A Recipe for Roundtable Success

A dynamic district training session sparks enthusiasm and teaches skills for leaders to conduct successful monthly troop programs.

When you’ve got it, flaunt it. That’s why roundtable commissioner Jim Richards invariably refers to his baby as the “great and legendary Shawondassee District Boy Scout roundtable of the Robert E. Lee Council.” Richards smiles when he intones the encomium, but he means it—and with good reason.

The district in suburban Richmond, Va., holds monthly roundtables that are greatly anticipated by both Boy Scout and Cub Scout leaders. An average of 70 leaders from Shawondassee’s 49 troops show up each month at the Boy Scout roundtable to be entertained, inspired—and most important—informed about the coming month’s designated troop program feature and the skills needed to conduct it effectively.

Nearly 100 adult leaders were on hand at the Central Baptist Church for last November’s roundtable, to prepare for December’s Cooking program feature. Even before entering the church, they got an outdoor cooking lesson. In the dim light of camp lanterns, 20 roundtable staffers had set up charcoal-fueled Dutch ovens, trash-can stoves, and other devices for preparing delicious meals in camp and on the trail.

In the church auditorium, Jim Richards and others greeted the leaders. The opening ceremony demonstrated some of the creative showmanship that makes each roundtable a memorable occasion, a Boy Scout color guard performing a “recipe for making our flag.”

The flag ceremony was followed by announcements about district business, like Scouting for Food collections, popcorn sales, and summer camp registration. Next came the presentation of awards for various achievements, including beads for roundtable attendance for multiples of six months.

The recognition ceremony generates participant enthusiasm, said Richards. The awards are a roundtable tradition, added Mike Oxford, who served as roundtable commissioner from about 1978 to 1996 and is still a staff member. “We make just as big a to-do for the first-time attendees as when somebody receives a 12-month attendance award.”


The heart of any roundtable program is the presentation and practice of skills needed for next month’s troop program activities. Shawondassee roundtable planners use the nationally suggested troop program features supported by Boys’ Life and Scoutingmagazines. For December 2001, that meant outdoor Cooking. (See sidebar.)

Wearing a chef’s white toque, Troop 869 Scoutmaster Dickie Coffey introduced Scouters to some resources available to outdoor cooks. He was assisted by a dozen staff members clad in red aprons bearing the Shawondassee District emblem.

“When we take Scouts out in the field, we need to be sure they get fed well,” Coffey said. After making sure that patrols plan their menus in detail, troop leaders should then “review those menus,” he noted.

Coffey pointed out that outdoor cooking can mean either in-camp or backpacking situations.

“When planning menus for backpacking, get the boys to think,” Coffey urged. “What is the one thing that may be in limited supply on the trail?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s water. So they don’t want to cook something that requires a lot of cleanup. They want something in a bag. They can put water in the bag, cook in the bag, eat out of the bag, and put it in the trash and be done with it.”

After Coffey’s presentation, all hands went outside where roundtable staffers were busily cooking an assortment of dishes, all suitable for in-camp settings. Dickie Coffey offered Trash Can Chicken, baked in an ordinary garbage can with four chicken-wire columns of burning charcoal providing heat. Other staffers were urging Scouters to try such delicacies as pot roast and jambalaya, a Creole stew.


Scouters with special interests could attend one of several “breakout” sessions. For example, leaders adding climbing to their troop program headed for a briefing on the BSA’s “Climb on Safely” program, led by district executive George Carlson. Another session offered advice on outdoor living “For Women Only.” (See sidebar.) A third session, lead by Steve Boles, was on what it takes to offer merit badges.

The breakout sessions were introduced by Larry Cary, Richards’s predecessor as roundtable chief. Cary, who is now district commissioner, got the idea while he was attending a training session at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico just before taking over the roundtable leadership from Mike Oxford in 1996.

“I went there asking myself: ‘How do I fix what’s not broke? How do I improve what’s good?'” he said. The breakouts were one answer.

Another consisted of refreshments of snacks, soda, and coffee. Both ideas were big hits. Today, the council newsletter’s announcement covers the topics for breakouts as well as the program theme.

Mike Oxford had previously instituted careful planning of roundtable programs and a recruiting program to get a quality staff. “We had an annual planning meeting in July, and we would assign a different staff member for each month,” Oxford said. “I would touch base with that staff member the month before their roundtable.”

No staffer was responsible for more than one month’s program in a year.

At every Shawondassee roundtable, about 25 of the 30 men and women on the roundtable staff are present.

“I look for people who have Wood Badge training,” Jim Richards said in discussing how he recruits staff members. “It’s not a requirement, but those who have taken Wood Badge usually are also the ones who are most willing to contribute. The result is a very high-quality staff.”

And a high-quality roundtable.

Contributing editor Robert Peterson lives in Ramsey, N.J.Kathy Vilim


At the suggestion of three women Scouters, one breakout session at the November Shawondassee District roundtable offered advice for female troop leaders in camp and on the trail. The subject had been on the roundtable lineup before, but it had been five years since the last time, when a “for women only” breakout was offered.

Assistant Scoutmaster Barbara Olsen, Venturing Advisor Kathy McKee, and associate Advisor Cameron Richards led the discussion and answered questions from about a dozen attendees.

They provided handouts covering backpacks for women, feminine hygiene in the backcountry, and other subjects of interest and/or concern to outdoorswomen.

In addition, there was a list of Web sites offering advice on women’s equipment and things to do outdoors: alpinewoman.commountainwoman.com;shegear.comwomenclimbing.commsoutdoor.com; andwrgear.com.



Many packs and troops develop their annual plan at their leaders conference during the summer. Beginning in September, each of their monthly meetings and activities are then centered around the nationally designated program themes. For that reason, many district roundtable programs, like those presented by the Robert E. Lee Council’s Shawondassee District, are designed to support the coming month’s designated theme.

Boy Scout themes are selected from 36 different monthly programs called Troop Program Features; Cub Scout packs follow a schedule of 12 brand-new monthly program themes each year. (For example, the January 2003-suggested troop program feature is “Hobbies” and the Cub Scout theme is “Strike Up the Band.”)


For unit leaders and commissioners, Scouting magazine is the primary source of information and ideas regarding troop and pack themes.

During the program year (September to June), five of the magazine’s six issues sent to Boy Scout unit leaders, assistants, and commissioners contain a total of 12 troop program feature segments. Each segment includes meeting outlines and a schedule for a monthly outing or activity.

The 12 designated program features for each year are selected from the total of 36 features contained in the three volumes of Troop Program Features (BSA Nos.3311033111, and 33112). Each volume contains a year’s worth of different monthly programs and can be purchased at local Scout council service centers.

Cub Scout Program Helps are included in five of the six issues of Scouting magazine that go to Cubmasters and assistants, Cub Scout den leaders and assistants, Tiger Cub den leaders, pack trainers, and commissioners. Each year’s 12 monthly segments can also be purchased in a single, annual edition, Cub Scout Program Helps 2002-2003 (No. 34304E).

Each monthly Cub Scout theme also lists two activity badges to be used for planning first- and second-year Webelos Scout meetings and activities. Meeting outlines and suggested activities for these and all other activity badges are contained in theWebelos Leader Guide (No. 33853B).

Each new program year’s schedule of September-through-August troop features and pack themes is announced in the program inserts in the May-June issue of Scoutingmagazine. In addition, the month-by-month lineup is posted on the magazine Web site, www.scoutingmagazine.org under “Program Helps.”

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