I recently had a great conversation with a merit badge counselor for a Scouting magazine article. This longtime Scouter is an expert in his badge’s subject matter. He has worked professionally in the field and has taught the subject for years at the college level. He even wrote the most recent edition of the merit badge pamphlet.
So when I asked him about his experience counseling the badge, I was surprised. In all his years of being registered as a merit badge counselor, not a single Scout had sought him out!
That’s a shame–not so much for this volunteer, who has plenty to keep him busy, but for the Scouts who have missed out on the chance to learn at the feet of a true master. And his story is not unusual. Since so many Scouts don’t earn a single merit badge beyond their troops, summer camps, and the merit badge fairs they attend, they miss out on amazing opportunities to rub shoulders with incredible adults who can open their eyes to potential careers and lifelong hobbies.
Who’s to blame? I think we as Scout leaders are. We need to discourage shortcuts (like letting Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones counsel badges they could barely earn themselves), but we also need to find creative ways to connect Scouts with qualified counselors.
Here are three ideas to get you started:
- If you’re a troop leader, invite counselors to preview their badges at a troop meeting. This could involve setting up a display during the preopening or planning an activity during the meeting that lets Scouts get a requirement or two completed.
- If you’re a roundtable commissioner, turn an occasional session into a meet-and-greet with local merit badge counselors. This could look like the exhibit hall at a trade show, or it could involve hands-on activities that demonstrate badge skills.
- If you’re an advancement volunteer, don’t simply publish a counselor directory that lists names and contact information. Ask your counselors to give you Twitter-sized descriptions of their qualifications and add that info to the list.
We’ve all heard the story of how Steven Spielberg’s career was launched by the Photography merit badge (in the days before Cinematography and now Moviemaking). Stories like that don’t have to be relegated to the pages of Scouting history. They can happen today–if we start writing them.
How have you made merit badges magical? The comments section is open.