CFLE in Context: YMCA Adventures Guide

by Scott MacGregor, CFLE, CSAC-R
Content Area
Families and Individuals in Societal Contexts

In 1984, I graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a BS in Marketing, and for the next twenty-three years, I worked in information technology and business. My corporate career began at IBM, and ended with the sale of a successful IT consulting firm. While those years were financially rewarding, the work held little intrinsic meaning. So as the sale of our company concluded in 2006, I began to explore other vocational options, and prepare for a second career. A friend recommended the book Transitions (Bridges, 1980), which was extraordinarily helpful in navigating the changing landscape of my life, and setting a career course filled with more meaning and purpose.

What I discovered was a profound interest in extending my love of being a father and husband into work with families by helping them build stronger connections, foster respect, and clarify family rules and responsibilities. An important part of growing into this work involved immersing myself in the cross-disciplinary scholarship regarding children and families through a formal graduate level program, and working with nonprofit organizations. I also awakened an interest, which had remained dormant since college, in the study and practice of mindfulness and meditation.

By Fall 2007, I had joined the board of a national nonprofit called Dads and Daughters, and enrolled in the Masters Degree Program in Child and Families Studies at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville concentrating on family stress, neuroscience and family resilience. I was fortunate to study with professors like Dr. Sandy Twardosz and Dr. Brian Barber who influenced and supported my commitment to make the academic research on families personally useful in my community. Congruent with this grounded and pragmatic perspective on family life education was my interest in mindfulness meditation. I pursued this course of study through a variety of venues including the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, a 10-day silent meditation retreat, and a retreat focused on loving-kindness for scientists and therapists at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA.

My community work as a family life educator began in 2006 as the volunteer coordinator of the YMCA Adventure Guides program (Y-Guides) for dads and daughters in Asheville, NC, and continued for three years. The Y-Guides Program (formerly Indian Guides/Princesses) is well regarded with a significant amount of useful documentation and lesson plans. YMCA's across the country have paid coordinators who use these materials, organize participants, and lead this worthwhile program. However, our local YMCA lacked the population base and fiscal resources to fund a full-time coordinator. So after some investigation, discussions with neighbors and the YMCA Executive Director, I stepped into the role with support from the YMCA, autonomy in designing programs, and a lot of energy.

During those years, our program reached hundreds of father-daughter pairs and was a wonderful blend of fun, meaningful activities, and best practices in parent-child relations. I coordinated over one hundred Father – Daughter events, developed lesson plans and educational material for fathers and families, and helped dads connect on a social level. Because I had three daughters, I organized the program into three groups, which aligned with their ages: Junior Adventure Guides (5-7), Adventure Guides (6-9), and Trail Blazers (10-13).

The in-home Y-Guides meetings consisted of topics, which were developmentally appropriate and varied from building a birdhouse to "Becoming a Media Savvy Girl". One of the most popular programs dealt with helping the girls understand friends and relationships. Those dads and daughters acted out, quite dramatically, various personas, and situations, which were funny and instructional. Dads shared their own positive friendship memories as well as their trials and concerns. The girls discussed the benefits of having good friends, along with peer pressure and bullying difficulties.

As a CFLE, I felt confident bringing together content from a variety of sources, and challenging fathers and daughters with topics like "Who is Mattel Really?" In that meeting, we examined the deeper paradoxical messages projected by Mattel when they promote empowering girls through American Girl books, games and dolls, and when they sexualize and objectify them with their Bratz Dolls line. Offering a socially conscious curriculum was born out of my passion for educating, being aware of my own beliefs, and wanting to be congruent with the relevant family life education content areas. CFLE's have a responsibility to aid families in better understanding their position in a wider social context, and advocating for consumer rights and responsibilities. This program offered many fathers their first glimpse of the multi-layered complexity, which makes up the marketing juggernaut facing, often threatening, daughters on a daily basis.

Themes of self-worth, connection, and social responsibility became central to the program and enlivened my work with Y-Guides families. When I organized camping trips, and dances, service projects or in-home events, the overt and subtle messages being conveyed to participants, their families and the public were methodically considered. Especially important were the messages dads were giving their girls, and what the girls were learning from our activities. As a result of this iterative process, program material was regularly updated to meet the unique needs of our father-daughter pairs, and to make the material age appropriate and accessible to a diverse socio-economic population.

At the annual Dad and Daughter Dances, I worked hard to keep the pairs active and connected – no "dad huddles" allowed. We provided huge sheets of newsprint with the inspiring messages like, "Dream Big", and asked the girls to write their career dreams and life aspirations. Additionally, the dads were asked to share their own dreams for their daughters. Through Operation Home Front, we sent posters from the dance with messages of care and concern, signed by more that 200 girls and dads, to the military dads and daughters serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We had female black belts demonstrate karate skills, Y-Guides girls lead dance activities, and of course, lots dancing, laughter, and connection.

Perhaps the greatest reward from my Y-Guides work is occasionally meeting dads who participated in events I organized, and hearing how it impacted their relationship with their daughter. Unlike business performance, which is often easily evaluated through a host of metrics like year-end earnings reports, efforts as a CFLE rarely produce quantitative feedback. I cherish these affirming stories. However, a challenge for me is becoming overly focused on the negative aspects of an event. For example, I might worry more about the two dad-daughter pairs who did not make it to an in-home meeting rather than celebrate the seven pairs who did attend. I might minimize the heartfelt appreciation from a mom who conveyed that her husband's and daughter's relationship, "is truly better thanks to Y-Guides", while overemphasizing a minor criticism made in passing. This leads to my only comment for other CFLEs and it relates to our motivation in doing this important work with families.

In this career, I will never exceed the income I earned as a business professional, largely because the fulcrum for my effort is love not money, but a particular sort of love. This is love lived and spoken of by PBS' Mister Rogers. He encouraged us to recognize that, "Love is not a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone, is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and right now." These words guide my intention and effort with my own family, as a CFLE, and my new work as a clinical mental health counselor. This kind of "love" calls us to a mindful presence of unconditional positive regard and warmth for every individual and family with whom we work, particularly the children. By endeavoring to do so, I can imagine a world of families with members who love each other without shaming and judging perhaps because they felt that acceptance from a CFLE.

Scott MacGregor, CFLE, CSAC-R, lives in Asheville, NC with his wife, three daughters and their rescued lab. In May, he will earn his MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Western Carolina University. He will be interning in a local hospital doing integrated care as a Behavioral Health Specialist. He has studied and speaks widely on the topic of forgiveness, and is developing a father-daughter weekend program for the US military. He practices meditation and has been trained in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. He loves spending time with his family, enjoys hiking, cooking, and reading.