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SPRING 2016 /  LATE 2015  /  MID 20152013 /  2012 / 2011

END OF 2015 CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION

This Christmas we're going to do something epic. By epic, I mean gingerbread cookies and apple cider and peppermint candy canes.
By epic I mean organized games and a White Elephant Gift Exchange.
By epic I mean Christmas decorations everywhere except up the wazoo. (Nobody likes having them up their wazoo, especially since we're not sure what a 'wazoo' is.)
By epic I mean three fun 'sur-prizes' that nobody expects. And unlike the Spanish Inquisition, they are GOOD surprises. Bonus points if you got the Monty Python reference. (Sadly, bonus points are not redeemable for cash.)
By epic, as you can see, we mean kind of silly and fun. Sure, there are times to take scouting seriously. A Christmas party isn't one of those.
So anyway, as mentioned in prior updates, we are facing a great two years ahead, from now until 2017. Those are the two years that I'll be overhauling Troop 4's activities and making the whole experience of being in the troop 35% more awesome. After that my dad and I may or may not leave Houston, Texas. That depends on factors like where my sisters and other extended family wind up living.
Until that time, however, I'll do my best to pick up the slack and revitalize the group. Scott & Ed are getting tired and a bit old (some boys have joked that Ed's so old he invented the wheel) so maybe a younger 29-year-old assistant scoutmaster (with a strong creative streak and cool digital skills, no less) can liven things up, and find ways to expand the group's funding, recruit new boys, and seek involvement from their parents too.
Troop 4, like all scout troops, is for ages 11-17, but we are really looking for boys towards the younger end of that scale for a few reasons. One, they're less jaded and more likely to give this a try. Two, when boys turn 18 they are no longer scouts and many of them leave the program. It's better to recruit kids who'll be scouts for at least 2-3 years and who thus have a shot at climbing through the ranks and maybe making Life or Eagle. Plus the longer they stick with it, the stronger the friendships and connections with the group that form and the higher likelihood that (like me) they'll hang around as leaders after turning 18. Three, a young boy joining might actually take the older kids seriously as role models and listen to what they have to say. Older kids by contrast, may not see the other boys as authority figures in any way and may ignore them, resulting in confrontation and failure to integrate into the culture and structure of the group. The invites to the Christmas party even allow 10-year-olds to drop in on that event, in hopes that they will join later once they reach the age of 11.
We've been to Hawaii, yes, and yeah, Colorado, Arkansas, Missisippi and so on, and yes, a few stops in places like New Mexico, Louisiana, and California along the way. But that's been spread out over the past 15-plus years I've been here. I think we ought to temper expectations a bit. There's only one big trip out of state every two years or so - most campouts are within Texas. We have had annual PLC training/planning meetings too for higher-ranking scouts (see the Troop 4 game for an amusing depiction) and those are weekend trips in hotels, where the boys take one room and the leaders the adjacent one - sometimes in Austin or San Antonio or Galveston, but sometimes also just within the Houston area. There are also our weekly meetings on Mondays, which vary from full-blown parties (like the Christmas party each year) to more ordinary meetings with a lesson (knots or orienteering or first aid or emergency prep or any other advancement topic.) plus a game or two, often outdoors in front of the church. We like to make the timing of games unpredictable (is it the start, or end of the meeting?) to keep the boys from simply skipping the less exciting bits of the meeting.
Here in scouting, we have some rules and principles outlined in the scout oath and law which we try to live up to. The leaders are old-timers (with the exception of me) but we're all genuinely trying to do a good job here and to do what's best for these kids, instilling leadership skills and traits that will serve them well in life. We make sure that there are two leaders present with any group of boys at all times (the two deep leadership rule) so that anything a leader does or teaches is seen by the other leaders and so that leaders are held accountable. And though the BSA does allow gays to join scouting, as of recently, that doesn't mean we tolerate abuse of any kind, and it is true that all leaders are thoroughly vetted and selected carefully, and that misbehavior in the troop is taken seriously. Boys must earn the right to use pocketknives, for example, and if after earning that right they cause property damage or danger to others, the right can be revoked. We want the group to have fun, and we want everyone to be safe. We've had a few assorted behavior problems over the years, most of them exaggerated and parodied repeatedly for comedic effect in the T4 videos or comics, but all of them were the result of misbehaving boys and not the fault of the leaders.
We've got challenges in terms of viability - budgetary limitations, and a small number of boys as well as a fairly small number of leaders. We will need to scale up all three carefully with energetic new leaders, new scouts, and sufficient funding to cover the growth and the related costs. Parties and campouts and road trips cost money, and we don't ask scouts to pay dues because the they often come from local low-income families. That's a cause for concern fiscally because it puts almost the entire weight of funding on a couple of leaders (Ed and Scott) who will probably both be gone within 5 years.  So we''ll see how I can best pitch in and help keep things afloat.