Pop Goes the Centerpiece



Most Eagle courts of honor end with a reception, a chance for guests to grab some food, shake some hands, and offer personal congratulations to the new Eagle Scout. In many ways, planning the reception is a lot easier than planning the ceremony: You don’t need scripts. You don’t need speakers. You simply need some tables, some chairs, and some food–anything from cake and punch to a sit-down dinner.

I can handle the food part, but I’ve always fallen short on decorating the room. I appreciate good decorations; I just can’t create them. That’s why I was glad to hear from a reader named Lynda a few years back.

Lynda’s troop had been selling Trail’s End popcorn for years, and she had accumulated quite a few popcorn tins, which generally feature Scouting themes and scenes. To decorate for a court of honor, she found a way to use these tins as table decorations.

Here’s how: Tie two or three helium-filled balloons together and weight them down with a spoon. Put the spoon down in the popcorn tin, then fill the tin with crumpled tissue paper. Voila! Instant centerpiece.

Lynda said everyone at the court of honor got a kick out of trying to figure out what year each tin came from. And Lynda got a kick out of spending just a few dollars on table decorations.

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.

5 Simple Ways to Improve Volunteer Training



My wife and I recently attended a volunteer orientation at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, which (at 14,673 acres) bills itself as “largest privately held contiguous forest block dedicated to conservation and education in the Eastern United States.” Since Boy Scout troops across the country will soon be welcoming legions of graduating Webelos Scouts and their parents–each a potential leader–I immediately began thinking about how Bernheim’s orientation compares with what most troops do.

Here are my five takeaways:

  • Orient early and often. Bernheim holds quarterly, two-hour volunteer orientations, which it advertises on its website, through social media, and in its newsletters. Everyone is invited and no one is pressure to sign on the dotted line.
  • Assume nothing. Although many of the people in our group had been visiting Bernheim for years, the volunteer coordinator assumed nothing. She started with the history and purpose of the organization, then gave overviews of all the departments, and then talked about volunteer policies.
  • Kill a few trees. Everyone who attended our orientation received a professional-looking pocket folder with handouts on every topic discussed during the meeting. Tucked inside was the volunteer coordinator’s business card, making it easy for people to follow up afterwards.
  • Involve your audience. Orientations can feel like mere data dumps. Early in the session, we did two icebreakers that made the session more interactive. First, someone drew a letter from a box, and participants had two minutes to list words describing themselves that started with that letter. Second, we formed groups of four people and tried to reassemble Bernheim’s vision statement, which had been cut into blocks of 1, 2, or 3 words. (This was a smart way to teach the vision statement.)
  • Close the sale. The last order of business was the chance to sign up to serve in various departments. The volunteer coordinator simply laid out a series of sign-up sheets and encouraged people to put their names and contact information on whichever sheets interested them. This didn’t mean people were making a firm commitment–or that they would be accepted. Instead, staff members who oversee the various departments will follow up later to actually place volunteers in their positions and to go over details specific to those positions.

Now, you may think your potential volunteers would never devote two hours to learning about Scouting and your troop. If so, you might ask yourself whether someone unwilling to attend an orientation is someone you want working with your troop.

Need more great troop leadership ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Eagle Scouts Who Elope



I’m not the first–and I won’t be the last–to compare Eagle courts of honor with weddings. I must say, however, that I’ve been to some courts of honor that were so deadly serious that they seemed more like funerals.

The thing about weddings is that everybody who gets married has one. It may be a five-minute ceremony at the courthouse, it may be an informal affair in the backyard, or it may rival a royal coronation for pomp and circumstance, but it’s something everybody does.

Not every Scout who reaches Boy Scouting’s highest rank gets a court of honor, however. I think that’s a shame. Even though having a court of honor is not required to become an Eagle Scout, every new Eagle Scout ought to have his moment in the spotlight.

There are several reasons Scouts choose not to have courts of honor. When I was Scoutmaster, for example, we had a Scout go off to college right after earning his badge; by the time he was settled enough for us to plan a court of honor, his life had moved on and he’d lost interest in the sort of ceremony he’d seen in the past.

I think the main problem is that some Scouters–and not a few parents–have sent the message that only the royal-coronation style is acceptable. That doesn’t leave room for the shy Scout or the Scout who has fully embraced the concept of servant leadership to have a ceremony that fits his personality. It’s like telling a Vegas-wedding-chapel-style bride and groom that they have to get married in a cathedral. Or telling that guy with the tuxedo T-shirt that he must wear an actual tuxedo on his big day.

If you have a Scout who balks at having a court of honor, don’t simply take no for an answer. Dig a little deeper and see whether you can turn that no into a yes by planning a ceremony that fits him just right.

Remember my Scout who went off to college? He eventually returned, and we held the briefest of ceremonies, along with a reception for family and close friends. That ceremony became the basis for the College and Career script in The Eagle Court of Honor Book. He said afterwards he was glad he didn’t elope.

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.

Retaining Troop Alumni



Recently, I was part of the team that ran a Christian retreat for high school students.called Chrysalis. The team included a mixed group of adults and teens, all of whom had completed similar retreats in the past. One thing that really impressed me was that five of the key leaders–including the top two volunteers–were young adults who had attended previous Chrysalis weekends in the local community. These young leaders were all in college or graduate school or maybe in their first jobs, but they were still deeply connected to this program. In fact, one of them is in med school and somehow managed to juggle a schedule last fall that included team meetings and residency interviews with med schools around the country.

