Subtle, Quiet, and Quick

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I recently spent an afternoon at a neighborhood pool overseen by a teenaged lifeguard. “Overseen” might be too strong a word, however, since the young woman spent most of her time glued to her cellphone. Although I can’t know for sure, my guess is she thought she didn’t need to watch the water because she would easily hear any swimmers in distress.

If that’s the case, she couldn’t have been more wrong.

According to the experts, real drowning looks nothing like movie drowning. Victims don’t flail their arms, and they don’t scream for help. Instead, they struggle to keep their heads above water until someone comes to their rescue or until it’s too late. Far from being dramatic, real drowning is subtle, quiet, and quick. For proof, see this amazing video or check out this American Red Cross fact sheet.

If your troop will be swimming this summer–and what troop won’t be?–it’s imperative that you and other leaders complete Safe Swim Defense training. (You can take the training online at my.scouting.org.) Among many other things, you’ll learn how having qualified supervision and lookouts can help keep your Scouts safe–regardless of what the lifeguard on duty is doing.

A Golden Age for the Red, White, and Blue

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As I write this post, Flag Day is in the rearview mirror, and Independence Day is just around the corner. And that means stores all over town are full of American flags, red, white, and blue bunting, and other patriotic merchandise. Around July 5, however, much of that merchandise will be marked down to half price; by the next week, it’ll be gone, replaced by school backpacks—or maybe Christmas decorations.

What’s the connection with Eagle courts of honor? Although the colors of Boy Scouting are red and green, most troops use a red-white-and-blue theme for their Eagle courts of honor. After all, what could be more American than Mom, apple pie, and Eagle Scouts?

So if you have a court of honor coming up soon, now’s the time to show for balloons, bunting, tablecloths, and other decorating items. Wait too long, and you may be stuck with Santa Clauses instead.

Inviting Invitations

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This week, I received a really clever save-the-date card for an upcoming wedding. Styled to mimic a movie poster, it showed the happy couple walking away from an explosion on a gritty urban street. (Picture James Bond, his forehead smudged and his tie askew, and you’ll get the idea.)

The card perfectly captured the couple’s sense of fun, but it did something else: it caught my attention. Rather than set it aside like a piece of junk mail, I read it and immediately put the date on my calendar—something I don’t do with most court-of-honor invitations I receive.

When you plan a court of honor, there are certain people you know will show up: family members, close friends, troop leaders, etc. But there are other people that need to be enticed. The next invitation you send out doesn’t need to look like a movie poster (although that could be fun), but it does need to catch potential guests’ attention and move them to put the date on their calendars.

Transformational Service

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I spent last week on a weeklong choir/mission trip with 40 or so high-school and college students from my church, something I’ve been doing since 2000. During the week, our kids served in a homeless feeding program, built steps and porches for homes in an incredibly rundown trailer park, ran two vacation Bible school programs, and did a variety of landscaping and painting projects in a small Ohio community whose best days lie decades in the past.

Over the course of the trip, I thought a lot about which service projects we’ve done over the years have been the most transformational–both for our students and for the communities we were serving. Since service is obviously a huge part of Scouting, the lessons we’ve learned apply equally well to troop service projects.

In our ministry, we’ve decided that two factors are essential to transformational service:

1. To transform a community, you must work with an organization that has a clear vision and is moving in the right direction but still has plenty of need for volunteer help. Work with a rudderless organization, and you waste your time. Work with an organization that doesn’t really need your help and thus comes up with busy-work projects, and you waste both your time and their time.

2. To transform your Scouts, you must work directly with the people you are serving and/or alongside the partner organization’s dedicated volunteers. The relationships you and your Scouts build with these people adds a human element that makes service far more than just another activity to do or another box to check off on the way to advancement.

So what are your criteria for transformational service projects? What projects has your unit that had a major impact on both the people you served and on your Scouts themselves? The comments box is open.

Musical Chairs

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This week, I’ll be on a mission trip with my church’s high school choir. They’re a truly great group of kids, but like any group, they can teeter between close-knit and cliquish.

If that sounds like sounds like your troop, consider playing musical chairs on your trip to summer camp or a high-adventure base (or any long trip throughout the year). The process is simple. Before you leave, create a deck of index cards representing each seat in each vehicle. Then, when you leave your starting point–and at each bathroom break or meal stop–have Scouts draw cards to determine where they’ll sit for the next leg of the journey.

They may grumble a bit, but they’ll probably also strengthen their relationship with Scouts they might not have otherwise sat with.

(Like anything else you do in your troop, by the way, you should run this idea past your youth leaders first. Don’t impose this process on your Scouts from on high.)

Teaching Values

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The values of Scouting are encapsulated in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. But we often spend more time teaching sheepshanks and Dutch oven cooking than we do teaching duty to God and cleanliness.

When I teach at the Philmont Training Center, we often do an interesting exercising. We brainstorm specific ways to teach each of the values found in the Oath and Law. Rather than give you the “answers,” I’ll offer this challenge. Write each of the following values on the top line of an index card:

  • Trustworthy
  • Loyal
  • Helpful/To Help Other People at All Times
  • Friendly
  • Courteous
  • Kind
  • Obedient
  • Cheerful
  • Thrifty
  • Brave
  • Clean
  • Reverent/Duty to God
  • Duty to Country
  • Physically Strong
  • Mentally Awake
  • Morally Straight
  • General

Now, try to come up with as many specific ways as possible to cover each of those values in your troop program. For “thrifty,” for example, you might have your PLC plan an actual budget for your next outing. For “physically strong,” you might require Scouts to do 10 pushups before entering your meeting room each week. Put things that apply to more than one value on the “general card.”

To make the values exercise even more valuable–no pun intended–do it with all your adult leaders. Then, create a plan to turn your notes into action.

You get the idea. Hopefully your Scouts will get the values.

Note: If you have great ideas about teaching any specific value, post them in the comments section.

The Five Ws

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In the hustle and bustle of planning a court of honor, invitations often fall to the bottom of the priority list. That’s unfortunate, because the invitation, whether it’s delivered electronically, in person, or by the U.S. Postal Service, is the one thing that will actually get people to the court of honor—especially people who aren’t directly associated with the troop.

Your invitation doesn’t need to be fancy or elaborate, but it does need to provide some very important information. Just like a newspaper story, it should answer the five “W” questions: who, what, when, where, and why. You can skip “how,” the sixth question from Journalism 101, although you’ll surely know the answer after planning the ceremony! (And if you don’t know how, be sure to grab a copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book.)

“Who,” of course, refers to the honoree, and “what” refers to the court of honor. “When” means the time and the date (including the day of the week), and “where” means the location. (If necessary, include a map; at the very least, include the street address. Not everybody knows where the First United Methodist Church is.)

The final question, “why,” is often overlooked. Somewhere in the invitation, indicate why the court of honor is such a significant event. Explain, for example, that less than five percent of all Scouts become Eagles … or that this will be the first Eagle court of honor in your troop’s history … or something else that gives the event some context. That little bit of explanation might convince people to attend your ceremony instead of watching another episode of “American Idol” on the tube.