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Issue 26 – February 2004

Here’s another request that I’m delighted to honor…

Dear Andy,

I’m seeking permission to use excerpts from your column as part of my training course. I’ll be teaching “US 203–Just for ADC’s” at our University of Scouting, and I’d like to use some of the questions-and-answers in your column as discussion points. (Theodore Kakowski, CS Roundtable Commissioner, Hou Koda District, Cross-roads of America Council, Indianapolis, IN)

Yes, you absolutely have my permission, with only this one condition: That you identify me as the source and include my email address. In fact, to help out a little further, I’m sending you my two most recent columns—January and Mid-January 2004. This way, you can “lift” my caricature (Yes, that’s me—not just some random “clip art”) easily and also have the most current Qs&As.

Dear Andy,

It’s my understanding that the Webelos ceremony of crossing a bridge is for those Webelos who intend to go on to Boy Scouts. As a matter of fact, I can’t find a bridge ceremony that doesn’t have a Scoutmaster at the end of the bridge, welcoming the Webelos to Boy Scouts. At our Pack’s Blue & Gold Banquet, I planned to have a graduation event for the Webelos and a bridge ceremony for the ones going on to Boy Scouts. Some parents feel all boys should cross the bridge. I asked our District and Council people for help, and they say they’ve had this problem before and usually leave it up to the Cubmaster to handle, but would back a decision to just allow those to cross who would be going into Boy Scouts. One of the parents of our current Webelos Scouts is our Pack’s chairperson, and she said it’s wrong for me to not allow all boys to cross and this bridge is a “bridge of knowledge” and since they got the knowledge they should cross. Got any help for me? Any advice SOON would be of help! (Tom Lake, Cubmaster, Pack 325)

The “bridge” or “bridging” or “bridge-crossing” ceremony is a ceremony signifying a Webelos Scout’s transition to Boy Scouting. And that’s right out of the Scoutmaster’s Handbook. It’s more accurately called “The Webelos Crossover Ceremony.” If a parent wishes to have his or her son “cross the bridge,” it’s simple to accomplish this. All their son needs do is declare what Boy Scout Troop he’s joining! When he does this, he’s instantly included himself in this ceremony. If he doesn’t declare a Troop that he’s joining, then participating in the “bridge-crossing ceremony” is pretty darned pointless because, for this boy, it’s a “bridge to nowhere.”

In this crossover ceremony—which is not the equivalent of, or replacement for, the Arrow of Light ceremony—the Webelos Scouts who have declared their Boy Scout Troops “cross over” and meet their respective Scoutmasters on the other side. (Yup, if they pick different Troops, which is perfectly OK, you’re gonna have a couple of Scoutmasters on the other side.) And that’s why you can’t find a ceremony that doesn’t have a Scoutmaster in it!

“Bridge of knowledge”? Nonsense! That’s a “made up” notion–made up, I’m gonna guess, by a parent who doesn’t want her son “excluded,” when what she oughta be doing is encouraging her son to join Boy Scouting and pick a Troop! Hasn’t she figured out yet that one of the main reasons there’s Cub Scouting in the first place is to prepare her son and his friends for Boy Scouting? Cub Scouts is NOT an island—it’s an ISTHMUS!

You absolutely would be doing something wrong if you did allow this or any other Webelos Scout in the Pack to “cross over” into nowhere! Period.

So, show this to ALL your Pack’s parents, and while you’re at it, you might remind ‘em that “WEBELOS” means “WE‘ll BE LOyal Scouts”! Duh!

Dear Andy,

Our Council just hired a new District Executive. Actually, she was hired from the “volunteer” side. Good gal. Former Cub Scout leader with a fair bit of training under her belt. But her uniform! Good gosh, it’s like RANDOM PATCH PLACEMENT! Stuff above the right pocket that shouldn’t be there! Stuff elsewhere that sends the message: “Either I’ve never seen an emblem placement guide for leaders, or I don’t care!” If she were still a volunteer, that’s one thing. But she’s not—she represents the Council and the District. How do we get her straightened out without totally offending her? (UC, Patriots Path Council, NJ)

Well, this WAS a job for the Scout Executive who hired her. It’s also the job of her professional colleagues to help her “shape up.” But if the SE hasn’t done the job, and the other professionals haven’t helped her out, then it looks like the District Chair and District Commissioner are stuck with the job, since they’re co-members of the “Key Three” who’ll want to send a unified message to the volunteers in the District. No, it’s not a “lethal” issue and there are lots more important issues, but the DE position is pretty “high visibility,” and this means you’ll want to try to fix it before other folks take away the wrong message. If your new DE’s coming from the right place, instead of being “offended,” she’ll express gratitude if you handle it quietly and one-on-one (“Praise in public; correct in private”).

