Tuesday Talkback: Getting more Scouts to attend Order of the Arrow events

Tuesday-TalkbackThe Order of the Arrow is not a secret society, but in some troops it might as well be.

These troops go through the first steps of getting Scouts elected into Scouting’s national honor society and through their Ordeal.

But after that, these new Arrowmen become ghosts, never seen at a lodge meeting, dance event, section conclave, National Order of the Arrow Conference or any other OA function.

Too bad, because Order of the Arrow members have tons of fun and experience the brotherhood of cheerful service that can enhance the Scouting experience, especially for older boys who may feel like they’ve seen all Scouting has to offer at the troop level.

So here’s the Tuesday Talkback topic for today: How would you characterize the level of OA participation in your troop? How can you, as a Scouter, increase your Scouts’ involvement in the Order of the Arrow?

You know what to do: Leave your responses in the comments section below.

What other Scouters said

Read ideas from when this topic was posed in a past issue of Scouting magazine.

Other Tuesday Talkbacks

Conversations from previous weeks are still ongoing. Join them now.

Photo from Flickr:  Some rights reserved by stevejb68

67 thoughts on “Tuesday Talkback: Getting more Scouts to attend Order of the Arrow events

  1. The OA can be a most enjoyable and educational experience for Scouts. It should always maintain the focus on its roots – things that never change: service, cheerfulness and brotherhood. It started in service to summer camp, encouraging and helping the camping program. I had a great first 5 years in OA as an adult. A Vigil honor member, I was saddened when the focus at our lodge was more on administrative practice and adults reliving their lost childhood, which damaged the experience of the youth. On the administrative side, what 15 year old wants to go spend a weekend in business meetings? It’s much more fun and fulfilling to build a new camp facility (and say “I made that”), learn ceremonies, make regalia and sit around a campfire with the best scouts in your Council! On the “Adults reliving their lost childhood”, we had adult leaders interfering with almost every major decision, pulling strings and redirecting those business meetings, and the spirit went out of the lodge. Being more concerned about strict rules than enabling the OA experience cost us both youth and adults and scared off Scoutmasters. “Service Weekends” became Ordeal candidates doing a project without older youth members working beside them, and older members sitting in the dining hall waiting for their next meal or meeting. Who needs that? How many new ordeal members do you suppose came back? The adults need to be role models for the youth, out there showing the brotherhood and cheerful service, not running the show for their own benefit.
    OA can be (and I am sure still is) great in many Lodges. But Lodge Advisors need to be on guard against adult members with juvenile ambitions, and remember the adult leaders you need are the ones who will drive (transport) younger Arrowmen to events willingly and to follow the flow of the Lodge, not redirect it. It’s about the youth becoming adults, not the adults becoming youth. WWW!

  2. Let me start my response with a question: Is the OA a wild Mustang or a broken work Mule?

    I was a sash and dash kid myself, in fact my ordeal was the very last thing I ever did in scouts, long story short is my family moved to an area with no scout troop and I didn’t know about the lone scout program. As such I remember my ordeal with Lodge 5, I remember the two boys in my troop that smuggled in food to the ordeal and got kicked out, I remember the honor, the fire dancers, the sense that this was epic and something really cool. There was a sense that it really meant something, and the other youth took pride in what the program was.

    Today I am an Assistant Scoutmaster, live in a different state all together, wear the lodge flap from my ordeal proudly, but have a tough time encouraging boys to look into it. The why is really simple, yes there is a once a year conclave camp experience that is fun, but for the other 11 months out of the year it’s come to camp and work for us in service hours. Boy after boy in my troop has gone down this road and once they decide the dance team isn’t for them, they are left feeling the only thing that is still open to them in the OA is to work service projects for camp.(mind you that’s a 3 hour drive to get there too) As an adult no I haven’t become active in the local OA, honestly as the assistant Scoutmaster to the BSA troop and the Troop Coordinator for an AHG troop I simply don’t have the time for yet another project, Will I get current local if my son ever crosses that bridge into the OA, perhaps, But it won’t be to carve out more time to go and mow lawns and clean fields for a camp my troop uses once every other year. Service is needed, but the HONOR of being in the OA needs to be returned.

