Youth depend on volunteer leaders to teach them Scouting's lessons of citizenship and responsibility. A Scoutmaster's influence can last a lifetime.
The National Capital Area Council of Bethesda, Maryland, encompasses one of the most active district volunteer leadership cores in the country. Over 20,000 adult Scouters serve the council, with the number of volunteers consistently growing at a rate of 6 percent. Traditional membership has also increased substantially over the years, to 54,615 youth in 2003.
This growth is primarily due to the council's district operations policy--the council maximizes service by dividing districts when they meet national benchmarks. Vice President of District Operations John Mason describes the redistricting policy as not only a way to serve more youth, but also a "concerted effort to create better leader ratios." The goal is to provide one district executive for every 40-60 units or 1,000 youth, and a 1-to-3 ratio of volunteers to Scouts. The council has followed this policy for 13 years, during which time the council has grown from 13 districts to 26 with five service areas. As for the steady increase in volunteers, Assistant Vice President of District Operations Jim Polk sees this as a result of them "being encouraged by smaller, more manageable districts. This makes volunteers more willing to commit. All indicators are up when we're focused on smaller geographic areas and numbers of units."
Patriotism is more than a word to the Boy Scouts of America. Its members learn its value, and they practice it in their lives.
However, redistricting means change, and it's only human to resist change--initially, at least. Council Commissioner Dan Palenscar explains that "when volunteers are hesitant to redistrict, council leadership helps them visualize the benefits by looking at other split districts' successes." Another key to gaining "maximum volunteer buy-in is to get them to be a part of the reorganization," Palenscar adds. "It makes a difference that the council doesn't dictate redistricting--although the steering committee determines it needs to be done, the district leadership has a voice in how to carry it out."
District-level committees are formed that collectively determine boundaries, new district names, and the distribution of leadership, ensuring that each district receives a cadre of experienced leaders. And as Mason points out, "It's a careful, multiyear process of building new leadership. The end result is the creation of a tighter network that reaches out to people." Polk comments that many "volunteers even have an 'it's about time' attitude about the policy. They find that everything becomes easier, and no one is shortchanged or burned out. Improvements reinvigorate leaders, which leads to a positive spirit."
Volunteers work out the details of an outdoor event. Selfless, dedicated people like these make Scouting possible.
The council is also determined that the additional leadership be quality leadership. As Palenscar notes, "Good strong leaders are essential. When the steering committee divides a district, they're sure to already know vital people who can be recruited and involved." Additionally, the council offers new volunteers standard training courses. A key Scouter workshop every June gives them an overview of their responsibilities and introduces them to other leaders. In 2003, over 300 volunteers attended. Council leadership philosophy for everyone from board members to unit volunteers emphasizes, as Polk describes, "providing quality program and focusing on putting the kids first."
Exceptional volunteer leadership has also brought notable success to the Greater St. Louis Area Council of St. Louis, Missouri, particularly in the areas of Friends of Scouting campaigns, community support, and program expansion.
JOHN MASONAt the heart of the National Capital Area Council's leadership success is "a well-thought-out, realistic strategic long-range plan with broad-based participation," Mason states. This extensive participation comes from volunteer leaders in key positions who offer either long-term Scouting experience and/or fresh ideas. "Also, because of consistent guidance from our Scout executive, there's not much of a learning curve every year," Polk remarks.
The Thunderbird District's 2003 FOS campaign generated nearly $500,000--more than $100,000 above its goal. Such achievement "is a tribute to what our volunteers, employees, and retirees can do," comments FOS chair Jeff Pitts, plant manager of Anheuser-Busch's St. Louis brewery. Pitts and district volunteers have built their campaign on a tradition of giving both time and finances. "We see Scouting as a 'blue-ribbon choice' for support--a really positive organization developing future leaders," Pitts says. This perspective in large part has been developed by the devotion of the council's leaders. As Pitts continues, "They believe in Scouting and are very focused on the greater good."
Strong leaders are mentors and role models for the youth in their charge. Their countless hours of service are of immeasurable value.
To what can this commitment be attributed? For one, "many leaders have witnessed firsthand the program's benefits with their own kids. They stay involved to benefit others even when their kids grow up," explains former District Commissioner Marty Corcoran. Drawing quality leadership from both adults and boys involves "outlining the job you want them to accomplish, telling them you're available to help, and then getting out of the way," Corcoran says. "Give them the authority to accomplish the task, and then be sure to give them the credit."
Another shining leadership example is past Council Commissioner, President, and Board Chair L. B. Eckelkamp Jr. Despite a demanding business schedule and National Executive Board duties, he sits on his district's Eagle Scout review board and personally meets with each candidate. Eckelkamp attributes council leadership success to a "great line of effective Scout executives who established rapport with volunteers, parents, and corporation leadership in the community. This has enabled the council to gain top people in most major St. Louis corporations to help with projects." Council President David Darnell believes that such commitment from local business "stems from their recognizing that Scouting is important to developing the character of communities. This shared view is backed up by volunteer time and financial resources."
ADEM KONJEVICThe Greater St. Louis Area Council's Bosnian units have provided Scouts numerous leadership opportunities. They help with translation, and since many hail from small villages, their outdoor experience is extensive. However, leadership opportunities sometimes arise unexpectedly. Senior patrol leader Adem Konjevic's sister was choking, and their non-English-speaking mother couldn't call 911. Taking the lead, Adem used the Heimlich maneuver he'd learned in Scouting to save his sister's life.
Scouting leadership has also reached into St. Louis's Bosnian refugee community, one of the largest in the United States. Assistant Scoutmaster Fran Johnson, a Missouri Division of Family Services manager, reports that "community partners identified a high number of sexual perpetrators preying on Bosnian refugee youth, who are left with unstructured free time because of their immigrant parents often working second shifts." Since the Division of Family Services had an established relationship with Scouting due to its strong emphasis on youth protection, DFS staff volunteered as leadership for a Bosnian pack and troop. Volunteerism has also come in the form of community donations of uniforms, equipment, and manpower. Additionally, the units' chartered organization, International Institute, helps with translation, visits with parents along with Scout leaders, and cultural training. As Pitts observes, "I equate volunteer leaders with teachers. They're not in it for the money--they do it for the kids and because they love it."