Thursday, June 27, 2013

Leave A Trace

The following are the remarks I gave at an Eagle Scout Court of Honor on 15 June, 2013.


Let me tell you something you may not know or remember about ATS1. He used to bring a very unique sense of style to the Scouting uniform. In his earlier years, I remember bright blue and yellow shoes, and I remember a hat of pink, blue, and green. The bill of the cap never seemed to be pointed in the same direction, and was almost never facing forward.

While discussing this once with another leader, we concluded that it was a shame that ATS would one day decide that he was too cool for Scouts; that some day he would leave the program. ATS would never be an Eagle Scout.

The final nail in the coffin, we decided, would be when ATS went to National Youth Leadership Training. If you’re unfamiliar with NYLT, it is a week-long immersion program for teaching theory and practical lessons in leadership. During the program, however, there is an intense level of silliness. They sing bizarre (and sometimes obnoxious) camp songs; they make bad jokes; they perform skits with debatable laugh value. All of these are things that cub scouts love, but many boy scouts grow out of them around age 13. It was here, we were convinced, that ATS would decide how uncool Scouting was and begin his exodus.

Scoutmasters don’t know anything.

ATS came back from NYLT having decided that Scouting is cool. And gradually, the brightly colored shoes and the funny hats stopped showing up with his uniform. Instead, his uniform was pressed, always had the neckerchief, and always looked sharp.

Very early in a scout’s career, we introduce the principles of Leave No Trace. These principles are intended to help guide our actions in the outdoors so that we minimize the impact on the environment. Following these principles helps ecosystems thrive and leaves them in a condition that others may come and enjoy.

Some of the more obvious applications of these principles involve using established fire rings rather than creating new ones. Outdoorsmen are encouraged to sleep on ground that is durable (another word for hard). One of my favorite applications involves how to act when a pool of mud crosses the trail you are hiking. Most people see the mud and instinctively try to walk around it. But doing so wears down the ground around the mud pool, and eventually causes the muddy area to grow. To leave no trace, it is better to walk straight through the mud, so that less of the area is impacted.

The Leave No Trace principles have served to both protect the environment and enhance the outdoor experience.

There is another set of principles in Scouting that we teach, but we’ve never given them a name. One name we could choose for these principles would be “Leave A Trace.” And you should know that ATS has left a lot of traces.

As I mentioned before, when ATS returned from NYLT, the way he wore his uniform changed. Not only that, but he subtly, and perhaps unknowingly, began to influence other scouts to take pride in wearing their uniforms. Under his leadership, scouting stopped being a place to come and goof off. It became a place to look good while you goofed off. His persistence in encouraging the uniform rubbed off on the adults, even, and his influence continues even now. Leave a trace.

ATS has been an active participant in his high school's Student Group On Race Relations. He has led sessions for children and teenagers to teach them how to prevent bullying and intolerance, and he has trained other people to lead those sessions. Leave a trace.

If you ever get the chance to go down to our meeting space, you’ll see a beautiful, free standing wall separating our meeting space from the dance floor on the other side. This is a large, ambitious, and technically challenging project that not only made our space look better; it also protected the investment of the Verb Ballets dance equipment. Most importantly to our troop, it made possible the return of dodge ball. Leave a trace.

Shortly, ATS is going to be awarded his Eagle Scout. It is most certainly a well earned award. And at this time, I want to remind you, ATS -- this is not an end. This is only a beginning. I want you to pin on that medallion, hold your head high, and walk out into the world ready to leave traces of yourself that make better all the places you go. Leave a trace that improves your university; leave a trace that improves your family; leave a trace that improves the lives of those you associate with; and leave traces that improve yourself. This is the charge of an Eagle Scout -- to earn the rank of Eagle now, and to spend the rest of your life showing the world why you deserve it.

Thank you, ATS, for the traces you have left in my life. We are all looking forward to seeing the many traces you leave in your future.

1The honoree's initials

Monday, June 24, 2013

Stories I Probably Shouldn't Tell My Scouts: Vol. 2

My father has always had a gift for making a point.  He chose a Sunday afternoon to make a point to me about driving.  I had had my learner's permit for a couple of weeks and was resigned to driving the Ford Ranger throughout my driving education.

We were coming home from church--my dad driving his 1986 bright red Camaro, and me in the passenger seat--when my Dad pulled off to a parking lot.

