Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Learning When to Say No

Sometimes a small job generates its own work. I volunteered to help some Boy Scouts with the Citizenship in the Community merit badge. This is not an easy merit badge. Oh, it started all simple and stuff.  I printed some copies of the requirements and the worksheets and we started banging away at them at a meeting. The best part was getting the boys to understand that you can be a decent person, have a job, pay taxes, follow the laws, and even vote and not be an exceptional citizen. They finally started telling me about coaches who had gone out of their way to help their teams and kids who had been good leaders when others were making mistakes. These people were heroes.

I had started out with a zombie apocalypse theme that seemed to fit most of the requirements. Hey, if the CDC can do for hazards preparedness, why can't I? Zombies were people who broke the laws, stole things, littered, or dealt drugs to school kids. Non-zombies were ordinary people who did their jobs, paid taxes, and sent their children to school. Operatives were the heroes who volunteered their time and energy, the police officers, teachers, and fire fighters who's jobs put them on the line every day. At the first meeting, we talked about who a hero was and  how zombies could affect schools,  libraries, and hospitals. We even talked about whether zombies have rights! I thought it was fun.

The next week, I planned to talk about how we would begin to rebuild our community after the apocalypse. We would figure out what services were critical, like police, libraries, and fire departments, and what places needed to be protected, like the hospital, the schools, and the natural resources like our river. But, a wrench got thrown into the works. An almost completely different set of boys showed up. So, we spent a bunch of time catching the new kids up and suddenly, when one boy said the zombie thing was stupid, the air let out of my balloon. I let them vote on how they wanted me to present the information. It seemed to be unanimous. Straight up, no chaser. The zombies were out.

After the meeting, I walked out with a Scout who had joined us even though he had already done this merit badge. "Boy, I wish somebody had done this merit badge using a zombie apocalypse when I did mine," he said. It made me feel better. I had been about to go home with my tail between my legs because the zombie approach failed. Maybe it didn't fail completely. Well, it did, really, but at least one guy appreciated my effort.

Next, I organized a trip to a city council meeting and a few totally different kids showed up. Plus, I started getting emails from Scouts who hadn't shown up for the first two meetings and wanted to start working on the merit badge in the middle, with the city council meeting, except that they couldn't make it to this city council meeting.

I'm not sure how far back to go with these new kids. So far, I have about six Scouts who have done everything except the service hours and the interview. And there are three who haven't really started and have expressed some interest, or at least their dads have. Finally, there are three or four dads who wanted the paperwork. Are they going to earn the merit badge, I wondered? Where do I draw the line?

I've decided. I don't. I'll keep working on this until all of the boys who express an interest have been given the most of the same opportunities I gave the first six Scouts.

Oh, I'm not done yet. At this meeting, the mayor encouraged me to get the boys enrolled into a seven week course the city offers that covers some of the same material that we had already covered and then some. And then a lot, actually. Its a course that's geared toward adults. It's an hour and a half each week plus an all day Saturday class. It's seven weeks long! My boys were having trouble staying awake for an hour and a half council meeting. My Scouts are back in school six hours a day.

How do you say 'No, thank you' to the mayor?

I'm really not in this to torture kids.

Then afterward the meeting, two of the speakers offered to present their information to the boys in person. In more detail? With a different perspective? One of them said we could drive into Seattle to meet with her. Oh, how do I tell these enthusiastic and dedicated people that most of the boys are in middle school, that they barely understood what was presented the first time and a repeat probably wouldn't be necessary or appreciated. I tried to indicate that I was interested. Carbon footprints? New trails to hike? Heck yeah, I'm interested. Yet I already can't keep up with all of the things I'm interested in volunteering my time for. I have a responsibility to these Scouts plus a few more and I'm trying to help them with a merit badge.

It was supposed to be simple.

Thank you for listening, jb

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