Serving the eleven lodges of eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Transatlantic Council
Meet the Man: Zach Schonfeld, National Chief
Recently, Secretary Mike Fowler sat down with National Chief Zach Schonfeld in order to ask couple of questions. Read below where Mike asks Zach about topics ranging from the rest of the National Officers, to his favorite PBS Kids show
Tell us a little about yourself?
A little bit about me, starting off with outside of scouting, I’m a college student at George Washington University, although I’m temporarily attending Zoom University. I’m a junior studying Political Communication, which is an interesting major that’s not offered at a lot of schools. It’s essentially a cross between Political Science and Journalism. Right now I’m at home in Reston, VA, roughly 20 miles away from Washington D.C. I’m from the Amangamek-Wipit Lodge in the National Capital Area Council.
How do you manage your time between school, scouting, and other activities?
I think that this year, everyone’s balance, including my own, has been thrown off by the pandemic, so it’s definitely a different time balance than I had, even compared to earlier this year or before the pandemic. But I think for me, it’s mostly just staying organized. I basically live and breathe by my Google Calendar at this point, between getting on online classes, scouting conference calls, and meetings, or virtual events at the lodge, chapter, and section levels. There are a lot of different moving parts but I think for me it’s just a way to keep it all in one place and organized. It’s really just staying organized and blocking out the time for everything.
How did you get involved in the Order of the Arrow?
The way I got involved in the Order of the Arrow is the same way I got involved in Scouting, my older brother Jeremy. Jeremy is 2 years older than me and and one point a Cub Scout before me, and he crossed over to a boy scout troop, and now, he’s in the Order of the Arrow. He’s the one who really encouraged me after I was elected to come do my ordeal, then immediately after my ordeal, it seemed like I was already being asked to do things, starting off with ceremonies. Jeremy and a lot of people in my unit really wanted me to be involved and made that direct ask to me. It was that individual ask that really got me involved in the first place.
When you got elected back in December, what was your and the officer’s vision for 2020?
Let’s look back to last year for a moment where we spent the year really coming together as an organization for a really critical conversation about our membership and how we can grow our brotherhood and our organization. So we came into this year with a lot of momentum from the conversation and this year being the first year we really implement that. We really work day-in and day-out to see what we could do to ensure that more people are wearing sashes and are getting a life-changing experience that all of us have had as members of the Order of the Arrow. So I think our vision was to build on that both through our National Program of Emphasis, which was NOAC before it got canceled, but also beyond that, finding ways to connect folks at the chapter and lodge level to the national level and ensuring that we’re working together as one united team to solve this membership challenge.
Obviously, COVID-19 has done a lot to stop your vision from being carried out. From here, what’s your vision for the rest of your term?
Well, I think that the overall vision that we had at the start of the year is still the same and I think it’s important that we stay on that vision of finding ways to grow our brotherhood. Now obviously, with the pandemic, we have a lot more challenges now in front of us to do that and we have to approach it in a different way and the end goal has never changed. So, I think in terms of our vision and our plans for the remaining few months that we have in our terms is to help lodges find ways to navigate this new normal. Whether that be finding ways to hold an ordeal, potentially virtually depending on where you’re located. We’re just finding ways to reach members where they’re at and now wait for the world to reopen, but rather find ways to do fun virtual events.
Is there any situation you encountered this year that you feel you should’ve handled differently?
Well, I joke that if I knew what happened with the pandemic, I wish we could’ve made some decisions earlier on because I think one of the most challenging parts about the pandemic is all the uncertainty that persists. So as we’ve had to make decisions whether it be about events or other things, we simply had to do that with information that we had at the time, and now having 2020 vision back into the past, there would’ve been some decisions that I think would’ve changed the timing and be able to be more transparent about, if only we had the right information, so I think with our in person Momentum event, where, back in June, we thought we would be able to do based of the way the country at the time was going, but then, as cases began to go back up and restrictions changed that we’d have to adapt our program to the point where we didn’t see it to be as valuable and to the high level that we are accustomed to as a national event.
Who is the one person you look up to most in scouting?
I mentioned earlier my older brother Jeremy, and Jeremy has been one of my biggest mentors ever since I joined the scouting program as a Cub Scout more than 15 years ago. I mentioned before he was a Cub Scout and he joined 2 years before I did, then crossed over into the troop, then to the OA, so it was always me seeing in 2 years what would be in store for me. Even at the tough moments when I questioned whether I should continue on with scouting or the OA, he always showed me the light at the end of the tunnel, that the opportunities that our organization provide are so valuable that it made me want to continue, so I could have the same experiences that I was watching him have.
What positions have you held besides National Chief?
I first got involved in the Order of the Arrow as a ceremonialist .My first, official position with a title was my Chapter Vice Chief of Unit Relations, so I managed our OA Unit Rep program, as well as working to increase our election rate. After that I became Chapter Chief for a year, then I moved up to the lodge level and became our lodge Vice Chief for Finance and Membership and served for 2 years in that position, focusing on our strategic performance, growing our membership, as well as budgets and trying to get as many youth as possible into finances to give them that experience with budgets. At this point, I thought I would take a step back from the OA, since I just graduated high school. I was asked to be our section’s Conclave Coordinator and I thought that was a job I could do and stay involved that way. After a few months, my good friend, Matt Parsons who is from my section got elected National Chief in 2019, so our Section Vice Chief at the time replaced him as Chief, then I ran for Section Vice Chief, and a few months later I was elected Section Chief. In this role I was involved with the Thrive Webinar, as well as the Section ACT Conference.
What can you say to any Lodge Chief that’s having trouble holding events and inducting new members?
I think sometimes, now that we switched over to operating virtually, it’s easy to still be set in the mindset that everything needs to replicate what it would’ve in person. To some degree, that’s good and we should be trying to replicate some of those experiences, but at the end of the day we need to acknowledge that it’s going to be different, and that’s ok. We just need to accept that a virtual event won’t do all the same things that we would’ve done in an in-person event. I think that also provides us new opportunities to explore how we can make an impact in virtual events and virtual meetings. With that, what I see from a lot of lodges, and sections as well, is that you might’ve cancelled an in-person event and tried to replicate it 100% in a virtual event, and sometimes I think it can be very frustrating because we try to do all these different things that we would’ve done in a full lodge weekend virtually, when some of those might be really difficult. I think because of that, sometimes we can overthink it a little bit, whereas I think what might be rather effective, is that virtual events can be really simple. They can be as simple as getting people on a zoom call for an hour just to play a fun game. That can be a very impactful lodge event. What I would say to a Lodge Chief who is struggling to find new events is don’t overthink it.
What was your favorite PBS Kids show growing up?
I was a big CyberChase fan back in the day. I don’t remember why I liked it so much, but I do remember I would come home from school and just watch CyberChase in the afternoon with a snack.