Dear Andy,

I’m a former Scoutmaster and I’ve just become Advisor to a new Venturing Crew in our District. The Crew’s discussing whether or not to have uniforms (they’re focusing on “high adventure” and back-packing”) and leaning toward matching tee-shirts and “camo” pants. Our District Executive (we don’t have a Commissioner yet) isn’t very enthusiastic about the pants, but hasn’t come out and said why. What’s the deal here? (D.G., Minneapolis, MN)

It’s really pretty simple. “Camo’s” (camouflage-pattern clothing) are worn “for real” by only two types of people: those in the military, and hunters. While these are certainly honorable pursuits, they do ultimately involve killing. The BSA has throughout its existence not authorized activities that involve killing. Now, just to be clear, although most killing is done with firearms and some with bow-and-arrow, the BSA has no quarrel with either of these “delivery systems,” per se, and in fact encourages youth to develop understanding of both safe handling and accurate use of them both, through the Merit Badge program. However, in Scouting, both use targets of paper or cloth and only with circles (that is, no animal or other “silhouettes”). So, because of the general acceptance of the implication of camouflage clothing (to say nothing of the reason it was created in the first place!), such is discouraged because its ultimate purpose is in conflict with not only the policies but the essential philosophy of the Scouting movement. In short, it sends the wrong message, both to the wearer and to the observer.

That said, let’s go for a solution here. Have your young people in the Crew gather an assortment of backpackers catalogues—Early Winters, Patagonia, EMS, even L.L.Bean—and have them select matching pants from any one of these. They’ll quickly discover that camo’s are nowhere to be found!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Unit Commissioner in charge of a Pack that’s currently having problems. The problem lies within a Wolf Den Leader and his need for Pack control. Over the course of several months, he’s stuck his nose in all aspects of the Pack’s business and created problems within the Pack. Three-quarters of the Pack want to get rid of him and have asked for my help. He, in turn, has taken things over my head and to the ADC, DC and the DE and has manipulated each of them against me. Over the last two days I’ve spent 16 hours on the phone, with just about every parent in the Pack calling me with their concerns. My ADC, DC and the DE have decided not to collaborate with me about the Pack’s issues. This Den Leader in turn has gained their trust and has them snowed—they’re not listening to anyone else’s side regarding the issues within the Pack. They don’t return my phone calls, yet the Pack is looking to me for guidance. I was told that the other parents of the Pack do not need to know about this problem going on—Is this so? My own feeling is that the parents “own” the Pack and they should be made aware of the problems at hand. Thank you for your help in this matter. (D.T., UC, Michigan)

You haven’t told me the actual nature of the problem, or what the subject matter is. But let’s see if I can share some insights that might help you, and help this Pack…

Let’s start with the Unit Commissioner’s role. Your responsibilities are in the areas of being a good listener, offering questions that help people think through their own problems and ultimately solve them, and to generally provide support and counsel to people in the units you’re responsible for. Now, let’s touch briefly on what your job is NOT. It is not to be the problem-solver, or rescuer, or smoother of all ruffled feathers. In other words, your place, relative to the unit, is always “outside” it and never “inside” it. Nor is it your job to take the unit’s burdens on your own shoulders, or to make their problems your own. You, as Unit Commissioner, are a facilitator, mediator and moderator; never the actual doer. The doing is done within the unit itself, with its own resources. Your tools are questions, such as, “Have your tried (fill in the blank)?” or, “Have you considered (fill in the blank)?” To draw an analogy, if this Pack were a wagonload of people stuck in mud, and you rode up on your horse, you’d ask, from your saddle, “Have you tried removing all your gear from the wagon, to make it lighter? or, “Have you considered just one of you leading the horses from the front while the rest of you push from the back?” Notice how you never got off your horse, and neither your horse nor you got in the mud yourselves? That’s what a Unit Commissioner does, and that’s what makes this a difficult job, because people who like to help (such as you and me!) have this tendency to help by doing rather than to help by guiding.

