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Issue 396 – May 6, 2014

Here’s something different… a bona fide SUCCESS STORY!

If you’re a regular reader, you already know that I advocate having the Scouts themselves decide what patrols they want to be in (meaning: which friends in the troop they want to hang with). Here’s a letter from Scoutmaster Jeff Freeman on what happens when you’re willing to take a leap of faith and do it!

Hi Andy,

Well, a couple of months ago we did indeed make the jump! We broke down the big patrols and let the Scouts reform themselves into smaller patrols, mostly six to eight Scouts per patrol. Only one wound up with five Scouts but guess what—on their own they’re recruited a couple of their friends to join up as brand-new Scouts! I did have to step in briefly, to work out a couple of personality conflicts when two groups of three were stuck together, but we ended up with patrols that will succeed and work together. (There’s always the one or two sort of problematic Scouts, but it wouldn’t matter what patrol the ended up in, they’d be difficult. But I think they’re going to come around better in groups with their friends, rather than being assigned to a patrol, as was our method in the past.)

Let me tell you, when I announced the plan—that they could reorganize as they saw fit, with no interference by any adults—I saw a lot of worried looks on their parents’ faces. But the Scouts’ faces lit up! “You mean we can really all be in a patrol together?!” was heard from the groups of friends that always hang out together. But, left to themselves, they got the mix right!

Most of the older Scouts gravitated together, as you might expect. Their attendance has been a bit sporadic, but that’s mostly because of other commitments in their high school lives. When they show up, there’s no question but that they’ve bonded! And the patrols of pre-high school Scouts are showing up in force—better than they ever did before!

Now, my job is to keep ‘em rolling and let them take on as much leadership as they can handle (maybe even more, with me there to help them when things falter a little).

Thanks for your help on this one. We’ve got a brand-new troop of happy Scouts and patrols that—for the first time—haven’t been cobbled together by non-Scouts.

Don’tcha just love it when a plan comes together! Yup, Scoutmaster Jeff got the reactions I predicted: (needlessly) worried parents and Scouts that really dug it! Good for him, for sticking to his guns—and living to tell the tale!
Hi Andy,

A couple of weeks ago you answered a question about what seemed like an over-abundance of uniforms needed for a Scouting event. From a “requirements” standpoint, I believe your response to “Scout Mom” regarding uniforms for her son’s Jamboree is correct. One mark of a good scout is his wearing of a proper uniform. But I do think that Scouting varies from most sports teams and bands, in that Scouting requires purchase of a uniform while the others usually require only cleaning (the uniforms are given to the participants by the school or league).

The dilemma she’s faced with reveals what I feel is a growing problem in Scouting: The apparent disregard for family finances when it comes to dictating uniform requirements for this type of event. The fee to attend the event itself often stretches the budget of many Scout families. In addition, if the family in question has a father and son in the program, the financial impact is multiplied exponentially. Add to that the cost of two or three more uniforms per participant and it can make the trip unaffordable.

I have a firm belief that Scouting shouldn’t be expensive. Our troop is home to several Scouts from single parent and foster parent families. Budgets are especially tight in these households. We have done what we can to give and loan uniforms so that each Scout can be uniformed. Providing two or three additional sets would be extremely difficult. We receive a small annual donation from our chartered organization that we use for summer camp assistance. I feel this is far more important than what color pants a Scout wears on Wednesday at summer camp.

All of that said, I’d like to know your thoughts regarding these additional uniform requirements. I’d also like any suggestions you may have on facilitating these requests, or better yet, reining in the demands made by the hosts of these events. (Allen Baker, ASM & Scout Dad, Stonewall Jackson Area Council, VA)

You raise good points. I think we might add one more consideration to them: Scouting is a volunteer program and the particular event the Scout in question was going to—a Jamboree—wasn’t essential to his Scouting experience. Same with a father-son (or mother-son) combo in the movement: We know what the expenses are (or we should be finding these out, don’t you think!) before we start, so there’s little excuse for crying poor later on.

As a former inner city Scout who got himself a job so he could buy and wear a full uniform, I believe in resourcefulness when it comes to uniforms. I also remember guys in the troop who had even less money than me and my own family, and we found “experienced” uniforms for some of them and did troop fund-raisers for the rest. Today, I have trouble with boys walking around with iPads and iPhones or Droids, wearing Air Jordan’s and J Crew sweaters, while their parents moan about the cost of uniforms. What this really tells me is that they just don’t get it when it comes to the value of the Scouting life for their own sons.

