REBECCA FENG ARRIVED in Scouting relatively late. When her sons joined Cub Scouting, Cedric was a fifth-grader and Etienne was a third-grader. Feng quickly made up for lost time, becoming Etienne’s Webelos den leader during his second year.
Since then, she has served in a host of unit and district positions. She has chaired troop, crew and post committees, served as a unit commissioner and roundtable staff member, and twice participated in the district nominating process. At one point, in fact, she held six different Scouting jobs.
The units Feng has served are chartered to the Chinese American Scouting Association (CASA), a group that supports both Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting units in the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council. A first-generation American (she arrived during high school), Feng knows firsthand the unique challenges of serving immigrant communities.
Talk about your decision to transition out of your crew and post positions. I wanted somebody to be there while I’m still in the background helping them. In the long run, I think it’s going to be better. When somebody is in a position too long, then you don’t have a succession plan.
Does helping in the background extend to youth leaders in your troop? Yes. We kind of instill that in our youth, too. It’s not like the patrol leaders are competing with one another and saying, “Look how great my term is. Look how lousy yours is.” Your job is to help the next person to be successful.
It’s amazing that you’re not burned out, considering how involved you’ve recently been. I think the key is to have some balance. Have some time for your family and also some time for yourself. I like to run, so I just put a goal out there: do a marathon. That kind of gave me something else to focus on.
Did you finish? I did, and it was pouring rain! I was happy there were so many crazy people running with me.
Any other advice for avoiding burnout? Know yourself. If you know you don’t like to do certain things, don’t say yes to them. For example, I don’t like to organize, to be an event chair. Whenever somebody asks me to do that, I say, “I don’t think so.” I wouldn’t do the job as well as I would like, it would stress me out and it would keep the position from somebody else that would really love it.
Shifting gears, what’s the biggest challenge in reaching immigrant families? When they come from China or Taiwan, their mindset is a little different. Academics is very, very important to them. They’re worried their kids are going to be behind.
So they don’t understand that Scouting can supplement academics? Many parents are concerned that Scouting would take the focus and time away from academics, as Scouting takes a lot of time.
How do you communicate the value of Scouting to them? We have Scouts talk to them, Scouts who can say, “I’m a valedictorian” or “I have straight A’s” or “It’s not going to take away from your goal.”
What else works in reaching immigrant parents? Reach out to them. Do things by baby steps. Don’t try to preach a lot to them. Go slow. Make the bond first with the new parents. Once you have the relationship and communication, it’s easier to change their minds.
Training works, too, right? By the time the kid gets to First Class, we expect one parent in the house to be trained. We don’t require it; we just say we expect it. We want them to know why we do what we do, just so we don’t have any misunderstandings. Advancement is a tricky part. Sometimes if their kids don’t advance, they’re upset. The more training they have, they start thinking that advancement is a method, not the goal.
When and how do you train parents? When the kids are in their troop meetings, we kind of keep the parents in a room and give them little teasers, like “Let’s talk about what a board of review is.” Twice a year, we have troop leadership training and invite the parents to come. We have some senior Scouts teach little things to the new Scouts like the Totin’ Chip, and that gives the new parents a reason to join us. Once we have their attention, we give them information and tell them they’re going to learn a lot more if they sign up for Boy Scout leader training.
Talk about your role as associate chapter advisor. Our chapter is mostly Scout-run; the youth take care of everything. Sometimes it may look a little bit disorganized, but somehow they magically pull it together. I’m basically in a supporting role. For example, when we do unit visits, we like to have an adult go along in the background.
How does CASA support Chinese American units? CASA provides adult leader training in Chinese, and we have monthly leader meetings where leaders can discuss their problems and help each other. The funny thing is that all these units that are under CASA are also competitors for new Scouts because we’re all recruiting from the same community. But it’s more like a friendly competition. We’re all friends; we all know each other. We all have the same problems.
FactSheet: Rebecca Feng
Years as a Scout Leader: 9
Current City: Saratoga, Calif.
Current Positions: Unit commissioner and Order of the Arrow associate chapter advisor
Day Job: Engineer at Anritsu, which makes test and measurement equipment
Favorite Camp: Camp Emerald Bay on Catalina Island. “That’s a beautiful place. It’s better to go there to camp than on a cruise.”
Proudest Moment in Scouting: “When both my sons ended up getting their Eagle badges in the same court of honor.”