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What makes them stay with Scouting?


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#1 EmberMike

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Posted 03 August 2017 - 08:55 AM

I've thought about this since I was old enough to realize that not all packs/troops are the same when it comes to kids wanting to stick with the scouting. Or what makes a unit capeable of keeping their numbers up and staying "in business." More recently I've been realizing that I really have no idea what makes the difference. I've seen troops that I thought were incredible (great leadership, great group of scouts, great program and activities, active parents and committee, etc) end up folding, while troops that don't seem to have their act together and/or are in disarray end up surviving for years, decades sometimes, and with huge groups of kids. 

 

So I've been thinking about this in terms of the scouts themselves. Ultimately they determine the fate of local scouting. If they are enjoying it and stick with it, the unit thrives. When the numbers start to drop off, kids don't cross over to the troop, or quit, eventually a pack or troop can end up fading away. 

 

I used to think that great leadership made for a healthy unit and a group of kids who wanted to show up every week. But over the years I've seen units with phenomenal leadership still end up closing, while units with mediocre or poor leadership somehow survive, and sometimes thrive. 

 

Any thoughts on what it takes to get kids to want to stay with Scouting? I know it's a big question, but are there any general commonalities among successful units that have kids that stay with it?  

 

Is it something else? The program? Leaders? Parents? Scouts and their friends? Just random luck that kids want to keep doing it? 

 


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#2 blw2

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Posted 03 August 2017 - 09:15 AM

good thought!

 

I think it's dynamic, and extremely complex

 

one small portion of it is

   great leaders......FOR the particular scouts/family/community

       what is great for one isn't great for another.

 

Similar to how we all have people we like and others that we just don't.  Some we get along with easily and some not so much...and for everyone that can be different.

 

I think the variables are broad, and finely nuanced...including things like

individual scouts

cliques or groups of scouts.... does he have his core friends in scouting, or are some of his close friends not in scouting...

families schedule

family support

family interest

the CO

scouters' style

scouters' interests and abilities (do you have scouters that encourage the types of activities that fit the scouts...fit the group....fit the family....fit the geographical area...etc..)

scheduling nuances (how it compares with other things in the community, with the familys' work schedules, etc...)

competing interests available

and on and on....


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#3 AltadenaCraig

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Posted 03 August 2017 - 09:59 AM

Outstanding thread.  I'm really looking forward to everyone's thoughts as well as contributing my own $.02 worth.  Unfortunately I'm on the West Coast, where it's a little before 9am, and for some reason my client expects me to WORK rather than do Scouting ... ya just can't satisfy some people.

 

(Meantime I'll keep a screen open and lurk...)


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#4 Eagledad

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Posted 03 August 2017 - 10:17 AM

I've written a books worth of stuff on this forum for this very subject. I will try and be brief to keep it short (yah right!).

 

At the Cub Level we must understand that while the program is for the boys, success depends on keeping the adults interested. If the adults (parents and leaders) are having fun and enjoying the program, there is a 99% likelihood of the boys reaching Webelos and crossing over to the Troops.

 

In my research, the primary reason for the membership drop at the cub level is adult burnout. Burnout is the loss of motivation and energy to provide a fun program. Five years is way way way too much to expect from volunteers.

 

At the troop level there are two areas of large membership losses.

 

The first is the first year scout. More scouts are lost in this age group than any other age group of scouts in all of the BSA. The reason I found is because the huge jump of a 10 year going from a adult guided lifestyle to a patrol method independent decision making lifestyle is terrifying. Imagine a boy who may have never camped in his life being told to pack up for a campout with a troop of strangers. These boys need some time to spool up the confidence that they are safe in the troop even while setting up a tent in the deep dark woods.

 

The other larger problem I found in my research are the loss of older scouts. I believe the success of the whole troop program is based from the success of the 14 and older part of the program. The over all problem with the 'majority' of troops is they tend to drive their program toward what I call is a First Class Advancement program. The vast majority of the troops activities are designed for scouts to advance up to a First Class level. Actually many troops drive it toward Eagle, but it is the same problem. 

 

A troop that develops activities for advancement works out OK for 10 to 13 year old scouts because they are basically followers and the activities that to them are new and fun. But scouts after puberty have a different natural instinct that drives them more toward taking care of their gang and controlling their future. They simply have the same instincts as adults. The problem with most troops is they don't know how to use that instinct because they still think of older scouts as adolescent boys. So the adults typically assign the older scout to only teach, what, FIRST CLASS SKILLS. Yep, the older scouts are repeating their first three years all over again. Older scouts want responsibility in developing boys into men, not babysitting scouts in classroom type settings.