In Scouting, we often take it for granted that even our best Scouts will leave the program after high school and not return until they have children who are old enough to be Cub Scouts. That typically means losing them throughout their 20s at a minimum and depriving our current Scouts of mentors who are close enough to them in age to understand the challenges they face, which are totally different from the ones I faced way back in the 1980s.

I realize it’s impractical to convince a former Scout in college to commit to weekly meetings and monthly outings–especially if his college is hundreds of miles away. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to keep your young alumni involved.

You could, for example, have an alumni night each year at summer camp where you share homemade ice cream and swap troop stories from today and yesterday. Or you could schedule an annual activity that is planned and led by alumni. Or you could invite your old Eagle Scouts to Eagle courts of honor and seat them in a “Eagles’ Nest” on stage.Or you could create a troop alumni group on Facebook so former Scouts can stay connected virtually.

We pour too much blood, sweat, and tears into our Scouts to let them disappear when they turn 18. I hope you’ll find ways to retain your alumni to benefit your troop. And if you have success stories to share, post them in the comments section below.

Need more great troop leadership ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.


Eagle Scout Certificates from the Service Academies




Here’s a fun fact: This summer will mark the 45th season that U.S. Air Force Academy cadets have served as Philmont Rangers as part of their leadership requirements. I’m researching an article about that program for an upcoming issue of Eagles’ Call magazine, and along the way I came across the academy’s Eagle Scout Recognition Certificate, shown above.

To get a certificate for your next court of honor, visit http://www.usafa.af.mil/Leadership/PublicAffairs/ScoutingInformation.aspx. You’ll need to register on the site, but the process is simple and leads to a downloadable PDF that you can print at home. (As an aside, I love these downloadable certificates, which are perfect for procrastinators.)

By the way, West Point and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy also offer certificates. Here are the links:

As far as I know, the U.S. Naval Academy doesn’t offer an Eagle Scout certificate. If you come across one, please share the link.

If you’re looking for other certificate and letter options, you can do a search at https://markaray.wordpress.com or page through dozens of my posts related to courts of honor at https://markaray.wordpress.com/category/eagle-scout-courts-of-honor/.

And if you want an Eagle Scout letter from yours truly, click here: https://markaray.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/a-new-eagle-congratulatory-letter-from-me/.

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.


A Great Alternative to Hotel Stays



Spring is coming–really!–which means many troops are starting to plan extended summer trips, either to high-adventure bases like Philmont and Northern Tier or to destinations like Washington, D.C.

Summer trips can present a housing challenge. On the way to Philmont (and definitely on the way home!) you may not want to break out your backpacks and camp overnight. And if your trip is more of a tourist excursion, you may find hotel-style accommodations more appropriate than camping.

Hotels present their own challenges for Scout troops, however, including too-thin walls, free HBO, and a lack of gathering spaces. Plus, costs can be prohibitive.

I’ve found that a good alternative is to stay at a church conference or retreat center. These facilities, which are accustomed to hosting youth groups, typically offer decent accommodations (albeit more Motel 6 than Marriott), three meals a day, and secluded settings. Bonus amenities like hiking trails, basketball courts, and common rooms can make your stay more pleasant.

Of course, summer is the busiest time of the year for these facilities, but don’t assume they can’t offer you space before or after their busy season or on a Saturday night between sessions.

Here are a few links to get you started:

Am I Missing Anything?



In a Facebook group for Eagle Scouts (https://www.facebook.com/groups/EagleScouts4life/), a mom posted a list of all the things she had done in planning her son’s Eagle court of honor. Then she added a simple question: “Am I missing anything?”

As the ensuing conversation demonstrated, she wasn’t missing much at all. But the dozens of comments she received demonstrated the value of talking through the planning process with someone who a) has experience planning Eagle courts of honor and b) isn’t involved in planning yours. Sometimes, a fresh set of eyes is all you need to see what you’re missing, whether that’s scheduling a walk-through, putting a couple of chairs on stage for the presenters, or recruiting a photographer.

That’s a big reason I wrote The Eagle Court of Honor Book–to offer perspective to people who are planning their first ceremony or want to improve on what their troops have been doing for years. If you don’t have a copy of the book, I hope you’ll pick one up soon.

But you can also benefit by sitting down with a fellow Scouter or even someone who plans events in other settings. Just talk through the plans you’ve made, ask what you’re missing, and start listening. As I say in The Eagle Court of Honor Book, you only get one shot at planning each new Eagle Scout’s court of honor. Make it count.

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.


Resolve to Give Up Yo-Yo Management



Of all the relationships in Scouting, perhaps the most important one is the relationship between a Scoutmaster and his or her senior patrol leader. When you’re a Scoutmaster, much of your management energy needs to go toward working with your SPL, usually with the goal of making him more self-sufficient and less dependent on you and other adult leaders.

Some Scoutmasters rely on a technique I call “yo-yo management.” The Scoutmaster is the yo-yo operator, while the SPL is the round doohickey at the other end of the string. The Scoutmaster gives the SPL a little string (freedom), then jerks him back just when he makes his first mistake. The resulting whiplash makes the SPL less likely than ever to try to be self-sufficient, and the dream of a youth-led troop remains just that: a dream.

A better approach, I think, is “shadow management.” When you get a new SPL, tell him you’re going to stick to him as close as a shadow at high noon. His challenge is to lengthen his shadow. As he makes bigger and better decisions, you gradually move farther into the background so that the shadow between you increases.

If he slips up, you may have to move closer again. But do so smoothly so you don’t give him shadow whiplash!