Change happens. And make no mistake: Change is sweeping the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America.
A blocklong parade of BSA volunteer leaders and professional staff at May’s National Annual Meeting stated—repeatedly and often forcefully—that the status quo has got to go.
Nowhere was this more evident than during Chief Scout Executive Robert Mazzuca’s emotionally charged closing address at Friday’s General Session. In front of a rapt audience in the main ballroom of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, Mazzuca’s teleprompter displayed his prepared remarks. But he never delivered them. Instead, he spoke from the heart.
As if etching an exclamation point onto the day’s exhaustive agenda of speakers citing Scouting’s urgent need to take a new path, Mazzuca drove home his point with fervor no one could misunderstand. “It is time,” he said, his voice rising. “We have the courage to take this movement where America needs to go.
“It is time!” he repeated. “We stood up and we said, ‘Darn it! We’re going to do it right!’”
Right—as measured by 17 carefully crafted new benchmarks for gauging the performance of everyone and everything involved in shaping a quality experience for young people in Scouting—for the 21st century and beyond. The journey is the destination. “Trust me,” Mazzuca said. “If we do this right, this journey will never end.”
No doubt you’ve heard a little or a lot about Journey to Excellence (scouting.org/scout
source/Commissioners/Journey.aspx). It’s not another slogan, nor another campaign, said leaders from both the volunteer and professional ranks. Rather, JTE is a long-term strategy to bring out the “personal best” of every Scout and Scouter through a continuous focus on improvement. As Mazzuca put it, the “bogey [criteria for improvement] will continue to move. And we can always be better than we are today.”
A diverse task force of volunteers and professionals, chaired by Northeast management consultant and regional commissioner Hab Butler, developed the JTE program.
“They began with a simple premise: Every Scout, current and future, deserves a great Scouting experience,” said BSA President Rex Tillerson.
Driven by metrics and built with standards based on the respected Kaplan and Norton Balanced Scorecard, JTE will measure the ability of councils and units to “produce a sustainable, quality program that youth members enjoy every week in their local units,” said Tillerson.
“The BSA is developing many tools, metrics, and dashboards to support us. But we must never forget that the program is all about the Scout. How do they feel about their communities? How do they feel about their country? It’s about the experience we’re going to give that young person.”
Top-tier speakers also included National Commissioner Tico Perez and President and CEO of AT&T Mobility Ralph de la Vega, who offered their perspectives on challenges facing the organization in its second 100 years. All reinforced the major imperatives:
- improve the program.
- increase recruiting and retention.
- build sustainable councils and units.
- establish highly engaged relationships with chartered organizations and parents.
- maintain an adequate professional staff capable of serving all available youth in the council.
- assemble the best possible executive board.
Regional representatives, many from some of the 11 councils that participated in 2010’s JTE pilot programs around the country, outlined ways they scored improvement in at least one of the program’s 17-point criteria. Among them:
- Atlanta Area Council’s process for recruiting board members from business and industry.
- Santa Clara County Council’s continuous feedback process that will be embedded in the JTE program in February 2012 with the launch of The Voice of the Scout.
- Sam Houston Area Council’s ongoing Project 200 initiative to create that number of new traditional Scout and Venture units in the city’s underserved communities.
A stirring presentation by Jim Rogers, chairman of the Mission Impact Department, urged all Scouters to “confront the brutal facts” and “leave the BSA a better place than you found it.” JTE, he said, will teach you what will really make a difference. “As we think about the future—prepared for life—Journey to Excellence will take us from good to great and set a new standard for youth development in America.”
Finally, as Tillerson consistently reminded everyone during the sessions, large and small: Stay focused on The Main Thing. And that is “to serve more youth.” An exciting bottom line to shoot for on the BSA’s permanent Journey to Excellence.
If all of that sounds like heavy-duty stuff, it was. But the 2011 National Annual Meeting also featured moments of Scouting’s trademark fun that matters, including NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young speaking at Wednesday morning’s Duty to God Breakfast about how faith helped him overcome his athletic limitations and author Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods, The Nature Principle) expressing at Thursday’s Americanism Breakfast the ever-increasing importance of giving young people a “transcendent experience in the outdoors.”
Closing ceremonies at the National Council Recognition Dinner paid tribute to Boys’ Life magazine’s 100th anniversary (2011) with a special appearance by Pedro the Mailburro and some laughs (and groans) from the venerated history of Think & Grin. Eleven new Silver Buffalo Award recipients were named, too.
Naturally, scenic San Diego provided the perfect backdrop for plenty of extracurricular activities in the city’s National Historic District, Balboa Park, and on the Market Place trails alongside the harbor near the hotel.
Surely participants found attending the three-day 2011 National Annual Meeting an eponymous preview to the BSA’s Journey to Excellence.
John R. Clark is Scouting magazine’s managing editor.