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Why They Join & Why They Stay

Michael Lee Zwiers & Michael Moores The Leader, May 1991 An 11 year old enters the hall with his mother. The room feels large and cold as they cross toward the registration desk where a leader in uniform sits. Two Scouts giggle and laugh behind a table at the side. The boy eyes the displays that show picture-perfect Scouts playing and camping outdoors. While his parent registers him, he wanders over to the side table and nervously flips through an album, not really noticing the photos of troop activities. The two Scouts are quiet for a moment, then resume their joking.

A week later, the boy enters the same large hall, alone this time. He feels all eyes on him. For a moment, he wants to turn and leave, but the leader notices him and calls him over.

"What's your name?" the Scouter asks.

"Bill," the boy mumbles.

"Good. Welcome. You'll be in Troy's patrol," the Scouter says and waves him toward a group of Scouts playing in the corner. Bill walks slowly toward the group, beginning to wish he had never come.

Why did he come?

Scouting attracts a lot of members, each with his or her own reasons for joining. Some come willingly; others have been convinced to join; a few may even be dragged in against their will. In this article, we want to look at why young people join Scouts and what keeps them coming back. If we understand what lures them to Scouting and give them the opportunity to meet their needs, we are sure to keep them.

Let's look at some common reasons young people join Scouts.

Fun and Friendship: They like to have fun with friends. The camaraderie of Scouts is one of its strongest draws. Young people can enter a friendly environment to play sports and games as part of a team. The Scouter is like an older brother or sister, offering friendship and security in a different way than parents and teachers.

Scouting provides an alternative to sports and other clubs that put competitive pressure on young people. Some of your members may already have had bad experiences and may feel they don't fit in. Scouting offers them the chance to succeed as a member of a group.

Setting and Achieving Personal Goals: Young people like to challenge themselves. They find satisfaction in reaching small goals-earning a badge, for example, or learning a new skill such as fire lighting. Then they can set larger goals-surviving a first hike or camp or canoe trip. Later, they may want to earn the Chief Scout's Award or set personal standards for their own lives.

Their goals are guided by their interests and hobbies. After awhile, Scouting itself may become the hobby. Whatever a young person's goals, Scouting can provide a way to meet them.

Independence and Responsibility: Young people want to become adults. Scouting gives them the opportunity to take small steps towards independence. When they join, they may be breaking away from parents for the first time, and the experience can be fun or lonely.

As they progress in Scouting, they are ready to take larger steps by planning activities, outings, and camps and learning from their experiences, good and not so good. If they become patrol leaders, they become even more responsible members of the group. Perhaps the leadership role is an important goal in itself, something through which they gain confidence and esteem.

Family Factors: Families may influence young people's decisions to come into Scouting. Perhaps they want a break from brothers and sisters. Maybe their parents want a break from them and force them to join. Perhaps they come from fatherless homes looking for father-figures. On the other hand, they may be following in the footsteps of parents who were in Scouting.

How to Keep Them

Scouting attracts many members for many reasons, but not all of them stay. Some leave because they aren't having fun and do not feel part of the group. Perhaps the way the program is run does not enable them to set and achieve personal goals. They may not be given enough opportunity to contribute meaningfully. There may be changes in family circumstances, including moves out of the area. Friends and other activities can also lure them away if they are not getting what they want from Scouting.

What can we do to keep our young members coming back? We can offer them fun and friendship, give them a chance to set and reach their own goals, allow them to be independent and responsible, and provide a complement to family life.

Fun with Friends

Fun is the ability to squeeze enjoyment out of every task, job, or challenge. To have fun is to be happy while doing these activities. A lesson infused with fun becomes a game. See if you can remember some of the fun, exciting, happy, and sometimes hilarious things that have happened to you in Scouting. Were these happenings planned or spontaneous?

Now think about your last few Scouting activities. Whether you were holding a fundraiser, doing a service project, working on badges, or teaching a skill, did you have fun doing it? If not, lighten up. Scouting is a game, not a science. If you're not having fun in Scouting, chances are your Scouts aren't having fun either.

Scouts need to feel accepted by their peers and by you. You can take the lead by being a friend to every one of them.

Personal Goals

Do you really know what your Scouts' interests and hobbies are? If not, ask. Ask individuals, patrols, the entire troop, then give Scouts the chance to choose, set, and achieve goals.

Start small. Give them the time, space, and materials they need to do the job. Offer support and encouragement. If they make mistakes, great. That means they're learning something. Help them get up, dust themselves off, and set out towards the goal again. In this way, you provide success rather than failure.

Independence & Responsibility

Let Scouts do things. Set a personal rule: "I will never do for them something my Scouts can do for themselves." Judge carefully so that you don't give them more than they're ready for. After all, you don't want to put them behind the wheel of a car before they get their driver's license. They need to be prepared if they are to be successful.

Imagine a Scouter ordering a Scout to cook popcorn over a Coleman stove. The Scout burns it and the leader yells at him. The Scout is held accountable, even though Scouter didn't give him independence to select his own challenge or the information he needed to do the job responsibly.

Accountability is not responsibility. Before your Scouts can become responsible, they need to know what to do, decide how to do it, and carry it out to the best of their ability. Our job as leaders is to support them through the process. We need to believe in them so that they can be confident. We need to encourage their efforts and back them when they run into problems with parents or peers. We don't hand Scouts independence and responsibility; we allow them to take it from us.

Now, let's go back to Bill at his first troop meeting. The meeting is wrapping up and the Scouts are in a horseshoe.

"Who would like to close the meeting tonight?" the leader asks.

"I will," says Troy, Bill's patrol leader. He moves to join the leaders at the front.

"Please take off your berets for closing thoughts," he begins. "Let's think about the fun we had tonight, playing ball tag, making our patrol boxes, and planning for the bike hike. Let's think about the new Scouts like Bill who had a chance to learn about Scouting and make some new friends. Oh, and remember the hike on Saturday. It'll be a blast!"

"How was your first meeting?" asks Bill's mother as he bounds through the back door and heads to the fridge.

"It was a blast!" he says. "Can I go hiking Saturday?"

Michael Lee Zwiers is a Service Scouter and trainer and Michael Moores a Venturer with the 130th Duggan Company in Edmonton, Alta.

Why Kids Join Scouts

The editor of the UK Scouting magazine (David Easton) has a column called "Chips With Everything..!". In the April '95 issue he posed this question (somewhat rhetorically, since he provides the answer too) ...

"Why do they join..?"

"A youngster joins us because he wants to sleep in a tent ... because that's what Scouts do!"

"He doesn't care how he puts it up and, should it fall down in the night, or he gets wet, he'll find out why and do it differently next time - that's the education - a result of the fun! That's the magic of Scouting!"

"Scouting is not part of the formal education system and never should be. It is part of a non-formal educational process. In effect, it's a learning from life, from new experiences, from challenges, from adventures, from friendship, from disappointments, from triumphs, and, above all, from that all important desire to learn for oneself ... because we WANT to ... not because we have to!" "That's the fun which is, I believe, the essence and magic of Scouting!"