Put Down That Firewood, and Nobody Will Get Hurt

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Here in Kentucky, we’ve been entertaining an unwelcome visitor in the last few years: the emerald ash borer. This Asian invader has killed more than 25 million ash trees in the eastern United States and will likely kill millions more before it’s through. The only way to prevent infestation is to treat an ash tree with insecticide every two years—at a cost of around $200 per treatment. Needless to say, most trees won’t get that expensive treatment.

So what’s the connection to Scouting? Pests like the emerald ash borer and diseases like white pine blister rust often hitch a ride on firewood that’s being transported from one place to another—in a troop trailer, for example. While it might be thrifty to haul your own firewood to camp, it’s not very environmentally friendly.

As Scouts and Scouters, we subscribe to the principles of Leave No Trace, which include minimizing campfire impacts. One way we can do that is by waiting until we reach our destinations to purchase firewood.

How far is too far? According to the Don’t Move Firewood campaign, 10 miles or less is ideal. For much more information, visit the campaign’s website, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy and operates under the auspices of the Continental Dialogue on Non-Native Forest Insects and Diseases.

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A High-flying Court-of-Honor Setting

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You could hold your next court of honor in the school cafeteria or the basement of the church, but you might not want to after you hear Linda Staff’s story. Several years ago Linda’s son Sean received his Eagle badge (at his request) in the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. The ceremony took place in a large room with four Blue Angels planes “flying” overhead in formation—something you don’t find at many courts of honor!

But the highlight of the ceremony came when a friend from school played the National Anthem on his trumpet. As Linda explained to me, “I was so amazed, but everyone in this huge museum went totally silent. You could have heard a pin drop. It truly was awesome and so special for all of us.” Oh yes, and the museum didn’t even charge for the room.

Now, you probably don’t live anywhere near Pensacola, but wherever you live, there are great court-of-honor locations down the street or around the corner. Take a look around your community, and you may well find a location as great as the one the Staffs found.

Funding Your Troop at the Grocery Store

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When I was serving as Scoutmaster, my troop held two major fundraisers each year, but we also raised money every single day. How? By getting troop families to shop for groceries with special Kroger gift cards that generated monthly donations to the troop. Each month, we received a check for $300 or more based on the amount troop families spent on groceries and other products.

Recently, Kroger has changed its charitable donation program to something called Kroger Community Rewards. While it’s too soon to say whether the program is better or worse, it’s certainly worth enrolling your troop in. (If you don’t have Kroger stores in your area, you may well have affiliated stores; Kroger owns Fred Meyer, Ralph’s, Dillons, Frys, Smith’s, and QFC, and most if not all of those chains offer the program as well.)

With Kroger Community Rewards, you first set up an organization account and receive a nonprofit organization number (NPO). You’ll need your chartered organization’s help here, because you must have its letter of determination from the IRS.

Once you’re enrolled, troop families simply log in at www.kroger.com/communityrewards and select your troop, which they can do by entering your NPO or searching for it. Each quarter, you’ll receive a check from Kroger based on sales. Unlike the old gift-card program, donations aren’t tied directly to how much your troop families spend; instead, you’ll receive a share of the $3 million Kroger is giving away each year. most purchases help your troop earn rewards, although purchases like alcohol, tobacco, postage stamps, gift cards, and money orders are excluded.

You can find lots more information about the program, including a list of frequently asked questions, at  www.kroger.com/communityrewards.

A couple of important notes:

  • This program is intended for use by “group members, friends, supporters, and family members.” You can’t, for example, set up outside a Kroger store and ask strangers to sign up.
  • Families must re-enroll in the program each year. This takes all of 30 seconds, but you’ll have to remind families once a year to sign up. (One idea: Have a few laptop computers and tablets available at each court of honor.)

Everybody likes to complain about the high cost of groceries. With programs like Kroger Community Rewards, you can feel a little better knowing some of that money is going to support your troop.

