After a quarter of a century, what keeps this ‘temporary’ den leader on the job?
IN 1985, WHEN Bev Armstrong’s oldest son was a Bear Cub Scout, she volunteered to lead his den—just until the bishop of her LDS ward could identify a permanent leader. That permanent leader turned out to be Armstrong herself, who marked a quarter-century in Scouting last summer.
Besides serving as a Bear or Webelos den leader for almost 200 boys, Armstrong has served the Utah National Parks Council as a roundtable commissioner, district commissioner, sector commissioner and chair (in her council, districts are grouped into sectors), and vice president for membership. She also has spent the past 15 years as a Girl Scout leader and now chairs the committee for the Venturing crew her husband, Bob, leads.
Why have you stayed in Scouting for so long?
I guess I never grew up. Scouting gives me a chance to do fun things like set up a weather station in my back yard, pour plaster in animal tracks, make things out of papier-mâché … and I can say, “Oh, it’s for Scouts!” Plus I feel like I am giving these kids an “I can do it” attitude many lack. Values training, confidence, and service are the side effects for the boys that keep me tied to the program.
So you weren’t tempted to quit after your own sons graduated from Cub Scouting?
I was just as concerned about the other boys accomplishing their goals and advancing and learning to feel good about themselves as I was about my own kids. I want to help them learn values and service, things they don’t get at school and sometimes not even at home. Some of these kids come from fabulous, supportive families, but some don’t. Some of these boys are not getting any values training anywhere.
How do you teach Scouting values?
We expect the boys to live by their Promise and by the Law of the Pack, and we expect older boys to live by the Scout Oath. We can’t expect the boys to live that way if we don’t. Kids can see through that. You can’t live a double standard.
What’s the key to avoiding burnout as a den leader?
The key is getting people to roundtables and training. You get a new leader, and she has so many ideas. And within six or eight months, she’s used up her stash of ideas. It’s like, “Now what do I do?” If leaders are reading the material, if they’re using the yearly program guide, if they’re going to roundtable every month, they won’t get burned out because there’s so much there.
You could also avoid burnout by taking summers off, but you run a year-round program. Why?
I feel strongly about that. A lot of the activity badges are obviously better done in the summer—Forester, Naturalist, Outdoorsman. In fact, activities in all of the boys’ levels are better done outdoors. I think we miss a great opportunity if we don’t do Scouting during the summer.
How do you make effective use of assistant den leaders and den chiefs?
Give them something responsible to do. If they just come and sit at the meetings, that’s not fun. I’ve had it both ways. Some of them are more anxious to participate, and others would rather just be the extra set of hands. As much as an assistant is willing to do, that’s great.
What about using non-leaders?
Especially in Webelos, the den leader doesn’t have to do it all. It’s O.K. to call in a specialist. I’ve taken kids to the science teacher at the high school, for example. He had them do mini-experiments, and it was wonderful. I could have pulled off some of that in my kitchen, but it’s a lot better to have it in that setting. It was exciting for the boys to be in a real science classroom.
How do you measure success week-to-week?
I think you’re a success if every boy who is able to come is coming. If a boy has a game or a practice or a doctor’s appointment and can’t come, that’s how it is. But you’re a failure if the kids are sitting at home instead of coming to your meetings.
What about success in the long run?
When you see kids five or 10 years later, and they say hi to you on the street or they show you their own kid, that’s a big deal to me. You can see the long-term effects of what you’ve done. I think that’s cool.