"Switch seats with me," he said.


"Yes."  He got out of the car and I wasn't going to argue.  What 17 year old gives up the chance to drive a Camaro!?

I sat in the driver's seat and was about to turn the key when Dad stopped me.

"First, the rules."  Oh great!  What kind of ridiculous rules is he going to try to make me follow.

"You're seventeen," he reminded me.  "You're friends are seventeen, and I know what you're going to be doing with this car.  So first: you drive safe.  Second: you drive to win."

It turns out Dad understood reality a lot better than my seventeen-year-old self thought I did.  And thus began my driving education.

I got a great education, too.  He drilled me on how to look for peripheral cues of upcoming danger.  Drive on the yellow line at night, he said, so that I have a little bit longer to react if an animal jumps out of the woods.  Watch for mailboxes; they mark the places that cars come out of driveways.  In the dark, keep an eye on power lines; if they light up, there's a car around the bend.  Accelerate into the hill; it's easier to maintain speed up a hill than it is to gain it up the hill.

I took my new education to heart, and when I got my license, I put it to use.

I didn't always get to race in the Camaro, however.  I still drove the Ranger more than anything else.  But really, how different is a 4 cylinder Ranger from a V6 Camaro?  Well, they're a lot different.

I raced a friend home from seminary once.  I was in the Ranger, and he in - oh, I can't remember what he had.  But it had a much bigger engine, which was why he was ahead of me turning onto my street.  I couldn't just give up, so instead, I tried to take the sharper-than-90-degree turn at about 45 miles per hours.

In case you're wondering, that's a bad idea.  I managed to make it through the turn (mostly thanks to the liberal amounts of dirt left on the road by the snow plows from earlier storms), and then I immediately decided I was never, ever going to try that again.

A little over a year later, I got into a race with one of my friends going from his house to another friend's house for a party.  Again, I was driving the Ranger.  He was driving his father's BMW.  I really had no business racing him, but I was too reckless to care.

By some miracle, I got ahead of him through the use of a clever short cut.  But he was coming up on me and had better acceleration than I did.  I figured my only hope was to control the road.  I tried moving into the center of the road so that he couldn't get around me.  He got onto my side anyway.  I tried to startle him by pushing him closer to the dirt shoulder.  He didn't flinch.  He passed me, with his tires on the edge of the pavement, and I watched the passenger side mirror of his BMW pass under the driver's side mirror of my Ranger.  There couldn't have been more than 4 inches between us.  I gave up and moved over so that I wouldn't kill him.  I figured I would lose this race.

But wait!  He missed a turn!  I had a second chance.  I pushed my little Ranger as fast as it would go.  He was catching up.  I knew there was only one way to win this race.  I had to take the sharp turn ahead faster than he did.  I kept up my speed.  The turn was approaching.  Andrew's headlights started to fall farther behind me.  He was honking at me.  He recognized the danger I was in and flashed his high beams.  I was almost on the turn!

I swung to the outside of the turn.  I dropped the engine from fifth gear to third gear.  The truck lurched.  I cut the wheel to the inside of the turn.  The tires screeched; inertia was trying to push me back to the outside of the turn.  I made it out of the turn, with a foot of pavement to spare before the shoulder.  At last, I pulled into the driveway, claiming victory over Andrew and his BMW.

Andrew was furious.  He came into the party ranting, "No one should ever race Nutter again!  That guy is crazy!  I thought he was going to die!"  I didn't admit it then, but I had scared myself again.

That pretty well ended my racing days.  One, everyone seemed more than willing to admit that I was psychotic about trying to win a race.  Two, I was afraid I'd used up my luck.  How many more times could I attempt something like that before I made a mistake?  How much would such a mistake cost me?  No, I had enough stories to tell.  It was time I decided that I wanted to live to tell them.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

An Historic Event! Maybe

I am heading out backpacking in about an hour, so I won't get the pleasure of seeing or commentating on tonight's special broadcast on the Work of Salvation. I keep hearing speculation of some big announcement or some big policy change.