(About sports and bands and such, I do remember playing Varsity tennis in high school. We were each given one crummy tee-shirt; the rest was up to us: White shorts, socks, jock strap, tennis sneakers, and racquets too. All of that was on us. If we didn’t show up with these, we didn’t get on the practice courts and we didn’t get to play matches. End of story.)

Coming back to your letter… Is summer camp “more important” than uniforms? Excuse me, but who says that’s a true “either-or” scenario.

Thanks for the quick response, Andy. I like the point you make about fund-raising for uniforms. Traditionally, our troop has focused on fund-raising for camp costs and not much else. Maybe we should adjust our approach a little bit there.

Now, returning to the letter from “Scout Mom,” whether the event is essential or not, how can an organization that has thriftiness as part of its Law endorse an event that requires an inordinate amount of clothing purchased specifically for and as a prerequisite to that event? I don’t get it.

Our troop had only three Scouts financially able to attend last year’s National Jamboree. They were the sons of a physician, a lawyer, and a software developer. Unfair? No. Unfortunate? Yes.

I’m now stepping down from my soap box. Perhaps we’ll just have to agree to disagree on the event issue. Thanks for your response and all of the quality advice you offer. Your insight has benefitted our troop greatly over the years. (Allen)

The answer’s simple… The Scouts who participate in this event will be expected to be in uniform for an extended number of days, right? To do that, multiple uniforms are required, right? This scenario is the same not only for Jamborees, but for NYLT week-long training courses, NAYLE, summer camp weeks, etc. This also holds true for adults attending similar events, week-long Wood Badge courses, National Camping School, etc. We’re indeed a uniformed movement and we all need to respect that.

That affirmed, and accounting for the very valid “thrifty” concept, there’s nothing to prevent a BSA member from borrowing uniforms from friends who won’t be participating in the same event, to use for a week and then return after proper cleaning. If we do this, then you and I remain in agreement…particularly in an extra point of the Scout Law: “A Scout is Resourceful.”
Dear Andy,

As a Commissioner, I visit several units a month, and over the past six months a large number of unit leaders have been asking my advice on how to get their Scouts to be more pro-active in their own responsibilities. Since I have a great platform in which to address this issue, I have for the last three or four Roundtables covered uniforms, and uniform inspections, utilizing Denners and Assistant Denners, promoting Den Chiefs, positive rewards, and setting the example themselves by wearing their full uniforms, being prepared (for the meeting), and showing up on time. But I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. To date, some of the units have implemented the Denner program (good job!) and the parents tell me that they see positive results in their sons. But I still see leadership in half-uniforms: A Scouts shirt but then blue jeans, or other “civvie” pants. I understand that work sometimes runs late and have suggested that they pack their uniforms in their cars in the morning so they can change into them before the Scout meetings. I’ve suggested uniform inspections for the Cubs and Scouts, but I’m beginning to believe that the leaders don’t want to do this because they know their own uniforms aren’t complete. That’s the dilemma: How can we expect Scouts to be more responsible (including uniforms) if we as leaders aren’t setting the example? I’m out of answers on this and I’d sure like to have any ideas you may have. (J.A., ADC)

How about doing the same thing at Roundtables that a Scoutmaster, Cubmaster, or Den Leader would do… reward the positive! That’s right. How about giving little “prizes” (can be a bite-size candy bar, or something similar) to all adult volunteers who show up for the RT in full uniform. Maybe a few light bulbs might go on? You never know the power of the positive till you put it to use!
Hi Andy,

Is there any way of viewing a chartered organization’s financial policies and guidelines before I enroll my son in a particular troop? (M.P.)

Hmmm… Interesting. What’s the “question behind the question”?

Well, Andy, I’m concerned about fund-raising. We’re a single-income family. I’m currently researching a few different troops in our town. If a troop is able to fund-raise throughout the year and use that money for various trips, dues, uniforms, and so on, then that would work for us. Some troops do this, but others don’t fund-raise often and it’s left up to the parents to pay for the numerous trips the Scouts go on throughout the year. I do know one particular troop’s sponsor says they can only fund-raise two times a year…they say that’s their policy. I know that each chartered organization has its own policies and guidelines. I don’t want to offend anyone, which is why I’d prefer to research and read the guidelines on my own. This is why I asked about any ways there might be to view them. Is this “public information,” or would I have to go to the organization itself and ask? Would they let me see it? My concern about going to the sponsor to ask for their policies is that it might put a bad taste in their mouth about me, and possibly my son, and I don’t want to start off on the wrong foot or give a bad impression. I’m just concerned. I don’t want to deprive my son of Scout activities just because we don’t have a lot of money. Thanks for any help you can offer. (M.P.)

