Adults needed to steer kids the right way

December 15, 1999

Joseph Bach says the journey from childhood to adulthood is like a ship traveling through rough waters. Without a rudder, the ship will never reach port, Bach says. And without guidance from caring adults, a child will never find the right path in life.

Bach is somewhat of an expert on guiding youth, because he's been involved with the Boy Scouts of America for more than 40 years and now serves as a district commissioner of the Mason-Dixon Scout Council, headquartered in Hagerstown. But unlike most non-profits' officials at this time of year, Bach isn't looking for money.

Volunteers are what he needs, and he's blunt about his belief that it's not something optional, but a responsibility that goes along with being an adult.

"Adults have to start accepting responsibility for the future of our youth, and their responsibility is to put some time and effort into the youth of our community," Bach says.


Young people not only need guidance, Bach said, but also role models to replace those in public life, like President Clinton, who've given many parents second thoughts about telling their children they could grow up to be president someday.

"We're not asking for money, we're not asking for a lifelong commitment or that you tatoo the Scout seal on your arm. We're asking for some adults to be adults and be there for the kids. It won't solve all of our problems, but it could help," he said.

Getting involved is easy, Bach said, once you decide that it's worthwhile. First you join the Boy Scouts of America, which Bach says "costs a whole $7 a year in dues."

Then you decide how much time you commit, Bach said, adding that there's no minimum number of hours required.

"If you feel you can only put in a few hours a month, that's all right. There's no strict structure that says you have put in eight hours a month," he said.

Nor is Scouting a "men only" organization, Bach said, adding that "we now have women in practically every position in the organization."

The one thing that will be required is a background check, Bach said.

"There are immoral people out there and the Boys Scouts of America has been forced to do background checks. We owe it to the youth and we owe it the parents to do them," he said.

After that's done, Bach said, there's plenty of opportunities for people to get involved, even if they're not Scoutmasters.

"Practically everybody has a hobby, like woodcraft, that they could share, but all positions are open, even if it's just providing transportation. The main thing is that you want to be there to help," Bach said.

Bach says he believes in the program - and the value of adult involvement in it - so strongly because he's seen it at work firsthand, in the youths he supervised.

One summer when his troop was preparing to go to summer camp, one Scout from a single-parent family didn't have the money to go.

But, as Bach said, "Where there's a will, there's a way," and the money was found and "he was one of our best boys that summer."

Not long after, the boy's family moved away, but Bach is convinced that whatever happens, that child will look back on that one carefree summer and reflect on the fact that someone cared enough to make sure there was a place for him in all the activities.

"All youth want to belong, whether it's to a family or a gang. We just want that gang to be troop, which is really a gang for good if you think about it," Bach said.

The strong feelings Bach expresses - about those who say they're too busy to volunteer but spend hours on the computer every night, and what they might do if they stepped forward - are difficult to convey in print.

He returns again and again to the image of a boat in the water. Left to drift, it might go anywhere, he says, but with a committed adult steering, it will reach port safely.

As he talked, I recalled a commentary by columnist Froma Harrop, who noted that in all the schoolyard shootings of the past few years, the common denominator seemed to be that while the perpetrators didn't lack for material goods, most were alone for a large part of the day. Drifting without a strong hand at the tiller, they slipped into dangerous waters, so to speak.

Will volunteering to help young Scouts prevent a future massacre? Maybe not, but it would show some young people that there are adults who think about more than their next paycheck and who care enough about the future to share a few hours helping the next generation get there safely.

If you'd like to volunteer with the Mason-Dixon Council, please call (301) 739-1211, or send a note to Scout Headquarters at 18600 Crestwood Drive, Hagerstown, Md., 21742.

Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail Opinion page.

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