 

The problem is we are told over and over to let the older scouts teach so they are doing adult responsibilities. But teaching in a class room type of environment isn't really an adult responsibility. It is just plain boring. So the older scouts drop out and the older scouts of the troop don't typically last longer than age 14.

 

Troop adults need to develop the program so that First Class skills are not developed in class room type setting, but instead through passive actions during adventure activities. The program needs to get away from advancement themes so that the scout develop more of their survival skills like backpacking, canoeing, camping, hiking, bicycle riding and on and on. You know, the fun stuff. The older scouts leading those activities don't feel trapped in the same ol same ol program of previous years and they aren't babysitters. The program needs to be developed so that younger scouts learn "everything" from the role models of older scouts. That may sound simple, but it goes against the nature of a protective parent. It takes as much practice for the adults to stand back as it does for scouts to step forward. But in short, it comes down to a fun program. And it's the older scouts who define fun, not the younger ones. Like the Cub program, if the older scouts are excited about the program, the younger ones will follow.

 

That is a very brief in my limited time description of my experience and research of how units succeed and fail. I can fill in the gaps if you would like more detail.

 

Barry


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#5 qwazse

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Posted 03 August 2017 - 10:23 AM

One thing, and I think it explains how much harder it gets as youth age: brotherly love.

 

When an Eagle scout came back from Paris Island (having sent the SM occasional letters, which were read to all of us), challenged me to a wrestling match (or maybe I challenged him, needless to say I was back-to-the-lawn in zero seconds flat) ... I felt like the younger brother to a rock solid hero.


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#6 wdfa89

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Posted 03 August 2017 - 11:03 AM

#1 has to be parent support.  If they believe in the program they will get their kids there, volunteer, etc.  A close #2 has to be the fellowship--if a kid's buddies aren't there they won't be either.  So intertwined #3 is the program.  If you have a great program the kids (and their buds) will want to participate and the parents will have the belief in the value of Scouts.  And then #4 the adult leaders who help the boys develop and execute #2,  All are interelated and one could argue my ordering---a whole lot of chicken and the egg.  There are obviously more specifics w/ respect to 2 and 3 as it relates to age of the scouter (first year vx older boys) so it takes different things to reach different ages on those areas.


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#7 Stosh

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Posted 03 August 2017 - 11:52 AM

From the OP's observations, why do terrific programs fail and sloppy programs succeed?  I think it boils down to ownership.  Heavy adult participation from scouters and parents provide an often great looking program.  The scouts see this as one would going to a movie.  Somebody put it all together and I just show up and be entertained.  The sloppy run programs, the adults aren't doing jack, so the boys have to step in and make it happen.  In the first program the ownership lies with the adults and the judgments are placed on how well they put the program together for the boys.  Skilled adults will always produce a banner program.  But the scouts?  If they have to pull it together, they don't have the life experience to make it happen at a level comparable to the adults.  They bungle along the best they can, they realize that if they don't take ownership, it's going to fall apart, my buddies are relying on me, and they make it happen in spite of the difficulty.  It's their program and they have taken ownership.

 

So what's the answer (I wish I knew).  But if one follows the program, i.e. patrol method, one sees a sense of balance between the two.  The adults don't run the show, they are patient as saints with the failure of the boys, but they are in the wings in case anything turns into a disaster.  The boys aren't there just to have fun and be entertained,  They are challenged, inspired and taught along the way.  BSA is not a developed program, it is a developmental program.  There has to be a progression towards maturity and development of character.  Otherwise it's nothing more than a social club.

 

No, hard work is not fun, but it can be rewarding. It's not fun talking to people who's house is filled with water, or a hurricane is on the horizon, or a tornado just turned your neighborhood into a trash heap, or your house just burned down and you and your family are instantly homeless.  But I volunteer for a program that addresses these issues.  Is it fun?  No, but it is rewarding.  This is the purpose of Good Turns, conservation projects, service projects, Eagle projects, helping other people at all times, and from tying the first square knot to aging out, this progression of skills, interests, challenges, all work towards instilling these values into the next generation.  Running a great  entertainment program, no matter how good it looks may not be doing that, but a bunch of scouts screwing around together picking up garbage along side the road and getting a picture of what they accomplished at the end, just might be the program we want for our boys.