Coming back to the Pack, they have to solve their own problem. If this Den Leader has “presented a case” to other Commissioners and/or the District’s Executive, then it’s up to others in the Pack (not you!) to set these folks straight. If this Den Leader is a problem and others in the Pack want to replace him with someone else, then their job (with your guidance, but only guidance) is to find and recruit a replacement, and then find the least volatile way to make the change. You can suggest a meeting of the Pack’s parents (which, by the way, sounds like a good idea to me), but it’s up to them to call and hold the meeting; not you. Yes, you can attend, but you’re neither judge nor jury nor even an advocate of one “side” or the other, and your role will be one of helping them discover for themselves a path that will lead them to success. You, yourself, need to extricate yourself from being in the center of a controversy that’s not yours. You can do this best not by walking away from the situation—that’s not what Commissioners do—but by making it very clear that the people in this Pack need to discover and agree on a way out of their own morass. Trust me on this—this is the ONLY way to ultimately see the problem resolved and any alternate way that involves your doing more than asking directive questions or providing insights will surely result in damaging your own Scouting “career” for long after the people in this Pack have moved on! Do NOT try to “turn around” the ADC, DC, DE or anyone else. Simply return the problem to where it belongs (and should be contained): The Pack itself.

As a Commissioner, you ALWAYS represent your District and Council, and you NEVER, EVER represent a particular point-of-view on either side of a controversy within a unit. Your aim is that the unit provide the best possible Scouting program to the youth in the unit. To achieve this aim, your role is diplomatic and ambassadorial; never acting like the member of a S.W.A.T. team, never being the “Council Cop,” and absolutely never the unit’s “hatchet man.” Like Muhammad Ali, you always “float like a butterfly” but, unlike him, you never “sting like a bee.”

D.T. writes again…

Dear Andy,

Here’s the outcome: My DE got out of the situation. Instead, the ADC decided she was going to run the Pack’s parents meeting. I had already called all parents, Den Leaders, Pack Committee members and the Chair to this meeting. I was not planning on having anyone speak—I was simply going to read all job descriptions and ask if they could comply. Then, if No, I’d make notes and just work with those individuals at another time. But the ADC put it this way: “The last man standing wins the Pack.” Meanwhile, somebody re-called parents and told them they didn’t have to be there! The ADC let everyone have a chance to have the floor, with no interruptions. This was fine until the two problem adults decided to interrupt, and she let them! The one parent thought this was getting silly, and left. So the ADC turned to me and said, “See! Now you’ve lost a parent!” I replied that I didn’t “lose” a parent because it wasn’t my meeting. But the “he said—she said” routine went on all the rest of the meeting. By the end of the meeting, three Committee members ha quit, along with the Chair, and most parents planned to not bring their sons back. The Pack has pretty much dissolved—they went from fifteen boys to four, in one night. Now, my District Commissioner is calling me, telling me that the two problem adults needed to be removed! I told him that most of the “former” Pack parents felt that the way the ADC handled the meeting was wrong, and it’s now too late to go back and fix it again. Had my DC met with me, or just returned my phone calls, prior to this meeting, we could have kept a strong and very active pack. I am very disappointed in the decisions made by the ADC, DC, and DE throughout this whole ordeal. I don’t know if I’ll remain with a District that doesn’t back my decisions and let me handle the issues I was chosen to do in the first place. (D.T. UC, Michigan)

Sounds like your District (not YOU) has a “problem ADC.” Luckily for you, this is not your problem—it’s your DC’s problem. Sounds like there’s an ADC who doesn’t understand that her job is administration and not actual “front-line” stuff. But that’s for the DC to deal with. For you, leave the problem where it ought to be. But here’s a question: Despite this obvious disaster, can you (and do you want to!) still do your job as a Unit Commissioner, with the other units under your wing? If the answer’s Yes, then keep on keepin’ on. If not, then you might want to look around and see if there’s another Scouting job you can do that would be fun and where you can be productive and successful. You might want to talk with your DE about this, or perhaps your District’s Chairman. When you do, don’t “re-live” the past, just talk about what the District’s other needs are, and see if there might be a good “fit.” Here’s the bottom line: If it ain’t fun, it ain’t worth doin’! Fun and a sense of accomplishment are the only “paychecks” we get as volunteers, so make sure your paycheck matches your efforts!

