The Scouter’s Year-end To-do List

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My favorite New Year’s song–of the two I can think of–is “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”(especially Ella Fitzgerald’s version). That title is also a question you should be asking yourself as 2015 rides into the sunset.

Three things immediately come to mind for me:

  1. Room reservations. If you don’t have dedicated meeting space, now is a great time to review your room reservations for troop meetings and courts of honor during 2016. Just because you use the youth room at your chartered organization every Tuesday night, don’t assume that you’re locked in for the new year. And speaking of being locked in, go ahead now and make reservations for any lock-ins or other special activities at your chartered organization.
  2. Contact information. These days, prospective members have lots of ways to contact your troop: your website, your Facebook page, your pin at BeAScout.org, and your chartered organization. But will they find the right information? Does anyone check the default email address that’s displayed on the website? Is the church secretary still referring people to the guy who stepped down as Scoutmaster two years ago? Now’s the time to make sure leader contact information is current both online and offline. (For more about BeAScout.org, click here and here.)
  3. Tax records. As I hope you know, many of the expenses you incur as a Scouting volunteer are tax deductible (assuming you itemize). The end of the year is a good time to comb through your receipts and pull together those that are deductible. (For more information, click here.)

That’s what my to-do list looks like. How about yours? Post other ideas in the comments section.

Candle, Candle, Burning Bright

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As I write this post, Christmas is still a week away, but the Christmas closeout sales have already started (at least at my favorite local hardware store). That means you can save big on a prelit Christmas tree–assuming you haven’t maxed out your credit card already.

That also means you may be able to stock up on court-of-honor supplies like candles. You may not find great bargains (like you often can on patriotic merchandise after Independence Day), but you can probably find a wider selection of items to choose from. And if you’re clever (or know your way to Pinterest), you could even find a use for strands of white Christmas lights and other holiday merchandise.

What tips do you have for saving money on Eagle courts of honor? The comments section is open.

 

Ageless Advice for Troop Meetings

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In doing research for the new Troop Leader Guidebook—volume 2 of which will be published this winter—I spent a fair amount of time reading through previous Scoutmaster manuals. One of the most practical of them, Bill Hillcourt’s 1947 Handbook for Scoutmasters, included some hints for troop meetings that are just as relevant today as they were then. Here they are:

Begin on time—close on time.

ACTION—VARIETY—PURPOSE: the Three Musketeers of all troop activities.

Recipe for a good meeting:

  • Something old (a couple of the old favorite games)
  • Something new (a brand-new game; a new song; a new Scoutcraft trick)
  • Something surprising (a special visitor; a treat; a Scout movie)
  • Something true (a story based on the Scout Law; a story of a hero)

Boys have a thousand muscles to wiggle with and only one dozen to sit still with. That dozen gets mighty tired mighty quickly.

Keep every moment busy. Crowd things along, and you will have no discipline problems, no uncontrolled rough-housing.

As a general rule, allow no more than 20 minutes to any one activity.

Plan for more than can be accomplished rather than too little. Better leave some things undone than to have the meeting “peter out” a half-hour early.

Shift to something else before the boys tire of what they are doing.

If the planned program doesn’t work, be resourceful. Throw some out, if necessary, to suit conditions.

Encourage members of the troop committee to attend regularly. When they come, have something definite for them to do.

Keep visitors on the sidelines. Most of the time visitors come to see what is happening. Don’t let them interrupt the meeting.

How many of those tips do you follow? Which ones could you adopt in the new year to improve your troop’s operations?

Faith of Our Brothers

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Several years ago, our district’s spring camporee featured an outstanding interfaith worship service, one that included readings from the holy books of the world’s major faith traditions. The worship leader made a big deal of the fact that members of the Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Unitarian Universalist, Baha’i, and various Protestant faiths were all present—and he made sure that everyone felt comfortable in this diverse environment. (The refrain of his message was, “You are my brother.”)

I hope you’ll do the same in your Eagle courts of honor. When recruiting a religious leader to offer opening and closing prayers, point out the faith backgrounds of your Scout families and, especially if they are diverse, encourage him or her to make the prayers inclusive.

In our politically correct age, it often seems easier to just skip over things like invocations and benedictions, lest we offend anyone. But as that camporee worship service demonstrated, our diversity is our strength—and a cause for celebration.

What NFL Officials Can Teach Scouters

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That headline may sound like click-bait, but those of us who wear tan and khaki can learn something important this year from the people who wear black and white.

If you’re a fan of professional football, you know that one of the big stories this season has been a string of bad and missed calls from officials (which is admittedly better than a string of domestic-violence arrests). As ESPN reported recently, “The past seven days have brought more grist for the NFL officiating debate than any similar time period in recent memory. Three high-profile mistakes on Monday Night Football, all of which the league eventually acknowledged, sparked a barrage of controversy that continued through the fourth quarter of Sunday Night Football.”

More than the anecdotes in the ESPN story, what I found fascinating was the accompanying chart showing the tenure of NFL officials. Of the league’s 121 officials, 23 are in their first or second year, while 96 have been in the league for six years are longer. The total numbers of third-, fourth-, and fifth-year refs? Exactly two. In other words, the officiating corps is a mix of newcomers still learning the job and relative old-timers who may be starting to have trouble keeping up with the speed of the game. (Ten refs have been in the league for 21 to 27 years–as long as most NFL players have been alive!)

So what’s the Scouting connection? We need a constant influx of new Scouts, just like the NFL needs a constant influx of new players and officials. While it may not seem like a big deal to fail to bring in new members one year, your troop will actually suffer for years to come if you fail to recruit. At first, you’ll miss the infusion of new energy and new Scouts for your older Scouts to lead and teach. Later on, you won’t have a corps of older Scouts to lead the troop. And all along the way, you’ll be short of parents to help run fundraisers, drive to outings, and serve as adult leaders.

So in between football games and holiday preparations this year, I hope you’ll take some time to plan for your next recruiting effort, whether that’s reaching out to Webelos dens in your area or planning a troop open house or discovery campout. What you do this winter will affect your troop for years to come.

Counting Court of Honor Costs

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Most people don’t count the costs when they’re planning once-in-a-lifetime events like weddings, graduation parties, and Eagle courts of honor. In the case of the Eagle court of honor, however, costs are frequently shared between the family and the troop, which means keeping an eye on the dollars only makes sense.

In The Eagle Court of Honor Book, I recommend that troops set a policy on what expenses they’ll cover; these might include the badge kit, programs, a sheet cake, and punch. Setting such a policy makes it fairly easy to include courts of honor in your troop budget since you can probably come up with a rough estimate of how many Eagle Scouts you’ll have in a given year.

Such a policy also allows each family the flexibility to go beyond the basics. For example, if Johnny’s family wants to have a sit-down dinner instead of a reception, they can bear the cost without impacting the troop budget or setting a precedent other families have to follow.

Take Advantage of Shoulder Seasons

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Have you heard the term “shoulder season”? That’s what travel pros call the time between a popular destination’s peak and off seasons. Prices tend to be lower and crowds tend to be smaller, yet most attractions are still open for business, hoping to attract a few last-minute visitors.

I’ve always found shoulder season to be a great time for troop trips to popular state and national parks. Once the fall leaves have faded and the chamber-of-commerce weather has ended, Scouts can enjoy more elbow room in the campsites and less congestion on the trails. There may be less scheduled events—usually not a big deal—but there can be more opportunities to work with park rangers on special activities or service projects.

Have you had success with shoulder-season outings? Or perhaps off seasons are more your style. Post your stories in the comments section.