Helping Your Scouts Help Houston


In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, one of our assistant Scoutmasters suggested our troop collect bottled water for victims and survivors. Wanting to do something–anything–to help, the troop set up a collection point and we collected several van loads of water to ship to New York.

Did I mention that our troop is in Kentucky? Or that water is very heavy? (As the old saying goes, “A pint’s a pound the world around.”) Or that New York didn’t even need our water?

I remembered that project this week as I reflected on the disaster Houston is facing in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Scouts all over the country naturally want to do something to help. As adult leaders, we have the opportunity to both help hurricane victims and teach our Scouts the right and wrong ways to be of service.

This week, the United Methodist Church reposted a great article on what to do–and what not to do–to help after a natural disaster. I encourage you to read it and share it with your patrol leaders’ council, but the bottom line is simple: don’t go without an invitation (and training) and don’t send supplies that haven’t been requested.

The best thing to do is probably to donate to a reputable charity, something recommended by experts in a recent NPR story. I love the United Methodist Committee on Relief because 100 percent of donations go directly to provide services; overhead is handled through separate fundraising. Another good option is the BSA Emergency Assistance Fund, which helps rebuild Scouting in affected areas.

Scouts can also get involved in assembling relief supply kits, a project that can help them feel like they’re doing more than just spending money they collect from adults.

And one more suggestion: Use this disaster as an opportunity to talk about preparedness in your own community. While you may be immune from hurricanes, you’re only one tornado, fire, earthquake, chemical spill, or ice storm away from being featured on CNN.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at

Planning for Positive Adventure


When I was growing up, one of my favorite authors was Patrick McManus, whose humor columns in such magazines as Field & Stream (many collected in books like A Fine and Pleasant Misery and They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They?) described childhood misadventures involving camping, hunting, and boating. His stories made clear that you didn’t need to do any planning whatsoever in order to have memorable experiences–as long as you don’t care whether you survive!

Of course, in Scouting we want our adventures to be both memorable and survivable. “Challenge by choice” (the watchword of ropes courses) should never become “challenge by chance.”

That’s why I’m pleased that the BSA has created a comprehensive online tool called The Adventure Plan. Here’s an overview:

The Adventure Plan (TAP) provides a one-stop set of tools to help adult and youth leaders envision, plan, prepare and conduct safe, exciting and successful outdoor Adventures. Your unit Adventure may be as simple as an overnight backpacking trip or bike ride, or maybe it is a week-long or longer activity. This online planning guide is encouraged for all levels of Scouting from Cub Scouts to Venturing. Not all the steps outlined in this guide will apply to your unit’s Adventure. What steps apply will depend on what type of Adventure your unit selects.

The process includes 53 steps, which can seem daunting at first. However, some actions will happen automatically, like choosing an activity (step 4), while others are pretty simple, like reconfirming all reservations (step 45). (That latter step is a good example of something that’s easy to overlook if you don’t follow a rigorous planning process.)

Along the way, you’ll find links to relevant BSA resources. On the page associated with choosing an activity, for example, you’ll find links to Age Appropriate Guidelines for Scouting Activities and the BSA Caving Policy, among other resources.

Outdoor misadventures can make for entertaining reading, as Patrick McManus demonstrated. By following the TAP process, you can ensure that fiction doesn’t become fact in your Scouting unit.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at

Catholic Committee Honors New Eagle Scouts


Like many faith groups, the Roman Catholic Church strongly supports Scouting. In fact, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting is among the strongest organizations of its kind.

Among the many things the committee does is present certificates to new Eagle Scouts. The best way to get started is to contact your diocesan chair or chaplain. If you’re not sure who that person is, the NCCS website has a handy locator feature. Just enter your ZIP code at to find contact information. (I checked several ZIP codes and found email addresses and phone numbers for both chairs and chaplains, as well as contact information for the local diocese.)

For more information on certificates and congratulatory letters–including how to incorporate them into a court of honor–order a copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book. It includes a sample request letter, as well as detailed information about how to present what you receive. You’ll also find lots of information on my blog; just enter “congratulatory letter” in the search box.

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

Video Stores, Streaming Video, and Your Troop


As you may have heard by now, the BSA has begun a discussion about whether and how to serve the whole family–both boys and girls, in other words–at the Cub Scout and Boy Scout levels. Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh began the conversation at May’s National Annual Meeting, and councils across the country have been holding listening sessions this summer to gather input from volunteers.

I missed the meeting in my local council, but I caught the video used in all the meetings online. In it, Surbaugh lays out his rationale for beginning a broader discussion of this important topic.

My point in this post is not to weigh in on this specific topic (although I applaud Surbaugh’s willingness to ask challenging questions and think outside the patrol box). Instead, I want to highlight a key point Surbaugh makes. In the video, he argues that Scouting’s problem is not its programs–which are proven to meet the needs of families–but the way it delivers those programs. What keeps people away, he says, is not content but convenience.

Starting about the 11:30 mark in the video, Surbaugh describes the evolution of options for watching movies at home:

  • First, there were video stores–remember those?–that rented VHS tapes. You had to “be kind and rewind” unless you wanted to pay a penalty.
  • Next came DVDs and Blu-ray discs, which offered higher quality and eliminated the need to rewind.
  • These days, of course, we stream videos on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and a bunch of other services–no trip to Blockbuster required.

