Scouting: beyond cookies and bonfires

For many adults, the path to youth service leads directly through Scouting.

And for good reason. The Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts have programs of proven quality. They also offer the kind of support network and training opportunities adult volunteers appreciate.

Connie Matsui, the new president of the Girl Scouts of the USA, recognized this 20 years ago when, as a single businesswoman working in banking, she was recruited to serve on the San Francisco Bay Area Girl Scout Council.

She had never been a scout herself and held certain stereotypes about the organization, including its racial homogeneity. But soon, she says, she caught "the vision," and was convinced that the Girl Scouts were serious about embracing people from all cultures and walks of life, and committed to helping all girls reach their full potential.

"I had recently graduated from business school," she recalls, "and found Girl Scouts matched my desire to contribute to social welfare with my expectations of a well-run organization."

Today, as a pharmaceutical executive in San Diego, Ms. Matsui continues her involvement in Scouting not only as president of the organization but as the mother of a nine-year-old Brownie.

She says she and her colleagues on the national board of directors want to expand volunteer opportunities, especially by recruiting more single women to share their career skills and experiences with young women.

Walt Stephens of the Atlanta area was introduced to Scouting years ago. With his wife in graduate school, he transported their daughter to Girl Scout meetings. After a son arrived, he became involved in Cub Scouting, and though both children are grown now, Mr. Stephens has made Boy Scouting an integral part of his life.

Today, he leads Troop 141 on exciting adventures. Two years ago he organized a van trip to Kansas, taking the trail used by settlers of Nicodemus, the oldest African-American community west of the Mississippi. Last year the destination was Alaska, and this summer, by invitation, the troop visits Africa.

"I normally never would have gone to Kansas or Alaska if I hadn't been in that Scout uniform," says Stephens, who considers Scouting his ministry.

He has no problem getting other adults to help. "Once you get the expectations known to the kids and the parents," he adds, "they will gladly jump to that bar if they know you are committed to do it. Most Scout leaders are committed to do that and I think that's a commitment that's almost missing in today's world, the workplace, and everyplace else, but you will find it in Scouting."

Like Stephens, Julie Adams of Las Vegas sees Scouting as a family activity. She and her cowboy husband have three sons and three daughters, and even though Mrs. Adams spends most of her free time as a Cub Scout leader, her girls don't mind. "They think it's fun," she explains, "and when I'm putting on day camps or pack meetings, there's always some way to get them involved.

"There is training for everything in Scouts," she says. "The training helps not only in Cub Scouting, but it also helps you to be a better mother and better worker."

Jim Denny, a Boy Scout leadership recruiter in Tulsa, Okla., says that the Scouts are constantly offering training sessions. If leaders take advantage of the training offered them, they tend to stay on longer.

"We try to be flexible in our programs to accommodate personal schedules," he says. He encourages people who can't fill leadership positions to consider volunteering for smaller jobs - even bookkeeping that can be done outside of meetings. "If they'll do that one thing, all the rest of the leaders don't have to worry about it," he says.

When he's recruiting a volunteer, one thing he doesn't like to hear is, "I'm going to try it for a while."

"Adults have to be able to make that commitment," he says. "If they say no, that's fine. I'd rather have that than that in-between thing, because that's when you start hurting the Scouting program. In Scouting, if you make a commitment, you stay with it."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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