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Merit badges for grown ups?
August 24, 2011 2:08 PM   Subscribe

I was a Boy Scout as a youth. What similar opportunities – for personal, skill, and leadership development – are there for adults?

I spent years in the Scouts and got my Eagle, although my unit didn't do Order of the Arrow. I can get involved as an adult, of course, but that doesn't offer the same kind of opportunity for personal development.

Am I looking for a fraternal organization like the Masons or the Elks? What groups focus on character growth and leadership? Are there clubs that work on developing a certain skill set (e.g. the Boy Scout program has an underlying outdoorsmanship component) but go beyond just being a hobby group?
posted by Picklegnome to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Outward Bound immediately comes to mind, though that doesn't have any sort of order that I know of.

Other ideas would be to check on volunteer firefighter or police reserves, or even joining a community emergency response team. In different areas, those may have "ranks" you can aspire to, while serving a purpose and learning skills in the meantime.
posted by Unsomnambulist at 2:27 PM on August 24, 2011


"... I can get involved as an adult, of course, but that doesn't offer the same kind of opportunity for personal development. ..."

If you don't think helping other young men and women learn to be prepared, to do their duty, and to keep themselves physically strong, morally straight, and mentally awake, is one helluva opportunity for personal development, maybe you aren't as adult as you think, or maybe you didn't get everything from Scouting that most Eagles seem to have gotten.

But if you've just gotten your fill of Scouting, and are still looking for personal growth groups that aren't skill or community service related, you might look into classes at a community college in general subject areas like history, art, or philosophy. Groups like the Masons are essentially fraternal, meaning that, while they may have programs of central belief, their purpose is mainly to promote friendship among members, and they do service projects and participate in community events mainly as opportunities for getting together, with family and community approval. If you don't mind a strong service bent, clubs like Rotary, the JayCees, the Grange, or the Lions are good fraternal opportunities, too.
posted by paulsc at 2:27 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


...join the army? Survival training, leadership opportunities, lots of badges. This is probably not the answer you're looking for, but it might be the closest thing there is.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:46 PM on August 24, 2011


If you don't think helping other young men and women learn to be prepared, to do their duty, and to keep themselves physically strong, morally straight, and mentally awake, is one helluva opportunity for personal development, maybe you aren't as adult as you think, or maybe you didn't get everything from Scouting that most Eagles seem to have gotten.

Let's not speak sharply to each other. Perhaps the OP wants to move on from Scouting, or feels that it's awkward to be involved as an adult without being a parent. Certainly, many (if not most) scout leaders are parents of scouts.

The OP could consider hands-on volunteer service opportunities like Habitat for Humanity or helping with an urban farm or community vegetable garden. Or even something as big as joining the Peace Corps? Although these activities don't stress an explicit code of behavior and don't have a military-like rank system, one can be involved in them to various degrees, and even make a career of them (i.e., eventually taking a paid position as a coordinator of some sort).
posted by Nomyte at 2:50 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Toastmasters has an education program reminiscent of Scouting (there are levels, certificates, ribbons, projects...) There are a few federal fitness awards you can earn either on your own or with a group. Your local recreation programming is likely extensive. You can compete in all kinds of things at county and state fairs...
posted by SMPA at 3:02 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's no question that adult involvement in Scouting offers a huge opportunity for personal development – it's just not, in my experience so far, the same kind of opportunity (some example characteristics: defined progression; whole-person approach – in Scouting's case, character, leadership, civic engagement, and outdoors skills; historical/traditional basis) that Scouting offered me as a youth.

For what it's worth, I'm an assistant scoutmaster, a merit badge counselor, and the chair of my district's membership committee. It's rewarding, without question, but most of my time is spent on organizational matters, rather than deliberate skill development.
posted by Picklegnome at 3:06 PM on August 24, 2011


I would suggest your local Rotary (already suggested), or Kiwanis Club. Both have a fairly heavy emphasis on service, but AFAIK, neither has a hierarchical progression of ranks to be earned. Around here, at least, both groups tend to meet during the day, which can make it hard for working folk to really get engaged, and perhaps not coincidentally, the membership is largely retired folk and homemakers. (YMMV)

Maybe look into the USO?
posted by xedrik at 3:22 PM on August 24, 2011


Where are you located? In Portland and apparently a couple of other cities, there's Trackers NW, which does outdoors education and natural skills training for kids and adults.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:23 PM on August 24, 2011


"There's no question that adult involvement in Scouting offers a huge opportunity for personal development – it's just not, in my experience so far, the same kind of opportunity (some example characteristics: defined progression; whole-person approach – in Scouting's case, character, leadership, civic engagement, and outdoors skills; historical/traditional basis) that Scouting offered me as a youth. ..."

