Last June I wrote about the problems our Order of the Arrow chapter has experienced in recruiting new youth members. This year I figured I'd get a jump on elections. One chapter adviser told me that the secret is to talk to the boys. Many boys are interested in joining, but their scoutmasters aren't much interested in having them join.
I have confronted a few scoutmasters about this dichotomy. It turns out that some of them have a much higher opinion of the O.A. than I suspected. They told me frankly that they didn't think any of their boys measured up to the order's standards. I'm glad that they thought so much of our order, but it troubles me that these men had such a low opinion of the boys in their troops.
As I mentioned last June, many boys don't qualify for O.A. membership because they have not achieved 15 days and nights of outdoor Scout camping. A number have achieved at least the required First Class rank, but the lack of camping experience is problematic. Scoutmasters tell me that it is challenging to get boys to regularly attend troop camp outs. Scouts and their parents often put a higher priority on other types of activities.
But when an adult leader indicates that the boys in his troop simply lack the character of an honor Scout, it makes me wonder if this doesn't say as much about the quality of the adult leadership as it does about the youth and their families.
At any rate, my O.A. chapter helped staff the drop-off point for Scouting for Food donations a few weeks ago. As troops arrived at the transfer station, my chapter chief went to each troop and solicited for boys interested in joining the order. Many expressed interest. Many did not. Many scoutmasters gave me their phone numbers, but few had their calendars with them, so I could not make appointments on site.
Later attempts to call many of these scoutmasters have proven pretty fruitless. Almost none of them actually answer their phones. They all have voice mail systems, but they don't return their calls. Getting appointments to do unit elections has been challenging and frustrating.
We were hoping to significantly grow our membership this year. The youth leaders set a goal of 20 new members. 25 years ago we had no problem in this area getting 45-50 new members each year. But the way it is currently going, we will be lucky to get half a dozen new members this year.
Membership in organizations that require commitment has dropped off throughout our culture over the past several decades. For one thing, there are far more options available for how to spend one's time. Organizational membership also used to play a much more central role in social life. Nowadays options are abundant for socializing outside of organizations like churches, scouting, fraternal organizations, and even sports leagues. People can opt for niche organizations, which have proliferated in recent decades. More often they choose loose organizational relationships that require little or temporary commitment.
In other words, my O.A. chapter's current recruiting problems are simply a reflection of a much broader cultural trend. That doesn't make it any less frustrating.
Part of the reason that I try to fulfill the O.A.'s mandate to recruit new members is that the organization played a very important role in my youth. My activity in the O.A. changed me and helped me grow in positive ways. I'd like for today's boys to have similar experiences. Maybe I will have to satisfy myself with helping fewer boys than I had hoped to help.