Steppingstones to a Lifetime of Service


One of the cool things I get to do for Eagles’ Call magazine is write about Eagle projects that have won the Adams Award at the national, region, and council levels. Some of the recipients put far more time, money, and effort into their projects than I can imagine having done when I was 16 years old!

I do worry sometimes, however, whether the pursuit of the Adams Award–and of the Eagle Scout Award itself, for that matter–gives some Scouts the mistaken impression that service projects always have to be big and bold. It’s important to remind them (and ourselves) that it’s also valuable to do small, impromptu acts of service that don’t require troop and district approval, fundraising applications, or extensive final reports. In fact, I’d rather see a Scout embark on a lifetime of informal service rather than do one huge Eagle project and then turn his back on the needs of his community for the rest of his life.

As adult leaders, we can play a vital role in inviting Scouts into a lifetime of service. How? By making service as integral a part of our programs as capture the flag and Dutch oven cobblers. Imagine the lesson you would teach if you made sure every campout included a small-scale service project, perhaps one that you don’t even plan ahead.

Let me give you an example. Recently, my wife and I went hiking in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge (which is, by the way, an awesome destination for hiking, backpacking, and rock-climbing). On one of our hikes, we crossed a stream with dry feet thanks to a series of steppingstones someone had thoughtful placed in the water. But we also crossed a stream where there were no steppingstones and our boots got soaked. Had I had a bunch of Scouts with me, I could have pointed out the difference between the two stream crossings and suggested that we take half an hour to place stones at the second crossing. If I’d been on my game, I probably could have even convinced them that the project was their idea!

Think about your last campout. If it didn’t include a service component, what opportunities did you miss? Looking ahead to your next campout, what could you do to leave the place a little better than you found it–and your Scouts a little wiser for the experience?

Re-congratulate Your Eagle Scouts


I received a Facebook message this week from one of my long-ago Eagle Scouts. Patrick told me that the day before had marked 15 years since he and five fellow Scouts received their Eagle Scout badges (in what was my favorite court of honor to plan and participate in). He was looking for the group photo from that day so he could post it on Facebook, and I was happy to oblige.

Thinking about that brief exchange reminded me that I’m not very good at remembering anniversaries–I remember my own wedding anniversary, of course, but not the dates of other important events. Had you asked me two weeks ago when that six-Scout court of honor had occurred, I couldn’t have told you the date–and I would have had to do some mental math to come up with the year.

But I am good at using Microsoft Outlook. And it occurred to me this week that Outlook like other calendar programs offer Scoutmasters a great way to remember important anniversaries. Wouldn’t it be neat, for example, to put a tickler on your calendar to mark the one-year anniversary of each new Eagle Scout in your troop (or the one-year anniversary of when each Scout turns 18 or goes off to college). Rather than let that day go by unnoticed, that tickler would give you the chance to drop each Scout a note to check in and to remind him of the promises he made when he repeated the Eagle Scout Promise or the Scout Oath.

We never stop being parents to our children–even when they’re old enough to have children of their own. And the best Scoutmasters never stop being Scoutmasters–even when their Scouts grow up and sew on their own Scoutmaster patches.

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

Take a Moment for Safety


In a recent blog post, I introduced the idea of Mental Health First Aid. What I neglected to mention–because I didn’t know it at the time–is that the BSA has developed a Safety Moment on this very topic.

What’s a Safety Moment, you ask? It’s an opportunity to review safety measures that relate to the current activity or to debrief after something goes awry. On the BSA’s Scouting Safely page, you can find links to 30 or so documents that give you the necessary background for conducting your own Safety Moments. Whether you’re planning to shoot bottle rockets, hold a family campout, or hang a hammock from a tree, you’ll find useful information in this collection, as well as links to sources of additional background.

For more on the concept of Safety Moments, check out this video from BSA safety guru Richard Bourlon or read this document.

In discussing the Scout motto, Robert Baden-Powell once said a Scout should be prepared for “any old thing.” The same applies to us as Scouters, and Safety Moments can help.

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

Isaac Newton, Inertia, and Your Troop’s Trajectory


I recently followed an online discussion about why the BSA is turning out more Eagle Scouts these days than ever before. People suggested all sorts of reasons, and of course an old-timer or two argued that the requirements are considerably weaker than in the good old days when they became Eagle Scouts (casually forgetting that many of today’s Eagle projects would put their four-hour projects to shame).

There are probably several valid reasons for the increase in Eagle Scouts, but I think one of the biggest one dates back to 1686, when Isaac Newton presented his three laws of motion. The first of those laws, as you may remember from physics class, says that “every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.”

In Scouting terms, a troop that’s good at producing Eagle Scouts will keep on producing Eagle Scouts because it has the resources, the know-how, and, well, the inertia required to do so, while a troop that’s bad at producing Eagle Scouts will keep on struggling to establish a tradition of achievement.

But I think Newton’s law of inertia applies to more than just advancement. The more high adventure trips you plan, the easier they become to organize. The more times you neglect to hold a monthly outing, the harder it is to hold the next one. The more you use or ignore a method of Scouting, the stronger or weaker that aspect of your program becomes.