I think we'll be underwhelmed. Here's my reasoning.
  1. The ward councils are specifically invited.
  2. The missionary force is about to increase by about 30,000 bodies.
  3. We're sending out the first batch of new mission presidents with these new missionaries
My guess is that there will be a lot of focus on how to make the most of the increased missionary force.  And the principles emphasized will be the same principles that have been emphasized for the last 30 years.  Namely, the missionary effort won't succeed unless the membership are involved.  I think we'll hear new platitudes and sound bites that will get repeated ad nauseum for the next 4-5 years until it's decided that these sound bites aren't creating the desired effect so we need new sound bites. (lather, rinse, repeat).

I'd love to be wrong.  I'd love to hear an announcement of some kind of a program like the one I dreamed of here.  But I'm not holding my breath.  Instead, I think we'll hear more about the same model we've been using for the past century, and we'll continue to get disappointing returns (see here for a crude analysis of what may happen with the expanded missionary force).

If I'm wrong, however, you'll have a whole week to bash on me without any retaliation.  Enjoy it.  Have fun.  I'll be having the time of my life.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Mormon Persecution Complex and the FDA

Nothing in the world makes a Mormon happier than being persecuted.  Persecution, to a Mormon, is complete validation of their world view--which is succinctly described as Mormons vs. "the world1."  Our persecution complex has a rich tradition dating back to the 1820 when Joseph Smith had his first vision; and it encompasses the expulsions from Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois2.  Being persecuted is a defining characteristic of Mormonism, and you aren't truly living the religion if you aren't being persecuted.

One of the more recent persecution narratives I've heard hasn't gotten a lot of play (thankfully) and is centered around food storage.  The Church maintains a network of canneries and distribution centers where members may go to purchase dry goods in bulk and them can them into #10 cans for convenient storage.  If you like having a food supply (and Mormons are encouraged to maintain a 3 month food supply in case of emergency or economic hardship), these canneries are really quite a blessing.

However, it was announced earlier this year that at most of these canneries, the option to buy in bulk and can the product yourself would no longer be available.  Instead, you would be able to buy the pre-canned goods (at the same price as packing them yourself, it turns out).

It didn't take long for the conspiracy theories to surface. "Government Regulation cause LDS canning facilities to SHUT DOWN" and "BREAKING NEWS: LDS Canneries Halt Canning!"  If you really want to enjoy yourself, read the comments.  I half expect to see someone write "you can have my #10 cans when you pry them from my cold, dead hands."

Now, I can accept that there may be new or upcoming regulations that make it infeasible to host a facility that allows volunteers to come pack their own food.  Let's face it, you don't have the same kind of influence over volunteers that you have over employees.  And no one wants to face the penalties of failing to meet regulations because a volunteer doesn't want to wear a hair net.  But I have a really hard time buying into the idea that the government is targeting LDS canneries.

I didn't think this story had spread beyond the 4.2%3 of Mormons who might actually use the canneries4, so I wasn't too concerned with following it.  I pretty much just rolled my eyes and moved on.  Until someone showed me this statement from the LDS Church.  It starts off saying "Over the past several weeks, misinformation and unnecessary concern has been circulating on blogs, over social media channels and by email regarding changes in operations at the Church’s home storage centers."

It would seem that this nonsense was widespread enough for the Church to issue a response to stamp out the persecution complex.  The Church gives five solid reasons for the decision to discontinue self-canning.  Only one of these four mentions federal regulations, and does so in passing.  The statement says the decision was made, in part, because "It is much more costly to maintain and upgrade facilities that must meet food production standards (such as in a self-canning operation) than it is to maintain a facility that simply distributes pre-canned and prepackaged food."  Keep in mind, the Church operates 101 of these facilities.  Upgrading them is pretty expensive.  Centralizing the canning and distributing the product makes a lot of economic sense.

Anyway, you might notice a few more sad Mormons today now that they are facing just a little bit less persecution.  So it would be swell if you could go the extra mile to brighten up a Mormon's day by offering them some added persecution.

1See also the figurative use of "Babylon"
2My wife reminded me that early Mormons were also driven out of New York, to which I immediately responded, "oh, sorry to downplay your history of persecution!"
3 This is one of those statistics that is accurate by virtue of being made up. I have eighty seven references to back me up on that.
4 People in my ward will probably welcome the change, actually. The last few organized trips to the cannery received a lot of orders and very few volunteers to actually go do the work. Little Red Hen, anyone?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Value of Mentors

When Mormons are planning to move, they sometimes do what we call "ward shopping."  They will visit the area they are moving to and attend several of the wards in the area.  The intent is to find a ward that they like, and in which they think they will be comfortable1. The criteria for the search seem to vary a little by the age of the people searching.  A lot of the people who move into our ward are in their mid to late 20's and choose this ward for a mixture of the proximity to the hospitals, the school systems, and the fact that there are so many young (mid to late 20's) adults in our ward.  A lot of the people who visit and then choose the neighboring ward are in their mid to late 30's and are looking for a ward with lots of youth (age 12-18).

