Save the Date–and a Stamp




For weddings, save-the-date cards are de rigueur. For Eagle courts of honor–not so much. But sending them out is a good idea, especially if they don’t cost you anything.

Reader Nicole Scott recommends using the popular website to send electronic save-the-date notices to family, friends, and fellow troop members. I created the sample above in under a minute and could have sent it out, for free, to an entire mailing list in just a couple of minutes more. (You can import contacts from providers like Gmail or from a CSV–comma-separated-values–file.)

A great thing about evites is that recipients can RSVP electronically and also add the date to their calendars. also sends automatic reminders two days before events.

What great ideas do you have for spreading the word about courts of honor? Post your ideas in the comment section. (Nicole will receive a free Eagle Mountain Certificate for her idea.)




The Future of Cub Scouting–and Your Troop



Successful college coaches (or their underpaid assistants) spend a lot of time at high-school games, not because they enjoy hanging out in hot, noisy gymnasiums or cold, windswept stadiums but because that’s where their next crop of players come from. In addition to seeing individual prospects in action, they also get a sense of what today’s high-school athletes are learning and what their culture is like.

Scout leaders should take a page from the coaches’ playbook. Our future Scouts are wearing Webelos uniforms right now, and it behooves us to get to know them and their leaders by visiting their meetings, assigning den leaders, volunteering at district or council Cub Scout events, and learning more about what they’re learning in the Webelos program.

That last point is especially important this year because what Webelos Scouts (and their younger brothers) are learning is about to undergo a complete overhaul. Beginning June 1, a whole new Cub Scout advancement program takes effect. While the names of the ranks are staying the same, everything under the hood is changing. Instead of working on achievements or activity pins, boys will now complete adventures on the way to rank advancement.

Fortunately, the BSA has done a great job of communicating the changes through its special Program Updates web page. This page is a one-stop shop for all the changes affecting Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, and Venturing. You’ll find webcasts, samples from the new Cub Scout handbooks, and complete sets of requirements.

Of particular interest to Boy Scout leaders, I think, are these adventures: Cast Iron Chef, First Responder, and Webelos Walkabout (Webelos) and Camper and Scouting Adventure (Arrow of Light). These adventures outline what next year’s crop of Boy Scouts should know and show you how your troop can support the Webelos program in the coming year.


Passing the Torch



It’s been said that we all listen to the same radio station, WII-FM—as in, “What’s In It For Me.” Even though Scouting teaches values of service and selflessness, self-absorption can easily creep in under the edges of the tent. This is especially true at Eagle courts of honor, where the spotlight focuses so tightly on a single individual.

That’s why I like the idea a reader named Mary submitted so much. At her son’s court of honor, her son literally passed the torch—a genuine Boy Scout flashlight, of course—to his cousin, a Tiger Cub. As he passed it, Robert charged his cousin to stay in Scouting and someday become the family’s next Eagle Scout.

Your honoree could do the same thing even if his cousin (or little brother) is not in Scouts. Perhaps he could pass the torch to his assistant senior patrol leader (if he’s SPL) or to the newest Scout in the troop. Either way, he’ll plant the idea in the entire audience that being an Eagle Scout is not just about what’s in it for me.

The Merit of Badges


merit badges

Recently, the Scouting magazine blog raised an issue I never had to deal with as a Scout or a Scoutmaster: the value (or lack thereof) of fill-in-the-blank merit-badge worksheets. These worksheets have become all the rage in some corners of Scouting, along with merit-badge fairs, merit-badge classes during troop meetings, and other activities that make it easy to earn merit badges.

Here’s the problem: Scouts should learn something from merit badges other than how to cut corners. They should learn skills related to badge topics, of course, but they should also learn life skills like calling a merit-badge counselor on the phone or redoing work that doesn’t measure up. Moreover, they need to learn that words matter–that if a requirement says “explain” or “discuss,” it’s not enough to simply listen to a counselor talk about the topic.

When we adults deprive them of those experiences, we turn merit badges into cheap awards that kids in T-ball receive–earn is too strong a word–just for showing up. That’s not to say that merit-badge classes never have value; some do a great job of introducing topics and connecting Scouts with highly skilled instructors. The trouble occurs when they cut corners to maximize the number of badges Scouts can earn.

In Scouting for Boys, Robert Baden-Powell worried about Scouts who were more eager to collect badges than to earn them:

There is always the danger of Badge-hunting supplanting Badge-earning. Our aim is to make boys into smiling, sensible, self-effacing, hardworking citizens, instead of showy, self-indulgent boys. The Scoutmaster must be on the alert to check Badge-hunting and to realise which is the Badge-hunter and which is the keen and earnest worker.

Unfortunately, some adults are beating Scouts at their own game, making earning merit badges as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. While this may help with cash flow at the local Scout shop, it does little to help Scouts grow.

Years ago, Phillips Petroleum created a poster celebrating the merit-badge program. Interspersed with badge images were these words:

They are woven of simple cloth and common thread. Yet they have the power to turn struggle into courage. Self-doubt into self-esteem. Indecision into leadership. But we’re proud to support the Boy Scouts of America for their enduring ability to perform the most magical metamorphosis of all. Transforming a boy into a man.