    If you want to get the program back to where it was. I know we were right outside of Philly when I was a boy and the OA was something special there. It was more than a dance team and service hours, there was mentors and the sense of apprenticeship. There was a pride in doing something epic, a story that you could go back to the troop and beat the chest and say hear me roar. It was the best of the best, it was the boys who stood tall and walked strong. Today I send boys off and they go through the ordeal and come back with dirt in their pants, grit in their teeth and a sense of pride in what they did, to then follow it up with request after request to come and do more service hours. I don’t know if other lodges have the same frustration, but in an ever condensing schedule with these boys to tell them that the only honor there is in being OA is that you are asked to do more work?????? I know there is a need for this, but it needs to balance out, there needs to be a little more than just this.

    Let me return to the original question of this response. Is the OA a wild mustang? A symbol of the wild untamed heart of the American core. A piece of history that embodies the Native American spirit and quest to pursue and discover. A code of pride and honor, something to fiercely fight for and look at with the eyes of wisdom and goodly fear. The wild mustang is a fierce untamed wild beast who demands respect and if fiercely loyal to its own clan. The wild mustang drums up a sense of nobility, of awe of ages past, of wonder and excitement. Or is the OA a broken work mule? A descendant of something that was once more but is now simply used to get the job done.

    Yes it’s boy led, but the boys lead by what they have been shown. I don’t have an answer, I’ve been struggling with this for the last few years myself in how to break through the walls and get back to leading the boys into an EPIC journey. The fire is still there, you can see it in their eyes, They are here because they still hear the beat of the drums calling out to the epic journey that it can be. Now we must find ways to guide them into paths in this new world that mirror the epic journeys of old. I’m just an old goat bleeting out on the cliff face to take the leap to run at life full force, I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m not done looking and as long a boy is still willing to follow I will continue to try to find new epic paths for them to journey on.

  3. I think that is part of the issue. So many boys are eligible and most sash and dash. I was elected when it was a two boy per troop limit. Maybe we should go back to that. The problem is the OA is no longer the BSA’s elite boys…..But every wastoid boy who gets the required number of camping.

    But wait, the scoutmasters can help by not recommending everyone who is eligible.

    Locally the OA is slave labor to setup and tear down the summer camp. One of the chapters has a dance team, that does a couple of Arrow of Light things and then dances once per year at a council family function. No fall fellowship

    • As a scout, I enjoyed going to help my SM with our camp’s beaver days. So, no regrets about the hard work. In fact this past summer my son was helping hike some fellas on their five miler, and came across the section of trail he improved for his ordeal. He was quite proud that his improvements stuck in spite of some fierce intervening weather, and commenced organizing some spur-of-the-moment clearing of some recent deadfall.

  4. This is a timely topic! We are having our monthly chapter meeting tonight and I will have our troop representative bring up this topic. If done right, it could provoke some interesting and relevant discussion. It’s also possible that it could be quashed before it begins by the chapter advisor. I think I’ll report back tomorrow on what happens…

    • Wow, what an eye opener! I showed up with my son and our troop rep. and, with one other scout from our troop, we made 50% of the youth membership that night! Four troops were represented in all out of eighteen in our chapter… not the best percentage of representation!

      Some of this is understandable as the last two chapter meetings were cancelled due to illness and weather and this month’s meeting wasn’t well advertised. In fact, I didn’t know about it untill two days ago. The boys sat around the table and pretty much just ran through the agenda for the next month. There was discussion about the Annual Lodge Dinner which is being held in two weeks and also about our three clans dance team and the starting up of rehearsals for it. Two of the six youth are current members while three of the six were new Ordeal members with only one showing any enthusiasm for joining.

      Clearly, the chapter needs an infusion of that “cheerful spirit!” The boys WANT to be in OA but they seem to not know how to promote the “Brotherhood of Cheerful Service.”

      I wasn’t going to speak up but when it looked like the meeting was going to close without ANY discussion about what could be done, I decided to chime in. I mentioned this discussion we are having here and I tried to get the boys to brainstorm ideas about how they could make the Order more relevant to the troops.