I really wish more people between 40 and 60 would move into our ward.

When I was the clerk, I once did a statistical summary of our ward.  I found that the median age of adults in the ward was about 27.  Being 29, at the time, I found that I was in the 60th percentile.  The 75th percentile was 32.

Let me tell you a little secret about people in their mid to late 20's.  Come closer so that not too many people hear it.  Alright...just a little closer.

People in their mid to late 20's really don't know what they're doing when trying to run a ward.

There, I said it.  And I believe it.  For the most part, the early to mid-20's crowd just doesn't have the hands-on experience of any kind of leadership to be trying to manage an congregation of 200 - 250 people.  In my experience working with seven bishopric counselors, I don't think that the early 30's group is much better.  Which is why I really wish we had more people between 40 and 60 in the ward.  We would all benefit from a few more mentors.

Without question, my best years in this ward were when I was the clerk.  I attribute a lot of that to the fact that I had a mentor in my bishop.  I was also blessed to have the mentorship of another couple in the ward who were so good at pointing out the larger picture of making a ward work.  And I have benefitted enormously from the mentorship of several people in my scout troop.

I realize as I sit here writing this that I can't pinpoint very many concrete things that I've learned from my mentors.  But that's kind of the point of a mentor.  Mentors guide, influence, and inspire.  You learn from them by being around them and watching how they respond to situations that you've never encountered before.  You grow under their care until suddenly you find yourself confidently bearing burdens that would have crushed you years before.

So let me say thank you to those who have mentored me into the person I am today.  I'm not quite ready to take on all of the challenges I think my life will put before me.  But I think I'm close, and I know I've gotten here a lot faster because of their mentorship.  Without them, I wouldn't have reached this level of maturity and confidence for another 15 years.  So thank you.

Unfortunately, mentors are becoming harder and harder to find.  Two of my mentors moved away this summer.  Due to a boundary change, one of my mentors now attends a different ward.  The new parents coming into my scout troop are increasingly becoming closer to my peers than they are my mentors.  And it appears that we all may lose one of my most precious mentors in the coming year.

I'm not ready for this.

I fear that the one lesson I really need to learn is one that they can't teach me.  That lesson is how to continue on without them around.  Tell me, how am I supposed to continue getting better without someone showing me the way?

Cherish your mentors people.  They disappear to quickly.  And the places they filled in your hearts are very hard to fill.

1 LDS wards are assigned geographical boundaries and members are strongly encouraged (almost required) to attend the ward in which they live.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Learning Empathy for Those Offended by Proxy Baptisms

I came across an interesting course of thought on an LDS Internet forum recently. Members of the forum were comparing the LDS priesthood ban from Those of African descent to the Church's policy that Jews and especially holocaust victims should not have their names submitted for proxy baptism in Mormon temples.

The argument was that in each case, the Church was denying eternal blessings from a group of people based on race. So, if you are outraged by the priesthood ban, then you should be outraged by not being allowed to do proxy baptisms for deceased Jews.

The argument fails on further inspection--the policy regarding proxy baptism is that only direct descendants may submit names of deceased Jews and holocaust victims. The truth of the matter is that the rule has always been that you should only submit names of your own ancestors, regardless of ethnicity. The rule just never got enforced until the rule breakers brought on bad publicity. Such is the normal behavior of large organizations.

So should I be outraged that the Church won't let me baptize your dead ancestors? I really don't see why I should be. I think it is extremely reasonable and respectful to let you decide what happens with your ancestors' legacy.

But still, there seems to be a vein in Mormon culture that thinks your offense at our baptizing your ancestors is out of line.  Among the reasons given:
  • Not allowing us to baptize any dead person infringes on our right to practice our religion.
  • We aren't forcing the dead to be Mormon, we're giving them the option1.
  • If you don't recognize the authority of the Mormon church, then why does it matter?
  • If Mormonism does turn out to be true, then we're doing them a favor.
The problem with these reasons is that they are all culturally-centric and culturally-selfish.  It can be really difficult to explain what it is exactly that's so troubling to people about their ancestors being baptized by proxy in our temples.