Sending a Message

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At many courts of honor, you’ll find a guest register where guests can record their names. These registers are nice, but a reader named Shellie Tucker came up with an even better idea, one that encouraged people to leave not just their names but also a personal message.

 

She bought a small (4″ x 6″) scrapbook made of heavy card stock at a craft store, along with some fancy pens. She set these items on a table with a framed photo of her son Dustin in his uniform. A tent card encouraged people to write a message to Dustin and to include their full names.

The result? Instead of a simple list of names, Dustin received a keepsake that will always prompt memories of his Eagle court of honor and the people who shared it with him.

What Really Attracts Kids to Scouting

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Several years ago, I chaired my church’s youth minister search committee, and in that role, I thought a lot about what makes a successful youth program. In the process, I read a book (Choosing Church: What Makes a Difference for Teens by Carol E. Lytch) that really put this issue into perspective. I think the book’s lessons apply as well to Scout troops as they do to church youth groups.

According to the book, successful churches attract young people by offering three things: a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, and opportunities to build competence. On the other hand, churches that focus on such surface aspects as “young, virile, male youth ministers,” contemporary music, and “fun and easy” programs fail to engage young people.

Too many Scout troops, I fear, focus on fun and easy, categories where there’s far too much competition—from movies, TV, videogames, theme parks, comic books, and the like. Instead of setting high expectations and holding Scouts accountable, they transform Scouting into yet another entertainment venue and lose out to those who do entertainment for a living.

Real Scouting is all about belonging (e.g., patrols, adult association), meaning (e.g., the Oath and the Law), and building competence (e.g., advancement and leadership development). To be successful, all we need to do is stick to the basics of the program instead of trying to change it or water it down in hopes of attracting kids.

How does your troop offer belonging, meaning, and a chance to build competence? Post your ideas in the comments section.

 

What a Terrible Death to Die!

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If you’ve spent much time at Scout camp, you’ve probably heard the announcement song. You know, whenever the camp director says that he has a few announcements to make, the campers start up with “Announcements, announcements, announcements. What a terrible death to die,” etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

So what does the announcement song have to do with Eagle Scout courts of honor? It should serve as a reminder to you that long-winded announcements are just as welcome there as they are at summer camp—not very, in other words.

While it’s likely that you’ll need to make a few announcements at the court of honor (such as where the reception will be held afterwards), you should keep the announcements to a bare minimum—and you should only make them at the beginning of the ceremony. Let the court of honor end on a magical note, not with an off-key rendition of the announcement song.

Fourth Down and Forever

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In an increasingly competitive environment, many parents look at youth activities as mere means to an end. They choose programs like sports or Scouting based not on cost, convenience, or how much fun their kids might have but on how likely those programs are to lead to college acceptance letters and full-ride scholarships.

On the plus side for the BSA, some parents push their sons to stay in Scouting until they become Eagle Scouts, hence the stratospheric Eagle Scout numbers of recent years. But many, many more parents encourage their kids to play sports, viewing athletics as a smoothly paved road to college and career success.

If you find yourself running into that second group of parents, do them (and yourself) a favor by sharing this page with them: http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/probability-competing-beyond-high-school. It summarizes research by the NCAA–which isn’t exactly an anti-sports organization–on the likelihood of high-school athletes playing at the collegiate level and/or making it to the pros.

The numbers are not pretty. Here are the odds that high-school athletes in various sports will play in the NCAA:

  • Men’s basketball: 3.3%
  • Women’s basketball: 3.7%
  • Football: 6.5%
  • Baseball: 6.8%
  • Men’s ice hockey: 11.3%
  • Men’s soccer: 5.7%

The chances of going pro are even more remote. For example, just 0.03% of high-school basketball players will ever play professional. (Fully 0.5% of baseball players turn pro, but most of them end up on farm teams like the Quad Cities River Bandits, the Richmond Flying Squirrels, or my beloved Louisville Bats.)

Of course, kids who play sports also learn teamwork, fitness, perseverance, and other life skills, but so do Scouts. We just don’t offer overblown hopes of superstardom.