On BSA’s 106th birthday, one volunteer asks: Is Scouting still relevant?

In the time since the Boy Scouts of America’s founding in 1910 and its 106th birthday today, companies and organizations have come and gone.

They have names like Pan Am Airlines, Borders and K·B Toys, and they rest in America’s graveyard of things once popular but since vanished.

But the Boy Scouts are still here. They’re here, and they’re more needed in our society than ever.

Today, in honor of the BSA’s 106th birthday, I wanted to share an essay from national Order of the Arrow chairman Ray Capp. The essay — “Is Scouting still relevant?” — stems from a week’s worth of questions Capp heard about Scouting as he traveled to Texas for some BSA meetings.

Capp takes a hard-hitting, inspiring look at the state of Scouting in 2016 and beyond. I urge you to read and enjoy.

Ray CappIs Scouting still relevant?

An essay by Ray Capp

Let me tell you about four conversations I have had in the past week.

  1. My niece brought her boyfriend over to the house for a visit, and they were noticing some of my Scouting memorabilia. He is a terrific guy — very purposeful, intelligent and personable. A young mechanical engineer with a bright future. He told me he has always regretted not being a Scout and concluded, “I guess it’s too late for me!”
  1. I was at the airport on my way to a BSA meeting in Texas. I bumped into one of the young men who had been in my troop years ago. We had a great little Scoutmaster-Eagle Scout reunion, but as we scurried off to our gates, he sheepishly turned to tell me that his wife didn’t want their kids to be Scouts, citing the BSA’s past membership policy discussions.
  1. On the plane, the man next to me asked where I was going. The BSA headquarters in Texas, I told him. “Wow, guess there aren’t many old ladies who need help across the street anymore, eh? Is Scouting still relevant?”
  1. Two days later, I was flying back home from that BSA meeting and was reading some BSA literature on the plane. The lady next to me saw the fleur-de-lis on the paperwork and said, “Oh, my brother was a Boy Scout. He loved it.” After a long pause, she asked: “Um, are there STILL Boy Scouts?”

Some pretty hard hits … and all in one week.

While these kinds of comments are not uncommon, they certainly are not well-founded. We who know how active, vibrant and relevant the Scouting program remains certainly have a lot of work to do to express who we are, what we do and the benefits that happen for young families who participate.

Here are some thoughts I expressed to these good people concerning the topics they raised:

1: Is it “too late” for a 25-year-old engineer to be involved?

Absolutely not. He can spend the next 50 years as a Scout leader, merit badge counselor or in any one of a hundred different helpful roles. I showed him all the “new” merit badges, photos of our high-adventure programs, cool activities and explained that my best friends were all people I had met through Scouting.

It is a real, warm, welcoming and vibrant community which accepts everyone. I don’t care if you are the chairman of Exxon Mobil, the former Secretary of Defense, or the newest Cub Scout den leader. When any caring adult dons that BSA uniform, everyone is equal, equally respected and equally welcome. It is the happiest group of adults you are ever likely to have embrace you.

2. What about the BSA membership policy?

Today, an adult leader needs to pass the required background check, be trained for his or her position, and keep current on Youth Protection certifications.

Then it’s up to the local church, temple, mosque or fire station that sponsors the unit to select the leader. Period. Everyone wins. Pick the unit best for you and your kids and commence to having a ball.

3: Is Scouting still relevant?

“Oh, yes, very relevant!” I retorted. We live in an age of crisis in American boyhood. Girls are much more likely to graduate high school and go to college. Boys have much higher rates of substance abuse, delinquency and violence. Boys have more difficulty in school. And in this age of pervasive divorce, it is boys who most often are the ones growing up without a parental model of their own gender in the home.