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There's a reason why I don't always answer the phone, doorbell or comments on forums.  :)


#8 thrifty

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Posted 03 August 2017 - 11:54 AM

I just wanted to say that I agree with everything Eagledad posted. 


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#9 EmberMike

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Posted 03 August 2017 - 01:44 PM

Thanks everyone for the responses so far. 

 

That is a very brief in my limited time description of my experience and research of how units succeed and fail. I can fill in the gaps if you would like more detail.

 

That's as much of a description as I was hoping for. Thanks. I know this is a deep issue, and I was looking for general overall ideas about it, which you covered well. 

 

Interesting point about Cub level burnout, and not from the kids, from the adults. I always looked at it as 5 years being too long for the kids to stay enthusiastic about the program. Never considered it from the adult perspective. Hope I can avoid that burnout. :) 


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#10 Eagledad

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Posted 03 August 2017 - 02:58 PM

Interesting point about Cub level burnout, and not from the kids, from the adults. I always looked at it as 5 years being too long for the kids to stay enthusiastic about the program. Never considered it from the adult perspective. Hope I can avoid that burnout. :)

Adults who are excited with the program typically have the energy and enthusiasm for developing a creative fun program that keeps the scouts excited even through five years.

 

I was told by experts in the field of human behavior that the average volunteer of any volunteer organization gives about 20 months before burnout starts to set in. That is not even two years. The real problem if you get into the meat of it is that burnout sets in just before Webelos. And the Webelos membership increased drop out rate shows it.

 

Barry


Edited by Eagledad, 03 August 2017 - 02:58 PM.

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#11 HashTagScouts

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Posted 03 August 2017 - 09:00 PM

Adults who are excited with the program typically have the energy and enthusiasm for developing a creative fun program that keeps the scouts excited even through five years.

 

I was told by experts in the field of human behavior that the average volunteer of any volunteer organization gives about 20 months before burnout starts to set in. That is not even two years. The real problem if you get into the meat of it is that burnout sets in just before Webelos. And the Webelos membership increased drop out rate shows it.

 

Barry

 

 

I agree 100% with your earlier assessment.  "Advancement Mill" mentality generally makes a troop look great from a distance, but my experience says that after 13/14 when the kid has hit Star (or at least on paper has done the requirements) and realizes that he now has to do the work all by himself, it is gut check time.  And when you factor in that he needs to do that work AND have to be a babysitter/instructor, there is little time left for fun and Scouting begins to be a drag.  They may still come to some meetings/events, if the theme is of true interest to them, but by and large their 'love' of Scouting has waned big time.

 

My own son flourished under such a system and hit Star by 13, Life by 14 and is now knee deep in his Eagle project at 14 1/2 (with 49 MBs, including all of his Eagles).  His interest in the troop is way down, but thankfully he is heavily involved this summer as a CIT at summer camp, got really involved in the OA (joined the Chapter & Lodge ceremonies teams, goes to all Ordeal weekends, went to Section Conclave), went through NYLT this past winter and interviewed for and was accepted to NYLT staff for next winter.  I don't have reservations on him getting to Eagle so young because he has showed me that he figured out that Scouting is far more than about advancement (also factor in that I was there along the way to make sure when his troop was signing on requirement X, that he actually could do requirement X, even if it meant going in the backyard and him demonstrating to me he knew it).  There are absolutely others out there like him, but far too few can figure it out at that age that they can still experience Scouting without feeling trapped.  I like to think that he learned some of that from me, because I was him at 14 as far as advancement, but Iwasn't fortunate enough to figure out there was more than just my troop to be had and was out of Scouting by the time I hit 17.   


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#12 gumbymaster

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Posted 04 August 2017 - 07:38 AM

While there are (as demonstrated above) many answers to the question,

 

I think one of the larger answers (from the Scout's perspective) is more than just having fun, but looking at what other options are there.  If they don't play sports, and they don't have a neighborhood with lots of other kids their age; then just being able to socialize may be a big part of what keeps them there.

