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Issue 336 – November 21, 2012

Rule No. 99
o The difference between doing it right and doing it almost right is the same as the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. (Thanks, Mark Twain)
Dear Andy,

Our council says that they allow Scouts to ring bells for the Salvation Army. According to my research on this, this is prohibited. But our council folks say I must be looking at an old form, because they actually encourage this. Can you clarify for us? (Name & Council Withheld)

I’m happy to clarify: It’s a big No-No. The BSA 2011 GUIDE TO UNIT MONEY-EARNING PROJECTS ( says: “The BSA Rules and Regulations state, ‘Youth members shall not be permitted to serve as solicitors of money for their chartered organizations, for the local council, or in support of other organizations…’” It doesn’t get more contemporary or clear.
Dear Andy

My question’s about a Scout’s Eagle Service Project. He wants to provide six new picnic tables for his church. Does he have to build them from scratch, or can he use pre-cut kits that only require assembly, sanding, and sealant (the key difference is no saws are needed to cut the angles—everything’s pre-cut). (Name & Council Withheld)

Such projects aren’t about the labor so much as they are about the benefits. Consequently, pre-cut kits that the Scout teaches his helpers how to assemble and then supervises the assembly process should work out very well, and also resolve any safety issues. I’d say he’s looking good. Now, how to get them funded… Does the Scout know that he can legitimately ask the beneficiary—the church, in this instance—to support the funding, with the understanding that he’ll arrange for the pick-up, assembly, and placement?
Dear Andy,

I know what I want to do for my Eagle project. I want to build a gazebo for people to use, at a local county park. I’ve designed the gazebo, I have approval by the county, and I’ve developed a plan for getting the materials I’ll need donated. But now my Eagle advisor wants me to expand my project. He wants me to clear garbage and stuff that’s been piling up in a watershed area next to the park where the gazebo will go. Basically, this is trash collection. This has nothing to do with my idea or what the county parks supervisor agreed to. Do I have to do this? My Eagle advisor is telling me I’ll have a bigger, better project, even though the gazebo will be big enough to hold over twenty people and will take several thousand dollars of materials, plus the labor to build it. (Life Scout’s Name Withheld)

No you don’t. Just because it’s been “suggested” doesn’t mean you must include something like this, especially since it’s, as you say, little more than picking up trash. Picking up trash is certainly not “Eagle-worthy” by itself, so it really adds nothing significant to what you’ve already envisioned. Stick to your guns, but politely. Thank your advisor for his suggestion, and let him know that you’ll be building the gazebo, just as you’ve planned on since you came up with the idea and the county park supervisor approved it.
Hi Andy,

On the subject of “Eagle Mentor,” I’d like to offer some thoughts…

In, our troop we’ve actually come up with requirements for this position. The individual must be a registered, experienced committee member or adult leader who is an Eagle or whose son has achieved Eagle. This person is usually one whose opinion is well-received by Scouts and adults alike, and who receives general approval of the Troop Committee. Our main concern is that the Eagle candidate receives the proper guidance and advice in making his decisions. We’ve had this system in place for many years, and it’s actually been adopted by other troops in our district. We currently have four approved Eagle Advisers. If a Scout wants someone else as their adviser, so long as they meet the above guidelines we usually have no objections. (Jim Kangas)

I like your approach, except for the word, “requirement.” I’m leaning toward “qualities” or “attributes” or something that smacks a little less of hard-and-fast regulations. And since you’ve got me thinking more about this, how about something completely new…

Have you considered that “Eagle Mentor” need not be an adult position at all? Yes, I know we’ve assumed this, but Humpty Dumpty wasn’t actually an egg, either, despite our best assumptions.

How about… a Scout? That’s right: An Eagle Scout in your troop has actually gone through the process first-hand; he’s not one step removed, like any adult would be. The experience is also a lot more current for an Eagle Scout in your troop that it would be for any adult. Plus, it builds the peer-to-peer aspect of Scouting at large. And, it gives your troop’s Eagles something more to do, that capitalizes on their unique experiences. It also fulfills the leadership requirement for Eagle palms!

If your Scouts make Eagle around 15 or 16 years old, just think how many other Scouts they can help directly, as Mentors! And, for those who “age out” but would like to stay involved in the troop, they can do this either as ASMs or as College Reservists!

In short, everybody wins—especially the Scouts moving along the trail to Eagle!
Dear Andy,

Here are two questions about defining “service” that have been troubling me…

Many packs and troops in my district promote specific unit service projects to their youth and families. The unit leaders talk about “showing Scout spirit and doing a Good Turn. Yet, part of their unit’s service project plan is to file for state grant money (in the $300 to $500 range) through their local community government for performing this service. I’ve reviewed both the Scout and the Scoutmaster handbooks as well as the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT. The BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK describes the Scout slogan as doing something for others without expecting anything in return. Are these purported “service projects” actually service that incorporate the ideals of Scouting, or are they unit money-earning opportunities?

The Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project clearly specifies that the project can’t be for the benefit of the BSA. But nothing I can find mentions Second Class, Star, or Life rank service hours with regard to the BSA as beneficiary. Does this mean that service hours for these rank requirements can actually benefit the BSA (e.g., council camp improvement work, staffing a Cub Scout event, or ushering at a council dinner)? (Name & Council Withheld)

For your first question, wouldn’t the answer depend on who’s benefitting from the grant money? Usually, grant funds must be spent to the benefit of the recipient of the service rendered (just like funds raised for Eagle Scout Service Project materiel—any residual funds go to the beneficiary; they don’t stay with the Scout or the troop). So, the short answer is this: So long as the money sought isn’t used to line the unit’s pockets, it’s still service. But let’s go further. Sometimes, a unit can involve its members in a town service project (an annual “Clean-Up Day,” for instance) for which all volunteers from a group “earn” a stipend for their group from some governmental agency. Here, everyone benefits: The town gets cleaned up and the unit raises some money for itself—to be spent on the Scouts who earned it, obviously.

The answer to your second question’s much shorter, and keys off the bottom part of the paragraph above: Only the Eagle project specifically states “not for BSA.”
Hi Andy,

Can a Scoutmaster refuse to allow a Scout to do a merit badge because he, the Scoutmaster, doesn’t think the Scout is capable, old enough, a high enough rank, or some other reason? My understanding is that the Scoutmaster’s signature on the “blue card” confirms that he approves of the Merit Badge Counselor and that the Scout is registered. So can a Scoutmaster deny a Scout the opportunity to start a merit badge? I’d think the Counselor would be the one to say to the Scout that he’s either too young, or not mentally or physically ready, since it’s the Counselor who’s the expert in the field. (Jerry Kazanjian)

You’re spot-on! No Scoutmaster has the right or authority to deny any Scout from starting any merit badge, at any time. This is clearly stated on page 2 of BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS-2012 (and prior editions as well).

“Approval” and the statement on the application—”…is qualified to begin working for this merit badge”—simply mean that (a) the boy is indeed a Boy Scout and (b) is duly registered and dues-paid as such. That’s it.

No “reinterpretation” of this is permitted, by anyone. Any Scoutmaster attempting to do this is in the wrong avocation. (Warden at a penal institution might be more to his or her liking.)
Dear Andy,

When is a scout allowed to work on getting his Totin’ Chip? Do any rank requirements also satisfy Totin’ Chip requirements? Is the Totin’ Chip ever necessary to achieve any rank? Are Totin’ Chip requirements satisfied in the Dan Beard program? (Name & Council Withheld)

The Totin’ Chip can be earned as soon as the boy becomes a Boy Scout, or any time thereafter, up to his 18th birthday. Second Class req. 3c. leads the way; the Totin’ Chip includes a bit more. The Totin’ Chip is neither an “advancement” nor “requirement”—it’s essentially a “license.” As for satisfying requirements in a Dan Beard program, that depends on how your council handles this program.
Dear Andy,

Is it common practice to allow Boy Scouts to sleep in their parent’s tent? In an effort to promote independence in our Scouts, it’s a troop policy not to allow this to happen. But we have one parent who insists that it is none of our business and he’ll do whatever he thinks is best for his son. At our last campout his son showed up to camp after Taps, and his father decided that his son should sleep in his tent because otherwise the boy would have to set up his tent in the dark. But instead of doing either of these, the boy went over to where the other Scouts were sleeping and caused a ruckus that woke them up!

When I tried to stop this, the father became belligerent and confrontational, telling me that I’m “just the Committee Chair” and to “mind my own business”! The Scoutmaster, on seeing this, sided with the father. Since this father was much bigger than me, I actually feared for my own safety.

This same father did the same thing at camp this past summer. He had his son sleep with him in the leaders’ tent where there was also another male, so we had one Scout in a tent with two men, one of whom was completely unrelated to the boy. On attempting to discuss this with the father, the same “mind your own business and “I’ll do what I think is best” prevailed. What do we do with this situation? (Name & Council Withheld)

First, if you were truly in apprehension of being physically harmed by this man, you needed to contact the police and report this as an incident. Or at least talk to a qualified attorney about being potentially subjected to physical abuse. If, however, this is an ungrounded fear, not based on actual threatening behavior, then it’s not part of our discussion here.