The truth is, I really don't know how to explain it.  But I can give you a demonstration of how people feel when we baptize their ancestors without their consent.  I present to you All Dead Mormons Are Now Gay.

But be warned, you might be offended by that website.  To put it in perspective, even I was offended by it2.

For those of you who don't want to click the link, I can summarize it for you. The website proclaims that "many Mormons throughout history have died without having known the joys of homosexuality. With your help, these poor souls can be saved."  All you need to do is enter the name of a dead Mormon, press the convert button, and congratulations! You've just made a Mormon gay for eternity.  "No take-backs!"  The site even has a helpful feature where, if you don't don't know any dead Mormons, you can press a button and the site will link to Family Search and randomly select a dead Mormon for you.

How do you feel now?

That's why we don't baptize people's ancestors without their consent--because we shouldn't be doing anything that makes people feel like that.

1 By LDS doctrine, this is actually true. We don't believe that a proxy baptism makes a person Mormon. We believe that a baptism by the proper authority needs to be performed for every person who ever lived, but each individual is free to accept of decline that baptism. That fact, however, doesn't make it any less emotionally upsetting to people who don't subscribe to Mormonism.
2 Don't get me wrong. I laughed and immediately appreciated the satire. But yes, it was offensive.

Slingshots Done Right Are......


To motivate the scouts to learn their lashings, we promised them a campout building giant sling shots.  What you see above is the fruit of their labors.  We had four patrols each build a sling shot, and then they had competitions for distance and accuracy.  In case you're interested, we were able to fire bean bags over 100 yards.  It was awesome!

The design of the sling shot is pretty simple.  It's just a couple of A-frames connected by three cross pieces.  We used rubber tubing for the band and duct tape for the baskets.  Just stake down the apparatus really well and you're good to go.

When the competition was done, we let them have some free time firing things off.  The bean bags weren't fun to try and catch, but the rubber duckies, water balloons, and footballs were popular.  We are hoping to come up with some kind of a game to play at summer camp to demonstrate the awesomeness of our sling shots.

You can see more pictures here.

Scout Hack #2: Suburban Lashing

My troop is a suburban troop. Good poles for lashing are hard to come by. For a number of years, this problem was amplified by the fact that it was illegal to transport hardwoods across county lines (the emerald ash borer has taken a nasty toll on our area). This made it hard to make poles in places like scout camp, where downed trees are in abundance.

The other big problem with natural poles is storing them. We are a large and growing troop with limited storage space. Obtaining natural poles that were thin, strong, and straight was already a challenge, but finding enough of them to be used by a troop of 30 boys and have space to store them...well, now we are approaching the impossible.

So here is our solution: poles worthy of the true suburban scout.

Yes, you see that correctly. They are 2x2s available at your local lumber yard. We have close to thirty of these in our closet. The fact that they are narrow, and uniformly sized, makes them very easy to store.

The trouble with 2x2s is that they are very smooth.  Even with a very tight, secure lashing, the ropes have a tendency to slip.  This has been frustrating, but also useful.  We have been able to gauge the strength of a lashing by the amount of slippage.  If the lashing slips very little, it is a very good knot.

But you'll also notice we have tried to prevent some of the slipping by putting notches in the corners of the 2x2s.  We used a hatchet to do the notching (boys love playing with hatchets) and were able to quickly run down the length of them.  The notches shown in this picture aren't quite deep enough nor wide enough to be as effective as we would like, but a little more work and it should be pretty effective.  We may also run a grinder over them at some point to really ding them up.

This certainly isn't the most ideal solution, but we've had great success getting the boys to improve their lashing by having enough of these around for everyone to be busy.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Phenomenal Cosmic Power...Itty Bitty Budgeting

A few of the young men in my ward were really excited to show me the box they were lashing together.  They had worked hard on it at the previous scout meeting and wanted to go look at it before we started class (we were having Sunday School class at the picnic table that day).  We wandered over to look at it and I wish I had taken a picture.  The boys, to their credit, beamed as they showed off the box they were making: sticks as thick as my little finger and no longer than 16 inches long were being lashed together with blue yarn.