Greetings Andy,

I’ve been approached by our District Executive to put together a plan for a Day Camp or a weekend Camporee for Scouts with disabilities. I have about 15 years experience both as a foster parent to kids with disabilities and also in direct-care support (I’m a Certified Nursing Assistant who works with Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Parkinson’s patients), and my wife has similar experience. Scouting for individuals who are developmentally and physically challenged is an area that our Council is really lacking in—especially in providing camping experiences for them. We have six Scouts in our Troop who have disabilities, and, in 2000, I was Scoutmaster for a Troop with 17 Scouts with disabilities. ANY help you can give me in the areas of planning, implementing, staffing, etc. would greatly be appreciated! (Dave Robinson, Unit Commissioner, Willamette District, Cascade Pacific Council)


A big tip of the Commissioner’s Cap to your and your wife’s efforts in this special and much needed area! The BSA has five publications that your DE can secure for you: “A Scoutmaster’s Guide To Working With Scouts With Disabilities,” “Scouting For Youth With Learning Disabilities,” “Scouting For Youth With Mental Retardation,” “Scouting For The Hearing Impaired,” and “Scouting For Youth With Physical Disabilities.” I’d certainly start with those, and then reach out a little further. Your DE or SE may be able to connect you with someone at the BSA National Office in Irving, TX, who can shed some more light on what to do and how to make it happen. Meanwhile, if you do proceed, and want to share your experience with others, send me a follow-up and I’ll happily publish it for you.

Dear Andy,

I’m writing to let you know that I truly appreciate your efforts to share the knowledge and wisdom that Commissioners need to fulfill their role. As a Unit Commissioner for about 15 months now, your columns have been an immense help. My District Commissioner and DE have recently asked me to change my commissioner duties from three traditional Boy Scout Troops to the six or so Venturing Crews on the northern end of our District. Do you have any information that might be useful? Specifically, how do I go about my role differently in Venturing. I do have some time in the Venturing program (attended a VLSC and have been an Associate Advisor to my hometown’s Crew for a year and a half now) but this position of “Crew Commissioner” is probably pretty new. Thanks for any help! (Kortney Jendro, UC, ASM, Associate Crew Advisor, Associate OA Chapter Advisor, Viking Council, Monticello, MN)

You’ve earned a tip of the ol’ Commissioner’s Cap for signing on as a Commissioner, sticking with it, and now stretching yourself in a new direction—“DISTRICT VENTURING COMMISSIONER”! You already have the knowledge and skills you’ll need to do your job–it’s essentially the same job, in a new “neighborhood.” If you want, you can track down a BSA publication titled something like “Service Team Support for Explorer Posts”—this might add a couple of arrows to your Commissioner’s quiver. But, beyond that, your job as mentor, counselor, resource, and guide remains essentially the same. Communication is the key—visiting Crew meetings (always with a “gift” in hand), visiting with committees or at parents meetings, making calls, corresponding via email, and generally letting folks know you’re there for them. As you see needs or problems arising, you’ll use the same tools to help folks solve them for themselves—facilitating, mediating, guiding, and moderating. To help these folks provide the best of Scouting that they’re able, you’ll be a resource for information and a bridge-builder who brings Crews with similar interests and similar needs together. Don’t be shy, or feel you’re “under-qualified” in any way—Just GO FOR IT. And, most important, HAVE FUN! And always remember this: You wouldn’t have been asked to do this if people didn’t already believe in you and your abilities!

Dear Andy,

Our Troop has a real problem. It’s with another Troop in town. We’re a small Troop and although we go camping during the school year and to our Council’s summer camp, we just can’t seem to compete with this other Troop when it comes to getting new Webelos. They don’t have a “feeder Pack” and we don’t either. But, when they invite Webelos Dens, they talk about their size (they have about 50 or so Scouts) and their Troop advancement program (they teach lots of Merit Badges in their Troop meetings and produce two to four Eagles every year) and their Troop-owned island where they go camping every summer. We only have about a dozen Scouts, and we don’t stress advancement in our meetings, and we don’t have the luxury of our own island (or the “romance” of it, either), and so where we might get one or two new Webelos, if we’re real lucky, they get a dozen or more, and at least half of them stay on to age 18. Several of our parents think we should just give up and merge our Troop with this other one instead of fighting an uphill battle all year long. Others, like me, aren’t sure. If you have any thoughts, we’d be grateful. (E.D., SM, New Jersey)

