On September 16, 2019, I met Brad Losh, Boy Scout Troop 301 leader at the “Scout Hut” which has been home to 301 for many years. Since 2001, Losh has been the Troop leader, but he says he thinks of role as more of an “advisor” as opposed to leader. With that mindset, Losh strives to let the scouts lead themselves, which provides outstanding opportunities for real-world learning.
Several years ago, an Americna Flag was donated to Boy Scout Troop 301. But this wasn’t just a normal flag. It was a 48-starred flag; it was used by Troop 301 when it was chartered in 1946; and it was donated by an individual who was a Troop 301 scout in those early years. How do you get young people to understand and appreciate the significance of what that flag means–not only as a symbol of our country, but also as an artifact of the scout troop? And at the same time, how do you keep adolescent boys committed to scouting in a world where they are rarely separated from some from their phones?
Losh will tell you that “we don’t know what it is” when asked why Troop 301 has been so successful in making scouts relevant to today’s youth, while still preserving the traditions from decades ago. In the sense that “it” isn’t just one thing, Losh is correct. There are many “it”s that have helped 301 flourish.
Before I describe them, it is important to understand how Losh defines success for 301. One way is to talk about the number of scouts who have earned the rank of Eagle. Troop 301 can claim 154 Eagle Scouts, 59 of which have come under Losh’s leadership, and 20 of them since 2014! Losh is proud of that track record, while also quickly pointing out that this is not the only way to measure success. For Losh, evidence of success is seen when a former 301 scout comes back to watch current scouts receive rewards; success is seen when a former 301 scout reaches out and invites him to dinner; success is seen when a former 301 scout applies the skills he has learned to his own life and adventures. Essentially, Losh notes that it’s important that a scout doesn’t “quit being a scout” when his time with Troop 301 is over.
So, what is “it” that has made Troop 301 flourish? Losh is admittedly disorganized, often “flying by the seat of [his] pants”. And while that may be true, you should not think that Losh isn’t prepared to lead Scouts. He is incredibly clear and consistent with his expectations of scouts and works hard to “not mess it up”. Here’s how he does it:
- Specific Priorities: Family, Church, School, Scouts. In that order. Losh tells members of 301 that scouts is last on that list. A child should not have to choose between scouts and other obligations or interests (they can coexist). And when a child is forced to choose, in is opinion, scouts will lose every time. If a scout has to miss a series of meetings because he plays soccer at school, for example, then that’s ok. He is welcome to come back when his schedule allows.
- A short list of rules: Losh demands respect for adults, the National Anthem/American Flag, religion (any religion, he points out), and the scout uniform. These are “non-negotiables. Easy to understand, easy to enforce.
- “We allow them to make mistakes”. This one, by the way, may be my favorite. Losh can tell countless stories of times when failures have occurred: cooking a hamburger that was as hard and black as a hockey puck on the outside, and as raw as the moment it was taken out of the cooler on the inside. He’s even seen scouts skip classes at summer camp and not earn the merit badges that were needed to advance in rank. But in the end, Losh and leaders always seem to have extra food to make sure everyone eats; they always find a way to work with a scout to get him back on track. Losh is quick to point out that allowing scouts to make mistakes doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. But what better place and time to learn from mistakes?
- Parental Support: Repeatedly, Losh mentioned this as one of the reasons Troop 301 continues to thrive. From attendance at meetings and camping trips to financial donations, parents have played a critical role in supporting Losh’s leadership and the goals of scouting.
What’s the Good News?
When I started “Good News from a Good Neighbor”, it wasn’t my intent to focus on groups that work with youth. But my first two interviews have been just that, although they typically work with very different children. Ron Ross, at Boys and Girls Club, said that over 90% of the students he works with come from a single-parent, low income home. On the other hand, Brad Losh (Troop 301) has been fortunate to have incredible parental support (both with time and money) for his scouts. Regardless, they are strikingly similar in that they allow children to be independent, to make decisions, and to learn from the consequences of those decisions (good or bad). They both trust kids to make the right decision. That trust, combined with clear communication and expectations has allowed children to learn lessons and skills that are critical in the “adult world”.