How old is this son, that he was able to arrive at camp late at night? Why did the various adults permit him to disturb the sleeping Scouts? What is it that’s allowing this parent to speak and behave in the manner you describe? Why is the Scoutmaster walking small around him? Does the Scoutmaster not know that he reports to the Committee Chair—which is you?

In short, there are way too many unanswered questions here. But let’s see if we can tackle this, anyway…

Yes, the BSA permits a youth member to sleep in the same tent as his parent or legal guardian. However, it is not intended that this be common practice, especially when we’re talking about an apparent teenager. So establish a rule for the troop: Scouts tent with scouts; adults tent alone or with another adult. As CC, you can insist on this; however, it’s always better to get the Scoutmaster on the same page as you before proceeding– the two of you are supposed to be a team (although you still have ultimate say-so).

You, together with the Scoutmaster, can also confront this parent directly. Simply tell him: No more bunking with your son, in this troop. That’s not how we operate. If you want to do “family camping” with your son, go do it—but not on troop campouts. If he balks at this (which he will) and threatens to pull his son out of the troop (which is the usual threat bully parents make in situations like this), simply say: Your son’s resignation from the troop is accepted.

If the Scoutmaster doesn’t side with you on this issue (or any others, for that matter), fire him.
Dear Andy,

I’m a trained Assistant Scoutmaster and have attended the University of Boy Scouts for a few years. During my last trip, I took a class on the merit badge process. I asked the instructor if a unit leader can sign off on a merit badge, and he said this is OK so long as it’s in a class environment (i.e., two or more scouts). In addition, the BSA national regulations (GTA Section 7.0) clearly state that a Leader can sign off on their own son’s merit badge. I started teaching the Family Life merit badge with three Scouts, one of which is my son. But the Committee Chair and Scoutmaster told him that this wasn’t acceptable, and asked me to remove him from my class. The Committee Chair asked our district people, and they said that she was right, that it was a district policy. But I can’t find anything on our council website that addresses this issue.

So I have two questions. First, can a district overrule National BSA regulations? Second, what action can I take to resolve this situation? (Name & Council Withheld)

To counsel on any merit badge, the adult must be registered as a Merit Badge Counselor and must be approved by the council advancement committee as qualified for the merit badge’s subject matter. There are no exceptions to this national standard. Being a registered volunteer in any other position—including ASM—doesn’t authorize anyone to counsel a merit badge; you must be a registered MBC. (To confirm that this isn’t my “opinion,” read in the current GTA.)

As for Family Life merit badge, while it’s acceptable by the BSA for you to counsel your own son on a merit badge, good judgment says: Not for this particular merit badge. Reason: There are discussion points in earning this that involve a youth talking about his relationship with his other family members, and your son may feel restricted in openly discussing this if his own father is the counselor.

So, the way to resolve these issues is (1) register as a Merit Badge Counselor and (2) find another Family Life MBC for your son.
Dear Andy,

Our troop’s Patrol Leaders Council meetings are run by the Senior Patrol Leader, with minimal input from any adults. I’m noticing that these Scouts—including the SPL—just don’t know how to run a meeting. They don’t use an agenda. They don’t take minutes. There’s no structure to discussions. And, of course, everybody complains that the meetings take too long. Is there some place in youth leadership training where the Scouts are supposed to learn how to run a meeting? Back when I was a Scout, I remember learning about organizing and running meetings in Troop Leadership Development (TLD). Is this taught in NYLT? Any suggestions? Or am I expecting too much here? (John Pinchot, MC, Longhorn Council, TX)

No, you’re not expecting too much; you’re just expecting it of the wrong person! It’s the Scoutmaster’s single-most important responsibility to train, counsel, coach, and guide the youth leaders of the troop to run their own troop. The Scoutmaster should be coaching the Senior Patrol Leader on precisely the points you raise, plus a bunch more to boot! But no one else does this! Not an ASM, not a committee member, no one. This is the Scoutmaster’s primary job, and he may need some coaching, himself, on what he’s supposed to be doing, and how to do it. Resist the temptation to step in and do this for him. If he can’t or won’t step up on this one, the Scouts need a new Scoutmaster; not a “surrogate”!

BTW, the only adult who should be in the room where the PLC is held is the Scoutmaster. That’s right: No ASMs, no committee folks, nobody! BUT, the Scoutmaster doesn’t run the PLC meetings—he coaches the SPL on doing this.

As a committee member, the best thing you can do is recommend that the treasurer spring for a SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, a SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK, and a PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK for every Patrol Leader in the troop… and then the Committee Chair should insist that these be read and put to use.

Happy Scouting and Happy Thanksgiving!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 336 – 11/21/2012 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2012]


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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