A Conversation With The Chief
Robert J. Mazzuca became the BSA’s Chief Scout Executive Sept. 1. Scouting magazine’s managing editor, Scott Daniels, interviewed him about his passion for the Scouting movement and plans for the organization as it nears its 100th anniversary.
Scouting: What is it like to be CEO of the world’s largest youth-serving organization?
Mazzuca: I’m absolutely honored, humbled, and delighted. I see this responsibility as a sacred trust. My commitment is to give it everything I’ve got. I wake up every morning and can’t wait to get to work and get started. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and I’m real excited about it.
Scouting: You are a second-generation Italian, and you’ve mentioned in the past what an important influence your father had on your life.
Mazzuca: My father came to the United States from southern Italy in the late 1920’s. I’m one of eight children, a huge family, but a very close one. Growing up, I watched my father focus on raising his family and doing right by them.
My father owned an old Studebaker truck, the only truck in the small town where we lived. One day, the Scoutmaster of my troop asked him if he could help get the kids to camp by hauling the troop equipment in his truck. He said yes.
This was his first exposure to the magic of volunteering and American philanthropy in its purest form. It was a marvelous experience for him, and he joined the troop committee as its transportation chairman.
Looking back, I saw the transformation of my father’s sole focus on his family expanding to a larger sense of community and helping to raise all the kids in town.
Scouting: The BSA is designating 2008 as the “Year of the Volunteer.” Tell us about that.
Mazzuca: The “Year of the Volunteer” is hugely important. Volunteers are the backbone, the lifeblood of Scouting. They are absolutely critical to the success of the organization.
As I saw with my father, Scouting is equally valuable to the adult volunteer as it is to the child in the program. In my father’s case, he was a changed man when he discovered the magic of volunteerism.
For many volunteers, Scouting is an outlet that they don’t get in their workplace. This is an opportunity for them to pay back. It is an opportunity for them to experience leadership at a level that they may not have in any other form in their life.
In addition to recruiting more volunteers, we are devising a national parent initiative that will encourage more parents to be involved with their kids in the program. We know that a child’s experience in Scouting is enhanced when his parents are more actively involved.
Scouting: You are an Eagle Scout. What are some of your memories of Scouting as a boy?
Mazzuca: I joined because my best friend invited me to go to a troop meeting. I was 11 years old and became a member of Troop 28 in San Juan Bautista, Calif. It was the only show in town, and it was cool.
I became a patrol leader and served as a den chief. I worked on staff at Camp Pico Blanco in the Monterey Bay Area Council for three summers.
Scouting: Why do you believe Scouting is so important for youth?
Mazzuca: I’m terribly concerned for young people today, especially young boys and the whole issue of unstructured playtime. There is none of that available anymore. They can’t go out and invent a game and play with their friends until dark or until mom says come in for dinner.
Most of what kids experience today is either highly structured or highly lonely — me and my TV or me and my video game. So I see a major role for Scouting in helping reshape how kids are raised.
Scouting is one of the last places where boys can have a rambunctious experience in a relatively structured way and at the same time learn the lessons that we’re trying to sneak up on them in terms of character and leadership.
Scouting: What excites you about Scouting and your new opportunity to help shape its future?
Mazzuca: I see a lot of positive things and not much that needs fixing. However, I think there’s lots we need to learn about the high-tech world and our ability to communicate internally and externally.
I spend time looking at YouTube and MySpace, and it’s fascinating. I think we have a place in that environment.
We should be creating venues in electronic forms for our own people to talk to each other, to get good ideas, to share ideas, and to share frustrations. We ought to be very aggressive in figuring out how we can be in that world with kids, because that’s where they live. If we are going to get them outdoors, we’ve got to get their attention, and the way to do it is to go where they are.
Scouting: The BSA will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary. What do you see as its legacy, and what do you see for the future?
Mazzuca: Our legacy for 100 years has been generations of leaders for a lifetime. We produce leaders and responsible adult citizens through their involvement in Scouting.
I guarantee we are going to have a heck of a party in 2010. We are going to have a whole year of celebrating this marvelous 100 years of Scouting and proclaiming our future.