Glad to hear of your continuing Scouting involvement, Picklegnome. As you're aware, so many leave Scouting, without ever putting much back, and it's people like you that are needed to help make Scouting the experience it can be, for Scouting's future Eagles. But as for the "defined progression" part of your question, almost every human organization tops out, into a continuing personal quest. Freemasonry tops out at the 33rd degree. Sailing tops out with your Captain's ticket. SCUBA divers get a bunch of ratings, and then, they just keep diving, because they love it, and the best get still better at aspects of it that advance the sport.

Every stairway has a last step, but no journey needs to.
posted by paulsc at 3:32 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some friends of mine in college were heavily involved in Toastmasters and at least one I know is still attending conferences. I believe they focus on public speaking and group leadership.

I'm not sure if with the Boy Scouts you were more interested in the outdoors and hands on learning, or personal communication skills for leadership. If its the outdoor aspect and quasi military structure you liked, an option for you might be joining the local sheriff's department as a reserve deputy, or on a search and rescue team. Most of the local ones here provide some types of training to volunteers.
posted by Yorrick at 3:38 PM on August 24, 2011


I think you'd enjoy Toastmasters. You can work on your communication and leadership skills, hold leadership positions at multiple levels (club, area, district...the world?), plus it's good for networking and meeting lots of different people.
posted by mogget at 4:18 PM on August 24, 2011


I think the Jaycees would be right up your alley. (disclaimer: longtime member here)
posted by SisterHavana at 8:19 PM on August 24, 2011


Martial arts?
posted by emeiji at 8:43 PM on August 24, 2011


Seconding Yorrick's recommendation which you already favorited.

I wasn't a boy scout (I would've jumped at the opportunity though, had the organization in my tiny hometown not been completely coopted by the local Mormon church.), but have pretty much always enjoyed the outdoors.

A few years ago I joined the local mountain search & rescue team. One of the best decisions I ever made. It can be very demanding, but also very rewarding. I've met a lot of great people, learned some cool skills, and had some great adventures. Looking forward to many more years of it (There are currently active members on our team who've been on the team longer than i've been alive, and I'm in my 30s.). Much more rewarding than my day-job, which I pretty much hate, but that's a subject for an entirely different askme.

So yeah, you want to join a SAR team.
posted by zen_spider at 9:51 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Picklegnome, you may wish to reconsider Order of the Arrow. You should be able to get elected by your troops even as an adult. In OA you can do service that will allow personal development and teach you new skills, and there is both an organizational ladder to climb (if you wish it) as well as grades and recognition. Find your local lodge and I expect they would be delighted to talk to you about it. :7)

Also consider the National Outdoor Leadership School, who "take people of all ages on remote wilderness expeditions, teaching technical outdoor skills, leadership, and environmental ethics in some of the world’s wildest and most awe-inspiring classrooms. What NOLS teaches cannot be learned in a classroom or on a city street. It takes practice to learn outdoor skills and time to develop leadership. The wilderness provides the ideal setting for this unique education."

If I had enough time and money, I would LOVE to work my way through the NOLS curriculum!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:39 AM on August 25, 2011


Become a First-Responder or volunteer firefighter. I don't know how to go about either, but that seems like what an adult boy scout would do.
posted by jander03 at 7:53 AM on August 25, 2011


I am quite late to this party, but you may be interested in Freemasonry. It does not present itself as a leadership development program on the surface; the fraternity shares many of the same core values as Scouting, in terms of just generally striving to be a good person, but if you get involved as an officer you realize pretty quickly that it's an excellent laboratory for leadership training.

In most lodges, officers progress through the chairs until they become Master of the lodge for a year or two. Each office builds on the duties assumed by the previous, so there's built-in mentoring as each officers helps his replacement learn the ropes... and by the time a Brother becomes Master he's well acquainted with how they should all work together. He'll also hopefully have a good read on the personalities at his lodge, and how to put it all together and make things run smoothly during his time as Master.

There's a built-in public speaking component as well, since each degree ceremony requires memorization and recitation... and because this all happens in a "safe" environment (private meeting among like-minded people) guys pick up these skills almost in spite of themselves sometimes.
posted by usonian at 9:51 AM on October 24, 2011


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