Thanks for the Memories

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Thursday is Thanksgiving, so I’ve been thinking about all the people we as Scout leaders ought to thank. There are the parents who entrust their sons to us, the adults who give up weekends and vacation days to go on outings, the chartered organizations that provide us places to meet, and the individuals who buy our overpriced fundraising products.

This week, I heard of a great way to say thank you to some of your troop’s financial supporters. I was interviewing Jann Treadwell, the author of Unbound: The Transformative Power of Youth Mission Trips, and she offered this simple approach: On a trip, take along the names and addresses of your financial supporters, along with a bunch of postcard stamps and pens. When you get to your destination, buy postcards from the area and have participants write thank-you notes.

In a Scouting context, this would probably work best for a major trip like a high-adventure trek. During drive time on the way back from the trip, your Scouts could write a few notes, which you could mail from the road.

I can’t think of a better way to say thanks–and to ensure continued support for your troop.

On a personal note, thank you for reading my blog, sharing your ideas, and buying my products. Have a safe and happy holiday!

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Greetings From the President

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Back in the dark ages (or the good ol’ days, depending on your perspective), getting a congratulatory card from the president of the United States for your newest Eagle Scout meant writing a letter, affixing a stamp, and dropping it in the nearest mailbox. (You remember: that box on the corner that vaguely resembles a blue R2D2.)

These days, as is the case with so many tasks, all you need to do is go online. Specifically, just surf over to https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/presidential-greetings-request and fill out the form that appears on that page. You’ll need your honoree’s name and address, although you can check the Send Care Of box and provide your own address as well. Select “Eagle Scout” from the What Do You Want Us To Send? dropdown list, and enter the court of honor date in the Comments box. The White House Greetings Office tries to mail cards two weeks prior to the event and typically requests six weeks notice.

Putting Your Alumni to Work

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Successful colleges and universities do a great job of working their alumni lists. They solicit their graduates for money, of course, but they also ask them to help in a variety of other ways, not the least of which is coming back to campus to give motivational speeches in the classroom or at graduation.

It can work the same way in Scouting. Think of your former troop members who’ve gone on to college or the military and who will be home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or winter break. Wouldn’t it be great to have them come back and talk to your Scouts about how valuable their Scouting experience has been to them?

Of course, college breaks and holiday leave come at a time when most troops take their own breaks. But don’t let a light troop schedule stop you from putting your alumni to work. If you have a group of Life Scouts who need a little nudge toward Eagle, for example, you could arrange for an Eagle Scout who’s home on leave to meet them for a pizza and do a little Scout-to-Scout motivating. It could be the most valuable pizza you ever bought!

The Oops Meeting

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Rangers at Philmont Scout Ranch do a great job of teaching campers how to secure food and other smellables in bear bags hung from trees at night. But since they know that campers will occasionally slip up and leave something out, they also teach the concept of the oops bag, a small, lightweight bag that can be hoisted onto the bear cable at the last minute.

This concept applies equally as well to troop meetings. As Scouters, we teach our Scouts how to plan troop meetings, we push them at PLC meetings to come up with good weekly plans, and we follow up midweek to make sure those plans become reality.

But we also know that they’ll slip up from time to time. Perhaps the senior patrol leader has to stay home to study. Perhaps the instructor forgets to bring the triangular bandages. Perhaps the Scout in charge of the outside game doesn’t take the weather forecast into account. Whatever the reason, Plan A flies out the window.

At those times, most troops default to a standard Plan B: cleaning out patrol boxes, teaching basic knots for the umpteenth time, or something else equally unexciting. A better approach is to create a set of oops meetings—canned, self-contained meetings you can pull of the shelf and run with little notice. I’ve created seven of these for volume 2 of the Troop Leader Guidebook:

  • Supermarket Smorgasbord
  • Neighborhood Observation Test
  • Advancement Checkup
  • Troop Olympics
  • Indoor Campfire Program
  • Photo Scavenger Hunt
  • Meeting Place Scavenger Hunt

While you’re waiting for that book to come out this winter, what plans can you create to make your next Plan B meeting more exciting than a dishwashing marathon? The comments section is open.

An Elastic Cast of Characters

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Have you ever been to one of those school plays where the teacher makes sure every child has a part to play–even if it means casting a few extra trees to stand at the edges of the stage? The cast of characters at an Eagle courts of honor should work much the same, stretching as needed to include special people in the honoree’s life.

Imagine, for example, that your honoree started in one troop and then transferred to another. You could divide the traditional Scoutmaster’s role between the current Scoutmaster and the Scoutmaster of his former troop. That’s a simple change that lets the honoree recognize the leaders who stood at both the beginning and the end of his Eagle trail.

Or say the honoree has a cousin who’s a proud-as-punch new Cub Scout. Just before the presentation of the Eagle badge, he could march down the aisle carrying the badge, parents’ pins, and other recognition items. He would have a close-up view of the ceremony’s climax–and a memory that should spur him on to stand in the same spot a decade hence.

As you plan your next court of honor, think about who should participate and plan a ceremony that gives them all a part. Just try not to cast them as trees.


For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

Hiking With a Purpose

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The journey may be the reward, but kids these days are conditioned to focus more on the destination than anything. Students want to know if they’ll be tested on what the teacher is talking about; Scouts want to know if an activity will help them earn a badge.

I think this focus on the destination explains why many Scouts view hiking as boring and pointless. But that doesn’t have to be the case. For example, Philmont fills up every year because the hiking there has a purpose. Besides walking through incredible scenery, Philmont crews walk to program activities most days. Scouts don’t mind walking five or 10 miles if they get to race burros, climb spar poles, or pan for gold at the end of the day.

You can add a sense of purpose to your hikes back home with a little creativity. If you’re hiking in town, make the destination a favorite ice-cream parlor. In the woods, try a beeline hike, where the group tries to follow a single bearing for a given distance (working around obstacles as needed and following Leave No Trace principles).

Here are some other types of hikes you can try:

  • Geocaching Hike: In a park with lots of caches, set up a route that takes the group to a series of preselected caches.
  • Photo Hike: Every 30 minutes, stop and take pictures of your surroundings. Turn the hike into a competition for the best or most creative photos.
  • Alphabet Hike: Look for things in nature that start with each letter of the alphabet. Find them in order for an extra challenge.
  • Flip-a-Coin Hike: At each trail or road intersection, flip a coin to decide which way to go. (Be sure to carry a map so you don’t get lost!)
  • Rendezvous Hike: Have patrols follow different paths to the same destination, where you cook a meal together.
  • Night Hike: Explore the woods on a moonlit night for a different view of nature.

After a few such special hikes, don’t be surprised if your Scouts learn that the journey is the reward after all!