Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chicken Or The Egg? Scout Or the Troop/Pack?

I'm sure the ebb and flow of registered scouts in a given Council isn't a new dilemma, or unknown to most councils. But I wanted to write today about the challenges I'm seeing in our district, and what I view as some "lack of direction" issues that are contributing to the challenges of operating a scouting program; at least in my area.

First, I realize that everyone is busy. Everyone is being pulled a million different directions, including our kids, so it is reasonable to think that some adults simply don't think they have time for scouting.

Second, running a scouting program is a full time job. There are a lot of meetings, a lot of training, and simply a lot to do if you don't have a lot of adult support.

That said, do you start a Pack or a Troop with a minimum number of registered Scouts? (5 required) or do you wait until you have enough interested adults and youth to make a viable program?

Furthermore, what is your council doing in areas where there are many units struggling to stay operational?

In our District, our troop just started back up due to sheer determination after being dormant for two years. We don't have an operating Pack to feed our Troop, but for two months a group has been trying to start up a new Pack without much enthusiasm from boys or parents. A neighboring town (we'll call Town H) has a Troop with just one scout, and a Pack with few active Scouts. Another neighboring town (we'll call Town L) has a Pack, but no Troop.

At last month's roundtable I asked the Cubmaster of Town L what they were doing with their crossover scouts. They really hadn't considered it and don't have a Troop to feed them into. I said I'd be more than happy to come talk to the Pack and parents about our Troop and enroll them in our troop if they desired to keep them in scouting.

A couple weeks after that, the Cubmaster of Town H contacted me because his son is crossing over in May and the Scoutmaster in Town H said to call me because their Troop is folding. Of course we're thrilled to have him - but there are complications.

At roundtable this month, when I talked to our District Executive, he said he had been tasked to both try and start up a new Troop in Town L, as well as help Town H do some recruiting to save their troop.

So the question is.. Which comes first, the Scout or the Troop/Pack?

My thinking is that there should be a good program to draw in the Scouts, but you can't start a new unit without a charter, and you can't have a charter without a minimum number of scouts and leaders.

So wouldn't it make more sense to leverage an existing unit, and grow it with the intent to split it? Rather than start from scratch? What parent wants their son to join a cub Pack with 5 kids, aged 5 to 10. (meaning 2 Tigers, one Wolf, one Bear, one Webelos) when there isn't a cohesive program even running? But this seems to be the tact of our council.

While researching a project, I was able to review an archive file at work that included many scouting artifacts from our founder's involvement in scouting, including national boards, and Silver Buffalo etc. In that file I found a map of the council showing the districts that existed back in the 50s-60s. Today our council has 3 districts. It used to have 12.

If I had a vote, which I don't, I'd recommend consolidating some units, re-district in geographic boundaries that make sense, and work on strengthening the program vs. simply growing numbers of scouts.

I don't know if the BSA executives get bonuses for retention and growth like the Girl Scouts do, but it sure feels that way when they're more concerned with numbers of scouts than quality of the program.

We have a pretty strong troop for now, but if we don't get an infusion of leadership and new scouts soon we will start fading again and I don't foresee a way to keep the troop from shutting down again. And here we have cubs that want to go into scouting, and deserve to go into a functional troop, and yet they're going to likely end up going into a newly formed troop if at all simply to keep numbers of units up. Moreover, of our 12 scouts only two have parents involved with the Troop, and one on the committee. The others don't participate, and can't be coaxed to participate.

Sorry for the downer/negative post, but it's been a little frustrating to be working hard to provide a program, and to see boys falling away from scouting on either side because the program is failing them. And to see parents that know scouting is important, but no interest in helping run the program.

What are you doing to bolster scouting in your area?


The Watsons said...

Such a difficult concept... each key three for a district and council sets yearly goals, these may or may not be tweaked by the council board of directors. The DEs and SE are evaluated based on meeting their goals. These goals include increasing the number of registered youth and number of different units. So, who is looking after the scout or two left in a failing unit? AND what kind of troop experience are those boys having, they don't have a complete patrol much less a troop. How do you become a leader if there is no one to lead (I am talking about the boy's becoming leaders)? Fight for the boys to have a complete scouting experience...they deserve this!

FamilyMan said...

OK, first you observed that the council has its own interests to protect (number of units). Perfectly valid, since that is what they are looking out for.

But it is also their problem. They need to expend the time and energy to come up with Scouts and Scouters to keep or start units.

Your job as a volunteer is to bring the best program you can. In many small towns and rural areas, 10 or fewer Scouts is a real unit.

We began 5 years ago at our church with 1 Webelos and 4 Tiger Scouts. That Webelos is now our SPL and 3 of those Tigers are now in the troop (begun 2.5 years ago to catch our Webelos).

With small units you can still offer a completely valid program (heck, the Lone Scout program only requires 1!). It is also easier to coordinate things with fewer people involved.

Downside is that sometimes you run into problems getting enough adults to have an event (camping, etc.). Blend dens in a pack--most of the program is to be completed at home. Do field trips. Play games. Fun.

If the other units and Scouts want to fold into your group, you would be hard pressed to stop them. Better to keep them in Scouting than lose the Scout and the units.

Oh, and while 5 is often quoted as the minimum number of Scouts and leaders, it can actually be 3 if the CO and the council both agree. But it is tricky. We did this, rolling Scouts from Webelos into the Lone Scout program until we had 3 boys. Then we formed a troop, held our breath, and picked up a few more Scouts over the next 2 years.

15 in the troop now, and 20 in the pack. We are in a small rural town--proof it can be done.

Good luck!