Size doesn’t matter, despite what you might see advertised, but I’m not so sure I like the idea of a “Troop advancement program,” when that means using Troop meeting time for Merit Badge “classes.” And, as far as an island’s concerned, that’s really no big deal, when you come right down to it. So, without attaching direct “negatives” to this other Troop, if I were in your shoes, here’s how I’d “pitch” new Webelos and parents to join my Troop…

First, since there’s no “feeder Pack” (but even if there were), I’d consider every Webelos Den in every Pack in town, plus towns immediately bordering mine, “fair game.” I’d go after every one of them. Not boy-by-boy. Den-by-Den. And not all at once. One Den at a time.

Invite one Den to a Troop meeting. Then, have a program that’s absolutely Scout-run and fun, with lots of games and competitions, and some Scout-craft learning that’s not in the Webelos Book. And, before the night’s over, I’d assign one Scout to each Webelos, as a “Buddy.” The Scout who’s the Buddy is responsible to maintain telephone contact with the Webelos, from the next day till the “Bridging” ceremony at the Pack.

Now, when the invite goes out, make it absolutely understood that this is a son-and-parent invitation; no “drop-offs” permitted! Then, while the Troop meeting’s going on, YOU talk to the parents. And here are the three points I’d make:

  • “This is a small Troop, which means that, as Scoutmaster, I will know your son personally, and I’ll personally keep an eye on his progress, how he gets along with the other Troop members, and where he might need some help ‘growing up’.
  • “We make advancement in ranks a natural outcome of our Troop’s activities at meetings and on camping trips. We absolutely don’t run a “Scout School” in this Troop, because your son has enough school to attend elsewhere, and the last thing he wants or needs is yet another classroom. So, we learn by playing competitive and cooperative games, and by going outdoors where we learn naturally as we hike and camp. And I, as Scoutmaster, have regular conferences with every Scout in the Troop, so I can be there when your son might get stuck for a while, and guide him through the ‘hiccups of life as a growing young man’.
  • “When we go camping in the summer, we definitely go to Boy Scout Camp. This is a safe place, run by professionals, where your son can not only experience the life outdoors on an extended basis, but where he’ll grow to know other Scouts from other Troops in this council and beyond, because Scouting is all about expanding one’s life and not about isolation. To paraphrase the famous English philosopher, John Donne, ‘No Scout is an island,’ and we encourage all of our Scouts to see to the farthest horizon.
  • “The unique advantage to a Troop of our size is that, as Scoutmaster, I don’t see just a sea of tan shirts—I see each individual boy, including your son.”

Be sure your Troop meeting includes a competitive Scoutcraft game that has prizes—like a string-burning contest with a sack of candy as the prize. Be sure your own Scouts are fully uniformed (they’ll set the example) and know how to do an opening ceremony pretty well. Be sure to have “Patrol Corners” that the Webelos can “visit” and if you don’t have Patrol flags GET THEM.

After the Troop meeting, assign one Troop parent to remain in contact with the Webelos Den Leader, so this person can be encouraged with the idea that “there’s a place for you, too, in our Troop.”

Give your Webelos visitors something to remember you by. Maybe it’s your red-and-white Troop number (Yes, get a single Troop numeral emblem embroidered, and don’t use those single-digit thingies) can be a memento—Incorporate this into your “Scoutmaster’s Minute” at the close of the meeting, and have your own Scouts present the numeral emblems to the Webelos, instead of you or someone else handing ‘em out from a paper bag!

In short, what you’ve done is run a “model Troop meeting,” made it a fun learning experience, made it memorable, and given both the boys and their parents good, solid reasons to join. Do what I’ve described here, omitting nothing, and I guarantee you’ll see a BIG difference in recruiting this year!

Happy Scouting!

Andy

Got a question? Send it to me atAskAndyBSA@yahoo.com-be sure to let me know your Scouting position, town, state, and council!

(February 2004 – Copyright © 2004 Andy McCommish)

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About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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