I'm not sure if I should laugh or cry.

Poor man's scouting, we could call it.  Before moving on, let's make it clear that I don't fault the leaders of my ward's scouting program for this.  In fact, kudos to them for coming up with a creative solution to a real problem.  I can't confirm, but I suspect the real problem here is that the ward's troop lacks the necessary funds to buy something as simple as rope.  It turns out, this is a systemic problem in the Church.

A member of my ward once asked me what it would take to get me involved in Church sponsored scouting, and one of the first things I said was that the ward leaders would have to let me properly fund the troop. Under current guidelines, the troop's operating budget is assigned from the ward's operating budget; the total amount is determined by the bishop. The entire troop budget is supposed to come from the ward budget, and all activities and troop supplies are to be paid for out of that budget. This includes tents, stoves, cooking gear, lanterns, camp fees, admissions, etc. I've yet to see this work well.

Let's break down the costs of a troop.

Each year, the BSA requires a scouting unit to recharter.  Part of this process is paying an annual membership fee to the BSA.  This fee helps support the national organization and infrastructure.  The total fee to the BSA is $28 (and includes a magazine subscription) for the first boy in a family, and $16 for each additional boy.

Since the LDS Church has adopted scouting as its young men program, it graciously pays the rechartering fees for all of its eligible members.  Even if the boy doesn't participate in scouting, the Church pays the rechartering fee, just in case he changes his mind.  This money is initially paid by the stake, but it automatically reimbursed by the Church.

The LDS Church charters 37,856 units1 and a total of 430,557 youth.  If we average out the chartering fees to $20 per boy, the LDS Church pays $8,611,140 per year to the BSA.  Yes, you read that correctly -- 8 million dollars2.

However, since the Church pays these fees centrally, these costs do not get shouldered by the local unit.

An active boy scout who attends 10 camp outs per year plus summer camp and a high adventure trip could probably expect to spend somewhere $600 to $800 per year. That's $200 for scout camp, another $200 for the high adventure trip, and about $20 - $40 per camp out for food and camp fees. A well funded troop can subsidize that amount and lower the cost to the boy. A very well funded troop could pay it all for the boy and make participation even easier. A thrifty troop could also find camps or trips that may cost less, but that's getting harder and harder to do.

The typical LDS ward receives between $30 and $35 per active member per year (there will be a little variation from one stake to another). That means, to fund a single boy's participation in scouting, you need 20 - 25 members in your ward. If you have 10 young men in your ward, you need a total membership of 200 - 250. That's about the average size of an LDS congregation. Using those numbers, you could easily put your entire ward budget into funding your scouting program and have no other ward programs (no Young Women, no Primary, no Relief Society, no Elders Quorum, no paper for the get the idea).

In fact, according to the Church's vision of scouting, this is exactly how the troop should be funded--exclusively from the ward budget.

Funding for Aaronic Priesthood activities, including Scouting activities where they are authorized by the Church, should come from the ward budget.
 If possible, equipment and supplies that the ward needs for annual youth camps are purchased with ward budget funds.
(Handbook 2, 8.13.7)
Imagine you're in a ward that is using its entire budget allotment to fund the scouting program.  All of the youth are able to go on every camp out at no cost.  It's sure to be a success, right?

Now let's discuss what a troop needs to prepare the boys for the outdoor experience.  First, the obvious things: tents, lanterns, stoves, and cooking equipment.  Want to try dutch oven cooking?  You'll need at least one dutch oven per patrol.  Interested in wilderness camping, such as backpacking?  You'll also need water filters, light weight stoves, and light weight tents.  Don't forget your first aid kit.

Have you thought about the less obvious things?  First aid education supplies, ropes (both synthetic and natural fiber), poles on which to practice knots and lashings, etc.  Water carriers and you'll need an American flag and a troop flag.  Oh, and you'll need a dry place in which to store it all.

All of these thing cost money.  A large, summer season tent can be purchased for about $140, but a backpacking tent can cost between $200 and $300.  Camp stoves and light weight stoves each go for about $70 - $90.  Dutch ovens can be $90 a piece.  I just restocked my troop's rope supplies this year at a total cost of about $300.  Our cooksets cost about $160 each to assemble.