Surbaugh imagines that a lot of people a decade or so ago lost money trying to invent even better discs, not realizing the product was good enough for most people.

That same thinking can happen in troops. We don’t necessarily need bigger, louder, more expensive activities to attract and retain members (not that high adventure isn’t important for older Scouts). We do need to think about how we’re delivering the program and how effectively we’re communicating with families.

Take the simple issue of departure and return times for outings.Is it easy for parents in your troop to get to your meeting place at 4 p.m. on a Friday? Would getting back at 12 p.m. on a Sunday work better for families than 2 p.m. or 10 a.m.? Do you announce departure and return times from the moment an outing is announced–and stick with those times as plans develop? And do you text parents from the road to confirm your return time, especially if you’re going to miss your target?

We need to think about questions like those–and more complex ones as well. If not, families are as likely to hit the eject button as the play button.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at

Going to the Mat with Eagle Court of Honor Certificates


Many Eagle Scouts end up with more certificates, letters, and plaques than they know what to do with. There’s the official Eagle Scout certificate, of course, and hopefully a NESA certificate and one of my Eagle Mountain Certificates. And then there are the certificates sent by various public officials and branches of the military, many of which will eventually end up with a scrapbook.

Displaying all these recognition items at the court of honor can be a problem—or an expensive proposition if you decide to frame them all. Of course, you can wave them around during the ceremony, but only people in the front few rows will be able to see what they say.

One of my readers found a simple solution. She bought ready-made mats at Walmart for $3.97 and matted (but didn’t frame) the certificates her son had received. She then set the certificates up on brass plate stands, which she found for $1.00. (Don’t tell that reader, but you can find mats online for $1.00 or less at sites like

This is an impressive and inexpensive way to display certificates, and it lets you later put those certificates in a scrapbook or frame them if you prefer. In fact, you could reuse the mats and stands for future courts of honor.

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


Promoting Youth Protection Through Posters


An important topic the BSA’s Youth Protection training covers is Scouting’s barriers to abuse: no one-one-one contact, appropriate discipline, etc. But there’s an important barrier that isn’t listed, and that’s the requirement that all leaders renew their training every two years.

That policy exists both because the rules change from time to time–10 or 15 years ago, there was no guidance about social media–and because people tend to forget information they don’t use every day. (Recently, for example, I tried without much success to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle for a woodworking project, something I learned way back in high school.)

To keep Youth Protection policies more top of mind, the BSA has created a series of posters that you can display in your meeting place or at training courses. These attractive posters do a good job of highlighting key elements of Youth Protection, and I encourage you to download and use them.

The posters are:

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at

Not My Job–Or Is It?


Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you see something new.

During my tenure as Scoutmaster, the father of our newest Eagle Scout called me a few days before his son’s court of honor. The dad had printed 100 programs for the ceremony—only to discover that that was a task the troop traditionally handled.

The good news is that I’d been waiting until the last minute to produce the programs, so we didn’t end up with duplicates. The bad news is that that father spent several hours trying to lay out the programs in Microsoft Word (I assume) when I could have done the job in 15 minutes with the Adobe InDesign template I normally used.

Interestingly enough, I know I had told the family that the troop would handle the programs. Or at least I think I’d told them. After holding three courts of honor in four months, I might have slipped up.

To be sure we didn’t have a similar miscommunication in the future, I prepared a simple checklist that explained what the troop was responsible for (e.g., room reservations and printed programs), what we expected the family to handle (e.g., invitations and displays), and what should be handled jointly (e.g., developing the ceremony and recruiting presenters). I recommend you do the same. Otherwise, you may get a phone call like I did—or end up with twice as many programs as you need!

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


Advancement and Intentions


For an upcoming Scouting magazine column, I’ve been delving into the various Boy Scout advancement requirements having to do with camping–and specifically what does and doesn’t qualify as camping when it comes to counting nights. One thing I’ve realized is that there’s a bit of a discrepancy between the rank and merit badge requirements.

The Second Class and First Class requirements specify spending the night “in a tent that you pitch or other structure that you help erect, such as a lean-to, snow cave, or tepee,” while Camping merit badge only mentions sleeping “in a tent or under the stars.”

A legalistic leader–and we have plenty of those in Scouting–might get hung up on this discrepancy, saying that sleeping in a lean-to shouldn’t count for Camping merit badge or arguing that there’s no difference between a tent and a tepee. A lenient leader–and we have plenty of those, too–might ignore the details and let Scouts count nights spent in a cabin or church basement toward Camping merit badge.

Both approaches, however, miss the point of the requirements, which is to put Scouts in situations where they must practice the patrol method and Scoutcraft skills like tent-pitching and camp cooking. Sleeping in a church basement makes that less likely; sleeping in a lean-to doesn’t. If I were making the call, I’d probably allow a night spent in a lean-to but definitely wouldn’t allow a night spent in a church basement.

There’s one more point to consider: 20 nights of camping (including up to six nights of long-term camping) is not a lot to ask of a Scout before he reaches Eagle. If you feel the need to make exceptions to the rules, it’s probably a good idea to look at your troop’s camping program. If your Scouts don’t have enough chances to camp, the problem lies with the calendar your patrol leaders’ council has planned, not with the advancement requirements.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at