When a fall recruiting drive and Webelos Scout graduation in the spring fail to reach all potential new members, a troop adds a spring open house, focusing on outdoor adventure and held…’Where the Boys Want to Be’
Scouts from Troop 58 were hard at work preparing a campsite on a chilly Monday evening in April at Rural Retreat Lake Park in southwestern Virginia. Despite being buffeted by winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour, they built fires, rehearsed flag ceremonies, and set up displays, all in preparation for their troop spring open house.
In the Mountain Empire District of the Blue Ridge Mountains Council, troops in small communities like Rural Retreat, with fewer than a thousand residents, generally attract only about a dozen boys from a limited recruiting pool. The spring open house, held on the troop’s regular meeting night, with the theme “outdoors, where the boys want to be,” represented a new step toward building membership.
As he watched the arrival of carloads of fifth- and sixth-graders and their families, Scoutmaster Mike Sobey explained why Troop 58 needed an additional spring recruiting event: “We had a pretty sparse influx of new boys after our Webelos Scout crossover…there’s so much competition for their time.”
The boys attending the spring event had never been Cub Scouts—and therefore were not part of the early-spring Webelos Scout graduation, which traditionally brings new boys into a troop.
Sobey worked with troop committee chairman Bob Harrison and district executive Chris Bryant to develop the new spring roundup event. Valuable resources included the new BSA publications A Year-Round Guide to Boy Scout Recruiting and Boy Scout Troop Open House, which provide step-by-step organizing guidelines and program details (see sidebar).
Troop 58 offered the non-Scout visitors a two-hour outdoor program, with Scouts leading a series of games and activities that focused on the outdoor adventure in Scouting.
“We’re trying to give potential new Scouts a look at the activities we do—camping, cooking, hiking—and especially emphasize the concept of boy leadership,” Sobey said.
The new boys watched the Scouts set up tents in the scenic park, build a fire, and cook Dutch oven fruit cobbler.
“Are we going to get to go hiking tonight?” asked sixth-grade visitor Zachary Lester. Though hiking was not in the evening’s program, Scoutmaster Sobey used the question to describe some special hikes the troop takes during the year and at summer camp.
“You can be part of that if you join tonight,” he told the eager recruit.
LOCATION IS A BIG PLUS
Clarisa Lester, Zachary’s mother, said that holding the event in a scenic location was a big plus, because her son “really loves the outdoors. He broke his thumb yesterday, yet he’s here tonight. He’s ready [to join]!”
The Scouts played games with the visitors, like the “Dynamite Transfer,” in which four new boys attempted to safely relocate a platform carrying “dynamite” using only the ropes attached to each corner of the platform.
“This is a great example of team involvement among the boys, where they have to work together,” explained Bob Harrison. “The parents can see Scouting in action; both individual and team concepts are on show tonight, as well as the boy leadership involved in running these events.”
Boy leadership took many forms: Troop guide and knot-tying expert Matt Sobey helped the visitors at the Bear Bag Toss. First Class Scout David Harrison patiently described all the patches on his shirt. And acting senior patrol leader and Life Scout Daniel Harrison coached his Scouts in flag etiquette before the show began.
The eight Troop 58 Scouts who participated (out of 12 in the troop) showed their hard-earned skills in public speaking, educating, and hospitality.
Away from troop meetings, the Scouts in Troop 58 continue to promote Scouting, often in casual conversation with friends at school.
Asked if he ever talks to his friends about Scouting, high school junior and wrestling champion Daniel replied emphatically: “I do tell them! Scouting is a great program, a top-notch group—and it stands for something. It’s important to promote it and to keep the values our country has always stood for, and have maybe been put into jeopardy lately.”
At the open house, however, Daniel kept a lower profile, allowing the younger Scouts to take the lead. “All I’m doing tonight is cooking doughnut holes,” he said. “I want to step back and let them perform to the utmost of their abilities.”
Timing was also a factor in the success of the spring open house, said Bob Harrison. “You’ve got to get their attention, and that’s not always easy, especially in the fall,” the traditional time for School Night for Scouting events.
The new recruiting program was scheduled for mid-spring, when many school sports—particularly football—were over and boys were looking ahead to a freer summer schedule. They could be encouraged to join the troop in time for the spring district camporee and summer camp.
