When Bill Shaffer returned to Tulsa from military school in 1969, his pastor asked him to take over as Scoutmaster of his old Boy Scout troop. “Sure,” he thought. “I can do anything for a couple of years.” Forty-eight years later, at 72, he’s still leading Troop 26, sometimes working with the grandsons of his early Boy Scouts.
Along the way, Shaffer has learned far more than how to teach Scouts knot-tying and fire-building. He has also picked up knowledge of how to grow old in a volunteer role without growing stale and how to relate to a generation that many older Americans find incomprehensible.
Working With 3 Generations of Boy Scouts
Over the decades, Shaffer has worked with Scouts from three generations: boomers, Millennials and now Generation Z. But scratch the surface, he says, and kids today are the same as kids a half-century ago. “They just want to play and have a good time,” Shaffer says. “They want to see the sky and the water and feel the rain on their face.”
In fact, he believes programs like Scouting offer young people a respite from increasingly competitive sports and academic activities where they are often being timed, scored and judged.
“There’s a time and a place for competition, and in Scouting, too, we have competitive stuff. But for the most part, we just want kids to have a great time in the outdoors,” Shaffer says. “That hasn’t changed from the way it was when I was in the troop.”
How Kids Haven’t Changed
Despite today’s throwaway culture, where trends and technology seem to change daily, Shaffer thinks kids crave tradition. For example, at awards ceremonies, Troop 26 sets up a troop museum filled with photos and artifacts dating back to the 1950s. “When kids see their dads as 10-year-olds and their granddads doing the same things they’re doing now, they have a tendency to feel that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves,” he says.
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