When we launched our current Crew, I was a little hesitant. I wasn’t ready, but we had some youth who were chomping at the bit, and I feared losing them from participation in the church if we didn’t do something with them, so we pushed and got it going. I had been a very successful Advisor for eight years at my previous parish (and an Explorer Advisor at the parish before that), so I was sure we could pull it off. Some Scouters from a nearby parish were disappointed. They thought that I should have consulted with them, since they wanted to form a Crew, too. They thought we could do it together. But here’s what I know: you’ll never get anywhere by sharing your weaknesses. Putting together two groups of leaders or parents from two different institutions, where nobody thinks they can pull this off, just means that nobody will ever step forward and get the job done. Our Crew is in its fifth year and we continue to do big things; their Crew did one superactivity (good for them!), but then petered out as kids went off to college and the adults couldn’t come up with another Big Trip.
Cooperation is fine, but only when people share their strengths. If you can do this, and I can do that, then our group can do both those things. But if you can’t do that, and I can’t do this, and that’s what defines us, then we’ll never do either. Which defines a lot of Venturing programs I’ve seen. A half-dozen adults, each with a perfectly valid excuse why they can't be The Leader, come protecting their resources and sharing only their inabilities, and then wonder why nobody took charge and made the magic happen. You don't have to be Superman, but you have to "offer your body as a living sacrifice" or nothing "good and acceptable and perfect" will come of it (Romans 12:1-2).
Venturing is incredibly leader-dependent. No other BSA program requires such a skill set from its unit leaders. If your Den is having fun, your Cub Pack will survive and re-register. If your Troop goes to camp every year, your Troop will survive and re-register. That requires a lot less from those adult leaders than taking older youth on adventures every year. But we do little to equip willing leaders with the skill set needed to take their show on the road.
In order to guarantee that my Crew can go and do what it designs, I carry all the necessary credentials, all the time, including CPR and Wilderness and Remote First Aid. Now, if there are others on a trip who have some necessary credential, that just means I don’t have to be in charge of it (I’m always happy when someone else wants to be the first aid person); but the program will not falter because we can’t find someone with credential X. (And, being a clergyperson, I count all these credentials as part of my required Continuing Education for ministry.)
I see a lot of emphasis on providing Venturing activities nowadays – sort of like camporees – and this, too, is a good thing. But I am boggled by the idea that the Council or somebody is supposed to provide Introduction to Leadership Skills courses that were designed to be done by Crews, that the Council is supposed to offer classes for advancement so kids can earn awards, that the Council keeps adding more events to attract Venturers while the number of Crews is shrinking. I think the number of Crews is shrinking because they’re not Keeping the Promise (see my first post) and doing the Big Trip every year; doing lots of little trips – or rather, attending lots of little events provided by somebody else -- will only get you so far.
When it comes to designing events, I find that as the youth go on more adventures, they become capable of designing more and more of the next one. I, of course, know how to do all these things (build a budget, plan an itinerary, gather the gear, buy food and prepare it for the trail, file permits, yada yada); but they do not, at first. But, wait a minute, Art! Aren’t the YOUTH supposed to do all that? Of course. But they have to learn how. And until they learn, and as they learn, I backstop them with my experiences and skills.
The most important skill in teaching kids how to lead their own group is learning How to Frame the Question. When the Crew is new, they don’t know what possibilities exist, nor how to realize them. So, I’ll ask, “Do you want to go to Cumberland Gap (details) or the Knobstone Trail (details)?” Their empowerment comes from choosing one or the other. As they gain in experience, they are capable of asking (and answering) more and more questions. What to eat, whether to fly or drive to the trailhead, how many nights to stay, whether to add this feature (at this cost) or something else. And then they start volunteering new possibilities. “Hey, could we go to X?” And that becomes part of the Crew conversation. This year, we are going to Sea Base (suggested by our Crew President at the time). We have sewn our own luau shirts (design chosen by another Crew member). When we were making trip choices, I asked if they wanted to fly or drive; my preference was driving, but they chose to fly and they raised the money for it.
I see a lot of adults trying to teach kids how to run their own program but never going anywhere. You see, the kids don’t know what they don’t know, and they keep running up against problems. I let them decide as much as they can, and then fill in the rest. As time goes on, I have to fill in less and less, and they feed off each other as they consider the possibilities. But each time they’re stuck, I try to frame the question so as to make it possible for them to choose something they can succeed at. And that gets us unstuck. In this way, they become stronger in many skills, and they share whatever strengths they have. And we adults make sure that the strengths they don’t have are supplemented by our strengths which we bring to bear in order to give effect to their decisions.
Whether it’s adults working with other adults, units working with Council, or adults working with youth, you won’t succeed by having everybody share their weaknesses. You must share your strengths; fundamentally, you must share yourself. And by doing so, you will do greater things than you ever imagined you could do.
And those are my five Ultimate Secrets of Venturing Success.