Is This Your Year for Philmont?



Muslims go to Mecca. Mickey Mouse fans visit Disneyland or Disney World (or at least the Disney Store). The swallows return to Capistrano. And Scouters go to Philmont.

Okay, maybe I’m overstating the case, but I really think every Scouter ought to get a chance to spend some time at Philmont—either in the backcountry on a backpacking trek or in the classroom at a training conference. In fact, that’s just where I’ll be in August, facilitating one of this year’s “Building Stronger Troops” conferences.

Conferences like that are a great opportunity to recharge your batteries and learn best practices that you can take home to improve your troop. They cover everything from advancement and troop committee operations to geocaching and trek planning, all in the shadows of the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Many give you sneak peeks of coming attractions (like the new Cub Scout advancement program) and access to national-level volunteers and professionals.

The Philmont Training Center is also a great place for a family vacation. There are full-day programs for every age from infant through adult, and schedules are carefully coordinated so that families get to enjoy meals and evening programs together.

Given the still-recovering economy, of course, vacations are out of the question for many families. But, depending on the size of your family and how close you live to New Mexico, a week at PTC can be a real bargain. Moreover, as a Scouting volunteer, you may be able to write off your portion of the trip.

To learn more about the Philmont Training Center, visit

A Feather in Your (Scout) Cap



A few years back, a reader named Barbara Knowlden told me about a neat idea she picked up at a court of honor. It would be especially meaningful at an Indian-themed ceremony (like the Order of the Arrow ceremony in The Eagle Court of Honor Book), but it would work in other settings as well.

Here’s the idea: You put a jar of different colored pony beads on the lectern and ask anybody who feels so inspired to come up, pick out a bead, and tell the audience why the bead’s color reminds him or her of the honoree. For example, the neighbor medic might choose red because it reminds him of the countless times the honoree came over to get bandaged up. Or the new Eagle’s little sister could choose purple for the countless bruises he put on her arm.

After telling their brief stories, the friends, family, and fellow Scouts then add their beads to a coup feather, which is simply an imitation eagle feather attached to a leather string, perhaps dangling from a hiking staff. Be sure to have someone write down what all the colors stand for and who picked them, so the honoree can have a permanent record.

If you try this idea, keep a few caveats in mind. First, give people some advanced notice before asking them to come forward; otherwise, there may be an awkward pause while everyone tries to think of stories. Second, have one or two people you’ve coached ahead of time go first to set the example. Third, keep the program moving and cut off the reminiscences when the program starts to drag. (Folks could always add to the coup stick after the ceremony if you run out of time.)

Caveats aside, the coup-feather idea can bring out some fun, memorable stories. As Barbara discovered, the time will go by faster than expected and the honoree will be left with some neat memories.

So what great ideas have you come across at courts of honor you’ve attended? The comments section is always open.

Take a Bite out of Your Taxes



I read an interesting article the other day about this year’s Dirty Dozen tax scams. My favorite: arguing that incomes taxes are unconstitutional and that, therefore, you don’t owe Uncle Sam a dime. (Try this one, the IRS says, and you could pay an accuracy-related penalty, a civil-fraud penalty, an erroneous-refund-claim penalty, a failure-to-file penalty, and a penalty for making a frivolous argument in court. Oh yes, and the amount of taxes you owed in the first place.)

Well, here’s a tax strategy that’s not a scam: Many of the expenses you incur as a Scouting volunteer may be tax deductible. The main stipulations are that the expenses must be:

  • Unreimbursed,
  • Directly connected with the service you gave,
  • Only incurred because of the service you gave, and
  • Not personal, living, or family expenses

IRS publication 526 offers more detail and several examples. Among those most related to Scouting:

  • You can deduct the cost and upkeep of uniforms that are not suitable for every­day use and that you must wear while performing donated services for a charitable organization.”
  • Generally, you can claim a charitable contribution deduction for travel expenses nec­essarily incurred while you are away from home performing services for a charitable organiza­tion only if there is no significant element of per­sonal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel.” (The publication goes on to say that it’s okay to have fun, so long as “you are on duty in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip.”)

See publication 526 for more details. And be sure to talk with your tax advisor. After all, you don’t want your tax strategy to make next year’s Dirty Dozen list!

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at

Happy birthday, B-P!



Today is the birthday of Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell (1857-1941), founder of world Scouting. As Scouting becomes ever more diverse, I found this quote from B-P to be especially timely:

“Scouting is a brotherhood – a scheme which in practice disregards differences of class, creed, country, and color, through the undefinable spirit that pervades it – the spirit of God’s gentlemen.”

The quote comes from the 1944 World Brotherhood edition of Aids to Scouting. I’m not sure B-P would have said that when he first created Scouting since his initial focus was more on building good citizens for Britain than on fostering world brotherhood.

Isn’t it great how Scouting expands the horizons of Scout and Scouter alike?

See Bryan’s Blog for seven great ways to celebrate B-P’s birthday.

Wake Up, Parents



These days, kids can take part in a vast array of youth activities, including Scouting, sports, robotics clubs, religious youth groups, arts programs, and video games. But I think Scouting’s biggest competition may actually be the parents of potential Scouts, especially those who can envision a smooth path from Little League and Pop Warner sports to college and the pros (and to a villa in the South of France for mom and dad).