Do those words describe how the advancement program works in your troop?

Where’s the Fire?



For his son’s court of honor, one of my readers, a guy named Gerald Funkhouser, wanted to use an indoor (artificial) campfire. He researched a number of different options that simulated fire with bright lights and fans, but nothing seemed quite right (or quite quiet enough).

Finally, he turned to a surprising option: television. Specifically, he showed a DVD of a burning fire on a 24″ TV. The TV didn’t just sit on stage, however. Gerald used fresh-cut cedar poles to create a log-cabin firelay encasing the TV. The audience couldn’t see the TV’s cabinet—just its screen. In fact, Gerald said several guests came up afterwards to see if the fire was real! features a number of fireplace DVDs. Here’s a couple that have gotten good customer reviews:

Search on the words “fireplace DVD” in the Movies & TV category to find others.

The DVDs typically include ambient sound (the noise of burning logs crackling, etc.) and give you the option to loop segments indefinitely. That’s important if you don’t want the DVD jumping back to the menu in the middle of your ceremony.

I’ve also found fireplace videos on Amazon Instant Video and Netflix. If you subscribe to one of those services and have a way to show the video at your court of honor, that’s another great option for bringing the outdoors inside.

What great court of honor tips do you have? Post them in the comments section, and you could win a copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book!

And Now, a Word From Our Alumni



This past weekend, our church’s high-school choir held its winter retreat. As has been the case for probably 20 years, one of the highlights was the reading of letters from recent alumni. These letters mixed memories of previous retreats and mission trips with advice about life after high school. Beyond the content, the letters reminded current members that they are part of a family that extends far beyond their immediate peers.

Many troops do something similar by inviting college-age alumni to stop by a troop meeting during school breaks to speak with current Scouts. The other day, in fact, a friend posted a photo on Facebook showing a lineup of eight alumni from his troop addressing a troop meeting. Judging by the picture, the current Scouts were paying much better attention than they might have been had an adult leader been speaking!

What about your troop? How do you capture the wisdom and experience of your alumni? They can be a huge asset, sharing guidance with current Scouts that will resonate because of their proximity in age and because of the romance of being away at college or in the military.

Whether you solicit letters, videos, or in-person visits, it helps to offer some guidance in terms of what–and how much–to say. For example, you might ask alumni to respond to one of these questions:

  • What’s your favorite memory of your time in Scouting and why?
  • What’s one Scouting skill you use today that’s perhaps surprising?
  • What do you regret missing out on during your time as a Scout?

Whether you make alumni visits a regular December or summer event or scatter alumni letters throughout the year, I think you’ll find your alumni to be a powerful ally as you try to teach your Scouts what’s really important in life.

Show Them the Door



The large church where our troop meets has 10 entrances. (Or maybe 11; I keep losing count.) Most of these are quite a hike from the chapel where we hold our Eagle courts of honor—a hike and a half if, as sometimes happens, you get lost along the way.

The doors pose no problems for troop families, but guests are another story. And guests—extended family, school friends, favorite teachers and coaches, etc.—make up a large portion of most court of honor audiences. That’s why it’s important to make it easy for guests to find your court of honor—to show them the door, in other words.

There are lots of ways to do this: red, white, and blue balloons at the correct entrance, uniformed Scouts to guide the way, directional signs along the path from the main entrance to the court of honor location.

The guidance can start with your invitations. Instead of just saying that the court of honor will be held at a given church, for example, include the street address and indicate whether the ceremony will be held in the sanctuary, chapel, or fellowship hall.

Your guests may not show their appreciation when you show them the door, but at least they’ll show up on time.

Is Your Troop Worth Its S.A.L.T.?



Awhile back, a friend shared with me an article entitled “In Search of Friendly Youth Groups.” I think some of its lessons apply equally well to Scouting.

The article quoted the results of a survey that asked this question: “If you were choosing a church, how important would the following things be?” Despite the emphasis in many youth programs on glitz and great programming, the lowest rated response was “A fast-paced, high-tech, entertaining ministry approach” at 21 percent. Not much better, at 36 percent, was “Quality relationships with adults.”

So what were the top answers? “A welcoming atmosphere where you can be yourself” at 73 percent and “Quality relationships with teenagers” at 70 percent. (Respondents could choose more than one response.)

In Scouting, we focus a lot of time on planning fast-paced, high-adventure, entertaining programs, and one of our methods in adult association. Those aspects of Scouting are vitally important, but if we don’t create an environment where new Scouts feel at home and form relationships, we will have failed.

The youth group article went on to say that many kids want to be friendly to visitors, but they just don’t know how. The author suggested offering friendliness training to students so they know what to say after the initial hello. One mnemonic advice he described is S.A.L.T.:

  • School: Where do you go to school?
  • Activities: Are you involved in band, sports, school clubs, etc.?
  • Leisure: What do you do in your spare time?
  • Take: Take the visitor to meet other people (ideally people who go to the same school or participate in the same activities or leisure-time pursuits).

Those three questions and that one action can make a huge difference in helping a visitor feel at home.

This winter, second-year Webelos Scouts around the country are searching for friendly Scout troops. Will they find one at your meeting place? Is your troop worth its S.A.L.T.?