On May 23rd, 2013, the Boy Scouts of America voted to modify their membership policies. That change will go into effect on January 1, 2014. This decision affected three groups of people who have an interest in BSA:
- Those who are current members, but are so dissatisfied with the policy change (the policy should not have been approved) that they’ve decided to leave the BSA to participate in a program more suited to their concerns (i.e. a faith focused version of scouting)
- Those who are current members, but are so dissatisfied with the policy change (the policy didn’t go far enough) that they’ve decided to leave the BSA to participate in a program more suited to their concerns (i.e. a “wholly inclusive” version of scouting)
- Those who would join and participate in BSA if it were “fully inclusive” – allowing unrestricted membership; however, they want to join a scout-like unit that is “fully inclusive” while waiting to see if BSA will change further to accommodate their concerns
First, each family should identify a short list of alternative programs that suit their concerns. For example: organizations like CampFire USA are wholly inclusive, co-ed and offer local units throughout the USA; organizations like Trail Life USA focus on spiritual development as part of their program. While neither example is intended to emulate all aspects of BSA, each offers many similar experiences, and for many families, may actually be a better fit for their unique concerns. We’ve previously published lists of alternatives to BSA on this blog site (and click HERE for a link to a brand new NBC news article summarizing the “spectrum” of options available).
Secondly, visit the web sites of the organizations on your short list to find out whether they support units in your immediate area. Some are national in scope and others are regional (some organizations have a unit finder application where you can enter your zip code and discover units nearby, some require you to call the organization directly to obtain that information)
If you can locate a unit near your home, call and see if you can visit with your son to observe a meeting and meet other participating parents. If you like what you’ve seen, make contact with the unit leader after the meeting and ask any questions needed to establish a comfort level with how the program works and what may be expected from your family in terms of support.
Be prepared to start your own unit with several other families who share your concerns — just because a unit is not within a local distance shouldn’t stop you from doing what you think is best for your son(s). Most organizations have training programs to support local units — especially for those who are starting up in a new territory. In most cases, it may be as easy as following the “leader’s guidebook” for their curriculum — most are “follow the bouncing ball” simple and have examples and descriptions so that you can make it fun and challenging. It’s a good opportunity to both set an example of real leadership for your own family, and a chance to get to work with your son(s) more closely on something they’ll really enjoy.
Lastly, share what you’ve learned with other families who may also be looking for an alternative to BSA. When your son(s) have more friends involved they typically have a better time adjusting to a new program. Additionally, encourage your son during the first several meetings to give it his best effort to participate – he’ll learn a lot by getting to know new people and socializing with new groups. Depending on the organization, they may even transition his current advancement work (within BSA) to their own advancement/award program.