But I think if all we do in celebrating our 100th anniversary is celebrate this wonderful past, that doesn’t bode well for us. We need to use this opportunity to celebrate the glorious future that we have.
My goal as the new Chief Scout Executive is to do everything I can to secure the second century of Scouting, not just celebrate the last. To do that we need to better understand the world we live in and devise ways of better program delivery and better use of technology.
Scouting: Tiger Cubs and Cub Scouting are a boy’s first opportunity to join Scouting. What do we need to do better to introduce these boys to Scouting?
Mazzuca: Number one, I think we need to do a better job of understanding these boys and what it is that really motivates them. Number two, in our high-paced, rapid, entertaining world, we only have one brief shot at enrolling these boys. If we blow it, they vote with their feet because there’s a whole bunch of other stuff to do.
The solution is good, trained leaders who are equipped to deal with kids that age in an exciting and dynamic, vibrant program. It doesn’t take much, but it takes some preparation and some talents and skill.
I think we need to make some changes in the program’s delivery mechanism. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the core values and the intrinsic nature of what we do, but occasionally we’ve got to polish up the delivery mechanism.
Scouting: Are there programs planned to reach a more diverse population in Scouting?
Mazzuca: Rick Cronk, our national president, is absolutely passionate about our ability to understand and then deliver the Scouting program to a rapidly growing Hispanic population. As Rick points out, 48 percent of the Scout-age youth in California are Hispanic. So unless we are willing to concede California and Texas and places like that, we better figure out how to serve this population.
We’ve employed Hispanic Communications Network to help us reach into these vast markets to help people understand how Scouting can help raise their children. We are real excited about this, and I am totally committed to it.
There are lots of other diverse parts of our population that we’ve got to be more effective in reaching. There’s certainly a growing Asian population, and we can never ignore the core urban minority children that find themselves in some very serious economic straits.
Diversity in Scouting is a huge issue for us, and it’s one that we’ve got to be very sophisticated about. We’ve got to understand and then deliver what they need, not what we think they may need. We don’t have to change core values to do that. We may have to change some of the outward packaging.
Scouting: What reason would you give a parent as to why their child ought to join a Scout unit?
Mazzuca: In a nutshell, leadership for a lifetime. Give us a child for five years, any combination of those years being in Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, or Venturing, and we will help equip that child for a better life.
I’d tell parents that when they make decisions regarding their children’s time, make recreational decisions based on recreational activities. Don’t count Scouting in that recreational slot. Our goal isn’t to teach your child how to camp. Our goal is to help your child become a responsible, productive adult.
Parents need to understand that it isn’t a choice between their child playing soccer for an hour a week or Scouting for an hour. Scouting is for a lifetime, but soccer is for an hour.
Scouting: Is it important that every Boy Scout become an Eagle Scout?
Mazzuca: If less than 4 percent of the boys in Scouting become Eagle Scouts, are we writing off the other 96 percent of the kids? No, they are getting a tremendous experience. The cherry on top of the sundae is the Eagle Scout, but the whole sundae is pretty good.
Scouting: How did you decide on Scouting as a career?
Mazzuca: I was on camp staff the summer before starting college, and that’s when I decided I wanted to do this for a living.
The camp director, Bill Lidderdale, was also a district executive in the Monterey Bay Area Council. Next to my father, I just worshiped this guy. He was my hero. He told me about professional Scouting and said he thought I would do a good job.
So here was a person that I really admired telling me that I was good enough to do what he did for a living. That was all it took, and in 1971 I started this adventure in Modesto, Calif.
Scouting: Would you recommend Scouting as a career to a young person?
Mazzuca: It’s a marvelous life’s work. There is no job like it. If someone is just looking for a job, I’d tell them ‘Don’t bother; it’s not a job. It has to be a passion or we ask too much of you.’
But if you have the passion, at the end of the day when you put your head on the pillow, you can say, “Wow, that was cool.”
It is hard work, and at times it is very frustrating, but I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.
Copyright © 2007 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.