      While I won’t go so far as to say I was shot down by the Chapter Advisor, I will say that I had the distinct impression that my comments weren’t welcome. I don’t know if that was because it was the end of the meeting and it looked as if my comments would start up a discussion that would drag the meeting on or if my concerns were not shared.

      No matter. The first step is to get the arrowmen of our chapter to the next meeting and THEN have a plan ready for discussion! I know the Chapter Advisor and I will have a friendly discussion with him about how to get the chapter leadership to present this to the membership. Since we both want the same thing, this should be a productive endeavour.

    • Something very similar seems to be happening with many venturing officer’s associations. We don’t seem to be forming/attracting those strong youth leaders. Or perhaps this strong leaders are being drawn to other organizations?

  5. To answer the question, my troop and previous troop’s participation in the OA is almost non-exisitant. Let’s think about why. You’ve 13-14 years old. You’re on a sports team, in scouts, and maybe confirmation. Or if you’re older say in high school there’s driving and academics to throw in there. The OA program is a weak program and as such, will not draw in the scouts to participate. Given a choice for a weekend activity, driving 2 hours to camp, work your $%# off all weekend, and have to pay to do it (legal requirements and that wonderful camp food) OR stay at home and go to the Basketball game with friends, or work on a merit badge, or go on the camping trip with your Troop (the kids you really know) most boys will not take up the OA option.

    In addition, membership elections in our area are awful. The current Troop I am in I don’t think has had elections in 10 years. The troop actually runs its own Honor Camper award. No election, just complete 20 nights of camping and you’re considered an honor camper. No special meetings, ceremonies, just another patch.

    When I asked the Scoutmaster if they’ve had elections, he basically said, when ever the Chapter asks, he always agrees. The problem is, the Chapter has never asked.

    In my previous Troop, the Scoutmaster didn’t push the OA because he felt (and rightfully so) active participation in the OA could take his best youth leaders away from leading the troop.

    I had a great OA experience when I was a youth, and was elected to Vigil as a youth so you know I put in the service hours, and I enjoyed every minute of it. HOWEVER, looking back on that experience, I was a scouting nerd, and wasn’t a well rounded kid. I didn’t do sports, my grades were ok, nothing to write home about. Today’s boys have many more choices than when I was a youth, and the quality of the OA program is so up and down I am not surprised participation is down.

  6. I think the problem is a matter of time and busy schedules. There are typically 4 weekends in a month. Almost always, there will be a weekend dedicated to a troop campout, and often another weekend in the month will include a unit fundraiser, service project, junior leader training, Eagle court of honor, day trip or some other Scouting event/activity. Plus if these Scouts are truly dedicated to the program (and thus worthy of induction into Scouting’s honor society) they may also have other Scouting commitments (such as being a Den Chief for a Cub Scout pack, being involved in a Venturing Crew, serving on a camp or NYLT staff, etc.) – so there goes another weekend each month or so. Plus most Scouts have more than just Scouting in their lives – they all have homework, studying and school project; many also have sports, band, religious groups, and other clubs or activities that they’re involved in (so there goes another weekend… or two, or three). Plus usually Scouts have one weekend a month that gets tied up with a holiday or family commitments and such. So it becomes hard to attend OA weekends, conclaves, trainings, and other OA events without giving up the core of their Scouting lives – their troop. Most of the boys I know who are really active in the OA are fairly inactive in their home troops (they just don’t have the time to do both).

  7. It may be that in attempting to reach everyone, we have oversaturated ourselves wiht too many options. Venturing, OA, High Adventure, let alone helicopter parents who want MBs handed out like Oreos and Scoutmasters who are willing to obilge them. It’s so easy to get in that it doesn’t matter. In our area, the Council supports a service orgznization called Lone Bear that siphons off OA members. LB’s express purpose is to work at local camps, but which has local control. I was proud to be tapped out but never could figure out what it was for and fell away. Now my son is likely to be tapped out, so I took him to the annual Council Conclave and there were almost 300 scouts and scouters. What they have done is pull from OA’s best to be trainers at NYLT, summer camp etc. So, that’s a major leg up if you’re OA. I hope he gets more from OA than I did.

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