As Bryant added with typical enthusiasm, “These guys can join tonight, come to one Monday night meeting where we give them a list of the gear they need to bring to camporee, and then the next week they’re going camping. They say, ÔI want to be involved in Scouting,’ and in two weeks, they get bang for their buck.”
With this emphasis on timing, location, and boy appeal, it’s easier than ever to invite every boy to be part of the excitement that energizes Scouting in the Blue Ridge.
In the November-December 2002 issue, contributing editor Cathy Steg described how families in Charlotte, N.C., use Scouting to supplement the education they provide their home-schooled children.
A DISTRICT’S RECRUITMENT TIMETABLE
Troop 58’s open house was the first of three similar programs in the Mountain Empire District in 2002. As part of the program, district executive Chris Bryant and local Scouters used elements of the new BSA Troop Open House 5-Step Plan:
Troop Open House:
Regular Troop Meeting:
DOES SPRING RECRUITING WORK? YOU BET!
At Troop 58’s spring open house, the games were a big success, the cobbler disappeared in seconds, and every boy filled out a registration form while chatting around the stone fireplace in the park’s covered pavilion.
Until the following Monday’s regular meeting at Troop 58’s chartered organization, American Legion Post 229, Scoutmaster Mike Sobey wouldn’t be sure if the “success” would last.
“We are extremely happy with the results,” he reported, announcing that five of the six boys at the open house came to the next troop meeting, and, with the addition of two more new boys who responded to the fliers in school and the efforts of the current Scouts, the troop gained a total of seven new Scouts.
“The new boys even took part in the skits we had at the end of Monday’s meeting,” Sobey said. “Even better, we have a lot of interest from the parents of these boys to help as well.”
For troops that boast memberships of 50 or more Scouts, seven new boys may seem fairly humble. But before the spring open house, Troop 58 had 12 boys. The new Scouts represent a growth rate of 58 percent—a figure many units would have trouble topping.
TIME AND PLACE ARE IMPORTANT
Troop 58 was not the first in the Mountain Empire District to host a spring recruiting event. In previous years, other troops have staged either a one-hour open house at their regular meeting site or a half-day “Scout adventure day” on a Saturday at local parks.
Nor was Troop 58 the first to use the approach recommended in the new BSA guide, A Year-Round Guide to Boy Scout Recruiting, which combines the best parts of both indoor and outdoor concepts:
“We’d tried something very similar last year,” explained Susan Martin, district commissioner and committee chair of nearby Troop 190 in Marion, Va. “We were in need of Scouts; the pack [which sends us new Scouts] was small, and only one Webelos Scout moved up.”
Six of the troop’s 12 Scouts were graduating seniors—a sign of a quality troop that was able to keep older Scouts active but also a warning sign that their numbers were about to plummet.
“We had to have an infusion,” Martin said. Like the Troop 58 event, Martin’s troop held an outdoor Scout skills program at a nearby state park, timed exactly two weeks before the district spring camporee. “They came and had a blast, and we kept six new boys.”
SOME TIPS FROM SUCCESSFUL SPRING RECRUITERS
Appoint a committee membership chairman:
Bob Harrison echoes the need to focus on membership at the committee level, noting that “we’re just getting to the size where we have enough horsepower to assign someone just to membership. That was a pie-in-the-sky thing when we were still trying to find enough people to do a board of review, but our numbers are looking hopeful now.”
Prepare for the worst (weather):
By choosing an outdoor venue, but one with a covered shelter large enough to accommodate the troop and all visitors, Sobey’s troop was prepared for “singin’ in the rain”—or, as it happened, fire-building in the gusty winds.
RESOURCES FOR RECRUITMENT
Whether your troop has 15 or 50 boys, you’ll want to ratchet up your recruiting efforts. Three new tools are now available at your local Scout council to help your committee work on membership growth:
Boy Scout Troop Open House, BSA No. 18-706, offers a five-step system, similar to the one used in the Mountain Empire District in 2001 and 2002.
A Year-Round Guide to Boy Scout Recruiting, No. 18-748, shows troops how to plan their calendar with regular recruitment in mind.
“High Adventure Survey,” No. 34241, is a form for potential Scouts to fill out, indicating their interest in Scouting and the activities that interest them most.