I estimate that outfitting a troop of two patrols plus an adult patrol could cost about $3,000.  That's another half of the ward budget3.

When the Ward Budget Isn't Enough
As you can imagine, the ward rarely pays all of these expenses.  It can't possibly do so and still have money to spend on other programs.  Fortunately, the Church offers a little bit of relief:
If the ward budget does not have sufficient funds to pay for an annual extended Scout camp or similar activity for young men, leaders may ask participants to pay for part or all of it. (Handbook 2, 8.13.7
So, if your ward doesn't have enough money to fund the entire scouting program, at least it can request money from families to help pay for scout camp.  But the ward is still on the hook for the high adventure trip, the 10 other campouts in the year, and all the equipment (realistically, about 80% of the costs).

Not to fear!  Because if the ward still doesn't have enough money, it can also use that same fundraiser from above to pay for troop equipment.  Problem solved, right!?

Don't count on it.  These fundraisers are only approved if they meet certain guidelines.  The most challenging requirement is this one:
Stakes and wards that sponsor fund-raising activities should not advertise or solicit beyond their boundaries. Nor should they sell products or services door to door. (Handbook 2, 13.6.8)
If the majority of the population in your ward boundaries is LDS, this might work well.  If not, it can be a bit harder to get a good turn out to your fund raiser.  Most fundraisers I have seen have been limited to advertising in the meetinghouse and targeting only the members of the ward4.  For a troop of ten boys, this puts a $9,000 funding need on a group of about 250 people; perhaps around 100 families.  To meet that need, each family would need to contribute $90 per year to the troop.  And we haven't even begun to talk about funding the Young Women program.

Some troops manage under these limitations, and some even flourish.  But such units seem to be the exception.  Anecdotally, the LDS troops I hear about that do flourish tend to have several thousand dollars of funds coming in every year from outside the ward budget.  But troops that don't have that kind of money lash with sticks and yarn -- a miniaturized and pathetic version of a program that could have been so much better.

So, if you want your son to have a real scouting experience, look for a troop that does a real fundraiser.

2Now you see why the Church has so much influence on the BSA
3Some would argue that you could always borrow equipment from ward members. This assumes that a) members have the right equipment and b) you're willing to let the members bear the cost of boys' irresponsibility. The tents in our troop last, on average, about two years before they have to be replaced, often due to damage in the course of normal teenage rough housing and carelessness.
4Admittedly, this is a matter of lack of vision and creativity. But the Church discourages fund raisers enough that it's hard to see any reason to push out into the broader community.

Monday, June 3, 2013

What in the Blue Blazes

Now here's a thought to consider.  Every twenty minutes on the Appalachian Trail, Katz and I walked further than the average American walks in a week.  For 93 percent of all trips outside of the home, for whatever distance or whatever purpose, Americans now get in a car.  On average, the total walking of an American these days--that's walking of all types: from car to office, from office to car, around the supermarket and shopping malls--adds up to 1.4 miles a week, barely 350 yards per day.  That's ridiculous. (Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods, Anchor Books, 1998, p. 183)
I'm kind of guilty of this.  I probably get just under a mile a day, but that's still pretty sad.  So I'm going to try and do better.  And on top of that, I'm going to throw on a couple of big goals.

Bryson's book A Walk in the Woods a memoir of his attempt at hiking the Appalachian Trail--a mostly wilderness trail that runs over 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine and is probably the most challenging hiking trail in the United States.  He didn't make it.  In fact, when he added up all the miles he had done, he had only walked 39.5% of the trail (850 miles of walking in one summer!).

I'm not ready to take on the Appalachian Trail just yet.  I want to, but right now isn't a very good time for me to do it.  So I'm going to try a shorter, easier trail first.  I'm going to take on Ohio's Buckeye Trail.  The Buckeye Trail (marked by blue blazes) circumscribes the better part of Ohio for a total of 1,443 miles.  I'm hoping I get walk it all over the next ten years.

While the Buckeye Trail is nowhere near as challenging as the Appalachian Trail--the Buckeye Trail traverses city streets, country roads, and off-road trails--I'm hoping that the experience of planning the section hikes will give me good insights into how to plan a section hike of the Appalachian Trail in the future.

By the time this post publishes, I'll have already walked my first ten miles.  But I still have a long way to go.  Anyone want to join me for a walk?

Follow my progress here.