Troops tend to plod along or speed along at much the same pace unless an external factor speeds them up or slows them down. That factor could be the departure of a long-time Scoutmaster, the arrival of a dynamic new committee chair, a change in chartered organizations, an influx of new Scouts, or something else entirely. In The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, I argue that every troop has a natural membership level, which is will eventually return to regardless of how many boys in recruits. Now that I think about it, that’s more or less a restatement of Newton’s law of inertia.

Are you happy with your troop’s inertia? If not, what force can you apply to change its momentum?

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

Band-aids for the Brain


As a Scout leader, you are (I hope!) well versed in first-aid principles. If you’ve been around long enough, you’ve undoubtedly treated your share of minor injuries and maybe even called an ambulance or two. (I well remember the hours back in the pre-cellphone days that I spent in a Mobile, Ala., emergency room waiting for a doctor to track down a Scout’s parents to get permission to treat him.)

But what do you do if a Scout or Scouter’s problem is mental, not physical? Do you know how to triage stress, depression, or suicidality? If not, it might be time to learn about mental health first aid (MHFA).

Created in Australia back in 2000, MHFA training has since spread to more than 20 countries and reached 1.7 million people. In Australia, more than 2 percent of all adults have completed the training.

We in America are behind the curve. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH), nearly 100,000 Americans have completed the training, which is offered by more than 2,500 instructors across the country.

Here’s a description of the training from the NCBH website:

Mental Health First Aid is a groundbreaking public education program that introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, builds understanding of their impact, and overviews common treatments. Mental Health First Aid is a live training course, which uses role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to assess a mental health crisis; select interventions and provide initial help; and connect persons to professional, peer and social supports as well as self-help resources.

Of particular interest to us as Scouters is Youth Mental Health First Aid, which is aimed at adults who work with youth ages 12-25. As the NCBH website explains, “The curriculum spans mental health challenges for youth, review of normal adolescent development, and intensive guidance through the ALGEE action plan for both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered in the manual include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders.”

For more information on this important training, visit the NCBH website. On the right side of this page, the Find a Provider dropdown list lets you find a trainer in your state.

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

Gerald Ford Is Dead and Other Important Lessons About Scoutmaster’s Minutes


Growing up in the 1970s, I thought it was very cool that Gerald Ford was our first Eagle Scout president. And as I grew older, I became increasingly impressed with how he conducted himself in office, bringing Scouting values to a place where they’d been largely missing during the scandal-ridden Nixon administration.

But that’s not Gerald Ford’s picture that appears at the top of this post, because Gerald Ford is ancient history to today’s Scouts–and even to their parents. Consider the case of an 11-year-old Scout today who was born when his mom was 29. That puts Mom’s birth year at around 1977–the same year Ford left office.

Yet all too often, we hold up men like Gerald Ford as role models in front of our Scouts. It’s not that they aren’t worthy of attention; it’s just that all around us are former Scouts whose stories are a whole lot fresher and more relevant to today’s Scouts.

I’m writing this post on Patriots Day 2017, four years after the Marathon Bombings shook Boston to the core. Earlier this spring, Eagles’ Call ran my profile of an Eagle Scout and FBI special agent who played a key role in tracking down one of the terrorists. (That’s his picture at the top of this post, by the way.) I encourage you to read the story and share the highlights as part of an upcoming Scoutmaster’s Minute.

But I also encourage you to seek out other fresh, relevant stories to share with your Scouts. The Bryan on Scouting blog does a great job of providing examples. There’s Josh Hart, for example, who has been a key player on the Villanova basketball team. And Evan Roe, who appears on TV’s Madame Secretary. To find more stories, consider subscribing to Eagles’ Call, which you can now do even if you’re not an Eagle Scout.

As for Ford, may he rest in peace–something I trust he’s been doing since he died in 2006, about the time today’s youngest Scouts were being born.

Requiem for a BSA Form


Cynics like to say that Scouting requires more paperwork than the U.S. government. If you’ve recently been completing your income tax return, you know that’s definitely not the case. Still, it is true that we Scouters have our share of forms to fill out. (When I was a district executive in the pre-digital age, I carried around a milk-crate file organizer full of youth and adult applications, advancement reports, tour permit applications, medical forms, and other paperwork and often handed out copies at roundtables.)

Fortunately, one BSA form has recently gone the way of the dinosaurs. Effective April 1, 2017, units no longer have to complete the BSA’s Tour and Activity Plan before heading to the woods (or anywhere else). That doesn’t mean Scouting’s safety rules have changed–the policies in the Guide to Safe Scouting still apply. You just don’t have to fill out a form anymore.

In announcing the policy change, the BSA put together a helpful FAQ, which I encourage you to read. Like all FAQs, this one may seem a little redundant, but it makes some important points.

And some of those points have less to do with tour plans than with persistent misunderstandings about the liability protection the BSA offers us as volunteers. In short, you are covered during official Scouting activities regardless of whether you fill out any paperwork, require your Scouts to wear their field uniforms on the road, or say “Mother, may I?” before you leave the parking lot. (Registered volunteers have primary coverage; non-registered volunteers have secondary coverage.) To learn more, visit the BSA’s insurance coverage page.

Now that you have one less BSA form to fill out, you can turn your full attention to your Form 1040 and all its attached schedules.

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