 

When my son first joined his troop, I think they all would have been happy if they could just get together once a week, and hang out and play magic the gathering or some such.  Camping just gave them a reason to get together, and get rid of the electronic (and less social) distractions.  It let them stay up late without parents hovering.  For the first couple of months he was in the troop (the critical time period for long term retention), I think most of them were the same way.  It just happened that some scouting got done along the way. :)


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#13 Eagledad

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Posted 04 August 2017 - 08:33 AM

While there are (as demonstrated above) many answers to the question,

 

I think one of the larger answers (from the Scout's perspective) is more than just having fun, but looking at what other options are there.  If they don't play sports, and they don't have a neighborhood with lots of other kids their age; then just being able to socialize may be a big part of what keeps them there.

 

 

All true. For me, fun is short for mental and physical "satisfaction". Frankly leadership can be stressful and not fun, but very satisfying. Our SPLs are so warn out by the end of their term, they typically don't run again because they want a break from the fatigue. But after working with the new SPL for three weeks helping get them up to speed, more often than not they admit that they wished they had run again because they learned the hard part all ready. And typically they run again at the next election.

 

I found that satisfaction comes when we push the scouts to the next level of challenge, whether its leadership, managing, planning, and even advancement like finishing Eagle requirements. But it also includes more physical activities like backpacking, canoeing, and so forth.

 

One way that helps a troop mature at the older age group is to turn the whole troop into an adventure troop. Start planning a couple of backpacking troop campouts. Canoeing, rappelling, and bicycling. They don't have to be far away or elaborate campouts. Just something adventurous. We once planned a campout where the patrol had to bike, hike, and canoe past 16 skills test check points. They hiked five miles, bikes a bunch more and canoed I don't know how far. They were so tired by Sunday that they skipped the monthly Capture the Flag game. They never skip capture the flag. But if you were to ask the older scouts the best part of the weekend, they would say it was coming up with the idea and planning it.

 

Satisfaction at the troop level for us means challenging every scout at their maturity so they feel fulfilled when the reach the new goal. And at the same time, the young scouts are watching and learning how to be the mature men they see from their older scout mentors. Once you get the momentum of the program going, it pretty much runs itself. And those troops will likely have 50/50 ration of younger and older scouts.

 

Barry


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#14 SouthernTierScouter

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Posted 04 August 2017 - 09:38 AM

A sidebar on this, since a lot of what needs to be said was already said above.

 

Remember to we want them to be out doing other things than Scouting. To live the Scout Oath and Law out in their daily lives. To bring those values to their sports teams, school groups, etc. So a good program doesn't punish Scouts for having lives outside of Scouting. We aren't the ONLY option, just part of the bigger picture. So encouraging to be a Scout 'out there' can help remove any feeling that they have to choose Scouting or Sports. Don't make them pick one or the other. They might not be super active at meetings during baseball season, but what about the rest of the year? 


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#15 MattR

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Posted 04 August 2017 - 09:40 AM

There's one thing missing (I think) in the above lists of good points. Scouts must have friends or they will leave. I've seen an entire age leave because they just didn't mesh. Scouts need to make friends quick or by the time they're 13 or they seem to wander away. There's not much you can do about it. At the same time, good friends can probably tolerate a bad program.
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#16 Cambridgeskip

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Posted 04 August 2017 - 02:21 PM

There's one thing missing (I think) in the above lists of good points. Scouts must have friends or they will leave. I've seen an entire age leave because they just didn't mesh. Scouts need to make friends quick or by the time they're 13 or they seem to wander away. There's not much you can do about it. At the same time, good friends can probably tolerate a bad program.

 I think there's an awful lot to be said for this.

 

There is a very human desire to feel like you belong, and that sense is at its strongest in the teenage years. Scout age kids are always going to look for something where they feel like they are part of something that is bigger than they are. How do you go about nurturing that? If anyone can ever find the perfect formula and bottle it they would end up very wealthy indeed.

 

There are things you can do. As @Stosh said above, a good program where they have ownership of it is very much something you can do. Other things you have less control over, like if they are actually friends with those in the troop. If they don't get on they don't get on and there's not a massive amount you can do about that.

 

And sometimes that bonding experience that makes them feel like they belong comes out of nowhere, for no apparent reason. It could just be random game that breaks out somewhere, or a stupid joke that everyone remembers, a terrible meal on camp that everyone laughs about later, but often they are things that if you tried to recreate them they just wouldn't work again.

 

One thing that my troop is lucky with is our age, founded 1909 (we think, some say 1911, but either way we're old!) we have a lot of history. We have lots of old trophies and photos hung up everywhere. It helps with that sense of them being part of something bigger.