I appreciate your concern, especially since my own family wasn’t exactly rolling in bucks when my brother and I were Scouts. So thanks for writing and let’s see what we can do for you…

Typically, fund-raising (whether, by what method, frequency, and how the funds are used) is a decision made by troops themselves; not necessarily their chartered organizations (aka sponsors). What we’re really talking about here is what it costs a family for their son to be a Scout (which is actually one of the least expensive youth education and development programs in the country!). So let’s take a look…

There are annual dues paid to the troop but then redirected to the national office of the Boy Scouts of America: $24 per year. Next, your son’s subscription to “Boy’s Life” magazine: $12 per year for 12 issues. Uniforms from head-to-toe, if bought brand-new, can run upwards of $100 or so, but there are options, including “experienced” uniforms from uniform exchanges (usually available in your local council, and even available online). Then there are weekend trips that will have some costs associated, including (sometimes) fees by the property where the camping will occur, food, additional gear, etc. The Scoutmaster or treasurer of any troop can tell you more about these. The last typical expenditure is for at least a week at Scout summer camp—and I can tell you with absolute certainty that this is the highlight of a boy’s year in Scouting, and a not-to-be-missed opportunity! So, adding all this up, you’re probably looking at a couple of hundred dollars per year, for some seven years.

When troops offer Scouting families fund-raising opportunities to defray some of these costs, that’s a good thing! Without fund-raisers, it all comes from your own wallet. So look for troops with fund-raisers, understanding that fund-raisers aren’t intended for families to contribute to (heck, you’re already paying troop dues, including dues to the BSA, your son’s subscription to “Boy’s Life” magazine, and so forth). Instead, they’re intended to generate funds from sales of items (like popcorn, flowers, whatever the troop’s decided on) to friends, neighbors, the parents’ workplaces, etc., etc. So, instead of viewing these nervously, consider these a helpful way to keep the household budget in line!

Further, one of the main things about Scouting is teaching responsibility for oneself. This means your son should be looking for ways to earn money for the stuff he likes doing, from babysitting to mowing lawns or shoveling snow, to whatever other creative ways he can think of to legitimately earn money. This is, after all, more than just “Scouting”… It’s a Life Lesson! Plus, your own son’s “sweat equity” in his Scouting experience means he’s more likely to stick with it—and have fun doing so!

So, stay away from the “back door” and walk straight through the front door! If you want the troop’s folks to be candid and open with you, start by being candid and open with them. This isn’t a “deep, dark secret” and candor is always best (takes the “mystery” away!). Have an open conversation with the various Scoutmasters about finances. Don’t hesitate to let them know where you’re coming from, and ask for their viewpoint on how to make it work. I’m sure you’ll find a way for your son to get the most out of the Scouting program… and I guarantee it’ll last a lifetime!
Dear Andy,

I have a son in Scouts, I’m on the troop committee, and I’m a Merit Badge Counselor (we’ve drunk the “Scouting Kool-Aid”); I’m also an employee at our local YMCA. We, in our troop, have an opportunity to work with the local Y, which would like to offer some of the components of merit badge requirements as a program for Scouts. The Y has a large property where we could hold sessions on rock-climbing and wilderness survival, led by qualified and certified experts in these fields.

Would it be considered a “conflict of interest” to use certain merit badge requirements to construct an outdoor program offered by the Y? In addition to having a Y-sponsored program that any young people (age-limited) could participate in, and at the same time make it easier for Scouts in the area to work together, and complete some merit badge requirements along the way, do you think this would be okay? (Lori Ann)

“Conflict of interest”? Not a chance! Sounds like a great way for two organizations with similar goals for youth to collaborate!

There are several things you’ll want to investigate as you put a program together. First, check the GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING to make sure the instructors for these merit badges meet BSA standards. Second, get them registered as BSA Merit Badge Counselors with your local council (this way, they can actually sign off Scouts on completed requirements). Third, check the latest requirements (the website–click on “advancement” then “merit badges”—is a great resource!) to make sure you can deliver. And, as you’re proceeding, be sure to reach out to your council’s advancement chair (a volunteer position of course) so that you can collaborate and get the best “mileage” for everyone out of this idea! One thing you’ll definitely want to avoid, however, is any sort of “administrative fee” for providing this opportunity. Aside from that, I think you’ll find eager collaborators and enthusiastic Scouts!

Happy Scouting!


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. 396 – 5/6/2014 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2014]


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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