Scouting is a big step toward addressing each and every one of these:

  • Persistence: By the time a Cub Scout becomes an Eagle Scout he will have had several years in school, multiple coaches and teachers, all kind of teenage angst, and yet will make it through to the brink of adulthood, with the same troop, same kids, same mentors and same program.
  • Getting along in society: The time-tested methodology adopted for cooking and eating in the Boy Scout troop is called the “patrol method.” Basically, the week before the campout, the eight kids in the Raccoon patrol sit with one another and plan a menu they are excited to enjoy. (Congress could learn a lot from imitating a group of 11- to 15-year-old Boy Scouts negotiating what to eat!) Then, someone has to buy the stuff within the agreed budget, someone has to arrange to get it to the site, carry it in, keep it from varmints, collect firewood, cook it, serve it fairly, and yes, clean up to the satisfaction of the Scoutmaster! Oh, and doing all this when it is 38 degrees, dark and raining can be the quintessential demonstration of teamwork on the planet. And yet it happens every weekend in every corner of America in every patrol … and very happily.
  • Broadening one’s world view: Scouts have 136 merit badges to explore. In the past 105 years, many a career was discovered by matching a boy’s starry-eyed interests with the tutelage of a quality adult expert. The world knows that Steven Spielberg made his first movie for the Photography merit badge. I do not know of a Boy Scout who hasn’t met and spent quality time with good adults of a different race, religion, occupation and socioeconomic status. I am 62 years old now, and I still know of no greater equalizer than the “campout” for building bridges across whatever divide you might mention that exists in society in general. Someone has to scrub the dirty pans for the next meal, and your turn is coming!
  • Learning to accept women as equals: It may surprise you that there are many quality women who are adult Scout leaders. Historically, they have planned the fundraisers, organized the ceremonies, kept the records, managed the transportation/logistics and kept their boys inching forward on their advancement through the ranks. Today, they share all of those roles with men, but they do more! Increasingly women strap on hiking boots, sling on a backpack and go with the troop themselves. A few years ago, we had about 65 people in our troop who wanted to travel to the Sangre de Cristo range of the southern Rockies to backpack in Scouting’s paradise: Philmont Scout Ranch. We split up in groups of 10 boys with 2 adults each. But we needed two more adults to spread ourselves and still be sure we had two trained adults with each group of boys. Enter the heroines of the story: My wife, a retired teacher and another troop mom, a school nurse. One night, I overheard the boys assigned to these leaders talking as adolescent boys are apt to do. “Man, we are going to be slowed down by THEM!” I told them wait and see! Within two days of hitting the trail, the teacher and the nurse had earned heaping amounts of street cred with this ragtag bunch of boys and were backpacking better, longer and stronger than anyone else.
  • Having quality male role models: As for the men, with so many boys growing up in single-parent homes, Scouting may be the one place where a young man gets to have quality time in the care of interested and interesting men. Our society values the sports coach. Coaches can change lives, and they do. But they have only a season or two with a boy. They have a few weeks with a boy each year. Every Scoutmaster has multiple years every week to integrate in the life of a family and slowly eke out the lessons and values he is entrusted to develop in his Scouts.
  • Letting the youth lead: In Scouting, the adults are there to maintain health and safety. That’s it. The kids pick the activities, plan the program, develop the calendar and carry out the events. I know of nowhere else that a teenage boy would be given such leeway to develop and grow, and yes, even to fail, while learning and growing as with the Boy Scouts of America.

4. Are there still Boy Scouts in 2016?

Yes, Virginia, there are still Boy Scouts, who since 1910 have been quietly serving others. Part of what each Boy Scout raises his hand to promise is that he will help others … and to strive to do so consistently as a habit of cheerful service. We do not encourage showboating. We quietly do our good deeds in the background.

I can tell you that in every town and neighborhood in this great country, Scouts are a dynamic engine for picking up litter, building handicap ramps, putting roofs on churches, perfecting wildlife habitats, carving trails for foresters, and yes, helping old ladies. Sure, they don’t need help getting across streets much anymore, but the Scouts sure help by reading to them, singing for them and teaching them how to communicate with their grandchildren through social media.

Yep, we are still here — more important to a successful society than your grandfather’s Boy Scouts. We’re 3.5 million and growing, doing good work with and through today’s generation of tomorrow’s leaders.