The reality, of course, is that most kids, as recent NCAA advertisements acknowledge, will go pro in something other than sports. But the statistics are surprising. For example, only 3% of high-school basketball players will play hoops at the college level in any division. And only 0.03% will be drafted by an NBA team. (Parents angling for tuition money for their kids might do better to buy lottery tickets.)

Those statistics appear in a great video called Make Time for Scouting that promotes the Be A Scout website. The video doesn’t come across as a dry statistical study, however. Instead, it speaks directly to the dreams parents have for their kids. And it shows how Scouting, better than any other program, can help them fulfill those dreams.

The video, which clocks in at under 3 minutes, would be a great addition to your next troop open house–or to the home page of your troop website.

Fill in the Blank



Many troops have perpetual plaques (like this one from on which they engrave their Eagle Scouts’ names, each one on a separate plate. Such plaques look great when displayed in a meeting room or at a court of honor.

A reader gave me a great idea a few years ago for getting more use out of such a plaque. Her troop displays its plaque at each court of honor, but the plaque also plays an important role in the ceremony. During a Scout’s Eagle court of honor, he unveils his own engraved plate by removing a piece of paper covering it. He then unscrews the next plate in line. The Scoutmaster holds up that plate, points out the open space, and challenges the troop’s Life Scouts to make it to Eagle. The open space remains on the plaque until the next court of honor, providing subtle motivation each time the troop meets.

If you try this idea, be sure to bring a screwdriver whose head is small enough to remove the tiny screws that hold the plates in place. Store the removed plate in a secure place—perhaps taped to the back of the plaque—but put the screws back in the holes so they don’t get lost.

In Praise of War Stories


Around the Campfire

Now that I’m celebrating another birthday, I’ve officially been an adult Scouter for 30 years. (Yikes!) In much of that time, I’ve been a trainer in one form or another, including serving on two Wood Badge staffs and seven Philmont Training Center faculties (counting this summer, when I’ll be leading the August 10-16 session of Building Stronger Troops).

In all those years and in all those training sessions, I’ve followed a cardinal rule: no war stories! War stories not only kill clock, but they also tend to descend into nostalgia for the good old days, which were neither better nor worse than today—just different.

Recently, however, I’ve begun to repent. Here’s why.

We live in the ASAP Age, when everyone expects quick-fix, microwaveable, three-easy-steps, just-add-water solutions to every problem. This reality shows up in all sorts of ways, from the decline of newspapers and newsweeklies to the popularity of liposuction to the prevalence of one-and-done college athletes.

But here’s the deal. Scouting doesn’t work that way. Its magic takes time, which means newer leaders need to hear the perspective—even the war stories—of those of us who’ve been around a little longer. We’ve seen those Energizer bunnies called Tiger Cubs grow into responsible young men. We’ve seen Boy Scouts who couldn’t get through a night of camping without a meltdown lead two-week canoe trips at Northern Tier. We’ve been to our Venturers’ high-school graduations and danced at their weddings. We need to tell those stories.

In 2012, I had the pleasure of purchasing three “future Philmont hiker” onesies at the Philmont trading post. They were for Scouts who hiked with me at Philmont in 1998 and are now first-time dads. When I return to Philmont this summer, I plan to tell that story to the folks in my conference. They need that perspective so they can hang on and begin to assemble their own set of war stories to tell 20 or 30 years from now.

A Different Kind of Food Drive



Like dedicated volunteers in every organization, Scouters can get tunnel vision. We’re so used to doing things our way that we need on occasion to get shaken up.

Take food drives. In many councils, Scouting for Food is the gold standard. Over a couple of weekends, units canvass their neighborhoods and collect prodigious amounts of canned goods for local food pantries.

Scouting for Food is a great project, but it’s not the only way your unit can attack the problem of food insecurity. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I joined our church’s confirmation class for a very different kind of food project, one that’s perhaps more appropriate for this long, cold winter.

One Saturday, we spent a couple of hours packing food for a charity called Kids Against Hunger, which has satellites around the United States and Canada. Teams of 11 kids and chaperones formed assembly lines to put together meal kits consisting of rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables, and vitamin and mineral powder. When combined with water, each kit will serve six children.

That day, we packed enough food to feed 12,000 people. Although some of the food stays at home, most goes overseas. In fact, the food our kids packed during a previous event went to the Philippines immediately after Typhoon Haiyan.

What innovative service projects has your unit done? Feel free to post ideas in the comments section below.

Trees for the World



According to a Chinese proverb, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is now.”

I agree, although I might add a small amendment: the next best time is April 26, 2014.

Why that date? Because that Saturday has been named Trees for the World Day by the World Organization of the Scout Movement. As part of this special worldwide Messengers of Peace project, more than 15,000 Scouts from 31 countries are expected to plant trees. The slogan is “One Scout One Tree,” although I would guess many Scouts will plant more than one!

How can your unit get involved? Just click over to the Trees for The World Facebook page. There you’ll find more information, as well as a form you can complete to report your participation.

As you plan your participation, consider these 10 facts about trees:

  1. Trees produce oxygen.
  2. Trees clean the soil.
  3. Trees control noise pollution.
  4. Trees slow storm water runoff.
  5. Trees reduces carbon dioxide.
  6. Trees clean the air.
  7. Trees creates shades and cool.
  8. Trees act as windbreakers.
  9. Trees fight soil erosion.
  10. Trees increase property value.

Oh, and one more fact. Trees we plant demonstrate our own values. I love this quote I found from someone named Nelson Henderson: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”