room would have preferred listening to, well, anything else. But they didn’t speak up.

That was exactly Sara Parker-Lacobee’s point.

Parker-Lacobee, training designer for the BSA, played some of the aging country star’s music to test the young men and women.

“I purposely played Randy Travis,” she said. “You have to speak up and tell us we’re not being relevant.”

After that, Parker-Lacobee didn’t have to tell the Scouts to be vocal. They were ready to take over Scouting’s playlist.

It’s all happening right now as 25 hand-picked youths meet in Grapevine, Tex., to plan next summer’s BEYOND Conference.

That’s Building Experienced Youth – Outstanding New Youth Development Conference.

At that event, between 300 and 500 top Scouts will meet to shape the future of the BSA. Soon, you’ll be able to submit someone from your unit for consideration.

These Scouts (and Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca) jumped at the chance to discuss the BSA's future.

But first, these 24 intrepid young men and women must create the conference from scratch. Just like a troop or crew organizing a high-adventure trip, the youths will plan every detail while adults simply sit back and advise as needed.

I got to sit in on the first day of the planning event yesterday to give you an exclusive look at this group of 24 and their ideas for next year.

First, it’s probably helpful to know who we’re talking about here. The 24 young men and women range in age from 16 to 23 (some have aged out of the program but are still active as adults).

They represent every region of the United States and the four major program areas for older youths: Boy Scouts, Sea Scouts, Venturers, and the Order of the Arrow. And they come from different religions, ethnicities, and backgrounds.

So they’re perfectly suited to plan next year’s conference, which will be similarly diverse.

The BEYOND Conference, specifically outlined in the BSA’s National Strategic Plan as Goal 6-3-6, will hit on the important issues facing the BSA today: retention and recruiting, health and wellness, families, education, environmental stewardship, service, the Journey to Excellence, and much more. No topic is taboo or off-limits.

When they weren't untangling the figurative problems facing Scouting today, the youths had other things to untangle. Like this rope, which had several knots that had to be untied. The catch? Scouts had to always keep one hand on the rope.

So to help guide next year’s discussion, this group is spending the week chewing on those same subjects. It’s all done with one underlying question in mind: How can youths best shape the future of the BSA for the next 100 years?

No pressure, right? Russ Hunsaker, chairman of the Youth Development Committee, said he knows the task is lofty. But so are the stakes.

“Can we make this a better program so that more youth have the potential to grow and learn from this experience? I say yes we can.

“Do we want to get more people involved with the Scouting experience? I say yes we do.

“I want you to draw upon all of those experiences that you’ve had in Scouting and tell us how we can do what we do better,” Hunsaker said.

Once the adults were done introducing the event, the Scouts took over. Appropriately, youth leaders moderated each discussion session. Adults only stepped in to ask thought-provoking questions or add insight when appropriate.

I’ll share more details about next year’s BEYOND Conference when I get it.

Past National Venturing President Jennifer Lowe helped plan the planning event.

But one thing is clear right now after spending a day with these young men and women: There are some outstanding Scouts out there who aren’t afraid to share their nuanced opinions about the Boy Scouts of America and its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

During one particularly lively chat about families and Scouting, I looked around the room. All of the adult leaders were silent, but several had a hint of a smile on their faces. Not because they agreed with all of the opinions being shared, necessarily. But more because they were happy that the Scouts had finally taken control. It was the Scouting method working perfectly, and they were witnesses.

Soon, we’ll all be witnesses as the voice of the Scout — from the national level to each individual unit —  grows louder and stronger.

(Photos by Roger Morgan/BSA)

About Bryan Wendell 2818 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is senior editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.