 

A lot of this is intangible though, as above, if I ever figure out how to bottle it I'll be a very rich man!


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#17 Eagledad

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Posted 04 August 2017 - 03:03 PM

 I think there's an awful lot to be said for this.

 

There is a very human desire to feel like you belong, and that sense is at its strongest in the teenage years. Scout age kids are always going to look for something where they feel like they are part of something that is bigger than they are. How do you go about nurturing that? If anyone can ever find the perfect formula and bottle it they would end up very wealthy indeed.

 

I personally believe this is a natural result of a good patrol method program. When individual scouts are forced to work for a common goal, they learn the best and worst of each other and either accept them or never bond as a group.

 

Our program is mixed age patrols. While most new scouts join patrols with one or two friends, their previous Webelos group is broken up. That has never been an issue like many here assume. I believe the older scouts have learned how to quickly draw in the new scouts as part of the group. The older mentors make up for any insecurity of missing the old group. I remember this quite well of my youth experience.

 

I've told this story before, but the SE read a letter once at an Annual Council meeting of district leaders. In the letter, the mother told the SE how much she appreciated her sons troop because he was immediately accepted by his patrol. She wrote this letter three years later after he was elected the Patrol leader. She explained further that he was so awkward that he had no friends outside of the troop. They even had to threaten their son's school with litigation because the teachers treated him so harshly.

 

I could go on and on with her examples and accolades, but the point was that she knew of no other program where a group of boys with as many different personalities could be accepted as brothers. The SE didn't mention the troop number to the group, but I knew that mother and the situation because I was the SM at the time.

 

While I did know her son well, I knew very little of his life outside our troop until this letter. I remember he was challenging, but the patrol never complained. To give you an idea of his mental challenges, the scout at age 17 was in my Philmont crew and one of our challenges was that we had to constantly remind him to drink water and fill his water bottles. That is a pretty basic understanding for survival for most of us, but it was very challenging for this scout. I remember thinking that I appreciated his patrol a lot more.

 

If the patrol is given the right expectations (Aims and Methods) and given the room to make decisions and adjust their patrol experience from the decisions (patrol method), then individuals will either separate from each other or bond together as one. If the scouts learn to base their decisions from the Scout Oath and Law (selfless choices), then bonding becomes a natural conclusion. We had several challenging scouts in our troop, some with learning challenges, and a few with physical mental challenges. A deaf scouts was our first Eagle. Most of these scouts were accepted and aged out of the troop. This is why I am so passionate about the scout program.

 

Last I heard about the scout in the letter was that he was a nuclear engineer on a Navy submarine.

 

Barry


Edited by Eagledad, 04 August 2017 - 03:08 PM.

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#18 jeanvaljean

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Posted 06 August 2017 - 10:12 AM

all good answers above, and great contribution, thank you. my humble reply would be it depends on the scout personality, and from experience, one of my boys is activity and achievement driven, so what drives him is working on MB, working on service hours, getting things done, so as long as the troop offers the support and opportunities, he will keep doing what he doing until he is 18. My other son is more sociable, he enjoys camping and enjoys interacting with other scouts, he always gets an entourage within 15 min of meeting new people, so as long as these opportunities are there, I think he will stay interested. my kids are younger, I am not sure what will happen when they start highschool, probably a different ball game ... hope this helps ...


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#19 EmberMike

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Posted 07 August 2017 - 10:43 AM

There's one thing missing (I think) in the above lists of good points. Scouts must have friends or they will leave. I've seen an entire age leave because they just didn't mesh. Scouts need to make friends quick or by the time they're 13 or they seem to wander away. There's not much you can do about it. At the same time, good friends can probably tolerate a bad program.

 

I agree. I've seen kids who have trouble making friends and appear to be outsiders stick with it for some time, but eventually they always leave. If they don't have friends in the troop, retention is extremely difficult, even with kids that otherwise would do really well in scouting. 


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#20 fleur de lis

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Posted 07 August 2017 - 03:51 PM

It's been said several times already, but because it's so important I feel compelled to chime in.  Especially in the first year, if they find a friend in the troop, a buddy, someone they look forward to sharing at tent with, they will likely stay.  If not, most will stop coming.  At that age they are still children, and they want to have fun. If your son has some interest in Scouting, improve his chances of staying with the program by convincing one of his friends who also has an interest to join with him. Friends made in Scouting tend to be lifelong friends because of the shared experiences.


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