Author Avatar

Issue 521 – March 14, 2017

Hi Andy,

Can a Life scout start working on his Eagle packet and project before he’s finished all his required merit badges. (Paul Horwitz)

You betcha! In fact, he can begin working toward his Eagle project the morning after his Life board of review. There’s no stipulation on the order in which any Scout completes any of his requirements for any rank.
Hi Andy,

The Eagle Advancement Chair in my district, as well as a local Scoutmaster brought up a different denial of a project from any I’ve ever heard. The Scout wanted to build a cart to be used by the band and high school to move over 600 lbs. of equipment. He’d designed it from scratch. It was to be a four-wheeled cart with a metal frame and plywood deck, and he’d be leading the construction from self-drawn plans. But these two gentlemen denied the Scout’s project proposal because, they said, this was something the school could just go out and buy. I don’t see how “being able to buy” a cart like this has any effected on the validity of the concept to the point of generating a flat-out denial. Thinking over the many Eagle projects I’ve seen that involved construction, most could be bought (if such funds were available, of course). So I’m confused as to the reasoning behind this denial; it doesn’t seem to be in accordance with the workbook and advancement guidelines. Turns out, this Scout is going to do a different project for Eagle, and then do this project as a class gift to the school! (Talk about “Scout spirit!) I just don’t see where this project concept fails to meet the BSA’s stated criteria. Any thoughts? (Andrew Cogdill, District Commissioner)

I just did a quick “Eagle Service Projects” search and found these ten among several hundred more…

– Toddler playground for a town park
– Swing set for a pre-school
– Large bird cages for a wildlife refuge
– Planter boxes for a cemetery
– New trees for a town park
– Instrument racks for a school band
– Re-paint town’s fire hydrants
– New benches for a town park
– Bookcases for a church choir
– Rustic musical instruments for pre-school pupils.

Obviously, every one of these could have been purchased by the recipient organization, and installed by a paid work-crew or maintenance staff. Equally obviously, none of these organizations had the funds available or the authorization to spend in these ways, and that’s how these became projects for the Life Scouts who chose and led them.

This makes the argument that “the school could just go out and buy” the cart this Scout designed not only unrealistic to the point of silly, but it also flies in the face of countless tens of thousands of such projects that have been approved and completed across America!

If these two—that Advancement Chair and that Scoutmaster—can’t (or won’t) “see the light” and correct their misguided thinking, then, in two words: Dump ’em. They quite obviously are either clueless or just plain mean-spirited…or both.
Dear Andy,

I’m hoping you can help me to resolve an issue regarding what does and doesn’t count as “service,” according to BSA guidelines.

Brand-new, recently graduated (from my pack—I’m a Webelos Den Leader) Scouts in their new troop decided among themselves that, as a patrol service project, they would visit a local nursing home and spend an hour visiting the home’s residents and singing to them. To prepare for this, they spent an hour each week for four weeks preparing for their visit: They learned their selected songs and practiced singing them, and then got coaching on proper manners and etiquette when visiting a nursing home. Because I’m their immediate former Webelos Den Leader and I have musical training, they asked me to help them prepare, and I was happy to help. I can tell you they rarely missed a practice session and were diligent in learning and practicing the music. As a result, they had a wonderful time at the home, and a lot of good was done!

Now the troublesome part… When these new Scouts reported this to their Scoutmaster, his judgment was that, while the hour they’d spent at the nursing home counted as worth-while service to their community, the time they’d spent learning and practicing didn’t. He told them that they’d “get credit” only for the hour of “actual time spent serving.”

I feel these Scouts are being robbed of something if the hours they devoted to rehearsals and decorum are taken off the table, and it makes me concerned that their Scoutmaster’s expectation of more “physical results” from service given may discourage these Scouts’ further creativity and efforts.

Is there any counsel, policy, or experience you can offer to help us? I hope these Scouts can be allowed to count any hours they devoted to preparing for their performance just as they can count the actual performance itself. It was their time that they gave towards making the presentation great, and certainly the residents at the home were just as served by the hours the Scouts spent preparing as they were by the visit itself. (Edward Huntington, WDL, Orange County Council, CA)

One underlying difficulty here may be that the Scoutmaster may not have “approved” this in advance, which—had this been sought—would have precluded this post-service mess. So, what to do…

Here’s the only “policy” anyone should ever need in a situation like this: Just ask yourself, “What’s the right thing to do, that will not only recognize this effort but will support the principle of service to others for the future?”

If, after asking this question, that Scoutmaster still subscribes to his original stance and doesn’t see the long-view, you’ve got the wrong guy in this job.

I’m stating this not only as a former Scoutmaster but also as a former choir and glee club vocalist (bass section leader in both ensembles), who knows full well that the hard work is in the hours of rehearsing, so that you can deliver a successful performance. I’ve also opened a LA Dodgers major league game with an a cappella National Anthem from the infield that lasted 53 seconds but took ten hours of practice and rehearsals by twelve men to get right so we could deliver a solid performance in front of 46 thousand fans that night. Would you say that’s a “service project” worth 53 seconds? If you do, go find yourself a job counting coffee beans in the hills of Cambodia!

Thanks, Andy! Had I known more about the approval process at the outset, I definitely would have recommended this service be approved in advance; but, being in the Cub Scouting program, it just hadn’t occurred to me that this kind of situation could have arisen. Admittedly, it’s kind of surprising when such a roadblock comes up “in your own backyard,” as it were.

So how do I confront this issue? Should I encourage these Scouts to fight the Scoutmaster’s “ruling”? Do I do this myself, instead? I could talk privately with the Scoutmaster and explain the effort these Scouts put into this project, including enough facts to help him understand that practicing to perform is hard work, especially for boys this age! The fact that they committed to this kind of idea at all is rather a marvel in and of itself. If you have any other examples of practices like this being counted as service in other places, I would love to have them on hand when I talk to him. (EH)

Let’s back up for a moment and take a look at how requirements are written for Boy Scout rank requirements. Tenderfoot req. 7b. states (CAPS mine): “Participate in a total of one hour of service in one or more service projects APPROVED BY YOUR SCOUTMASTER.” Without doubt, a Scoutmaster can certainly approve a project post-completion. But it’s always better (and safer!) to get approval beforehand—this avoids the situation that now exists. So here’s the “lesson” in this: ALWAYS start by checking the language of a requirement FIRST.

On what to do at this point, we DO NOT pit boys against adults (because, when push comes to shove, the adults will win). Instead, these Scouts need a CHAMPION who will present their case for them.

So here’s how you can be their champion and defend these Scouts:
(1) These Scouts did the practicing and performance based on what they were told by an adult.
(2) That adult was mistaken in procedure, and finally…
(3) A longstanding Scouting principle is that we DO NOT penalize Scouts for the mistake(s) of any adult.

On the basis of the above three facts, their Scoutmaster would be doing a fine service to Scouting by “crediting” these Scouts with the full amount of effort put into their service to the residents of that nursing home… after which he can explain to these Scouts what they need to do next time, which is to check with him first, to make sure everyone’s in agreement.

If the Scoutmaster balks at this, it’s time for you to apologize to the Scouts (and maybe their parents, too) for not checking how Boy Scout requirements are written and intended to be carried out.

Then it just might be time to see if there’s a nearby troop with a less hard-nosed Scoutmaster, because a Scoutmaster’s role is that of a “Big Brother”… Not a “Dutch Uncle.”

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. 521 – 3/14/2017 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2017]


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

Follow Andy

Subscribe via email or RSS and follow via social media.

Comments are closed.