Keeping a Scouting Connection

Young men who turn 18 and go away to college or enter the job market can still be involved in Scouting by volunteering in a troop, district, or council.

Once a Scout receives his Eagle Scout rank, heads off to college, or enters the workforce, his troop ties often weaken. Many of these young men may miss their connection to Scouting and still have a desire to be of service.

Former ScoutsKeeping these young adults involved throughout these life transitions can encourage them to sign up for greater volunteer responsibilities when—or even before—they have children who are ready to join Scouting.

There are several ways that leaders can encourage their former Scouts to remain active in Scouting. For exam ple, if a young man is heading out of town to college or a job, show him how to get in touch with the local Scout council service center in his new location. When he arrives, he may find a special opportunity to serve on a district or council level.

That’s how Eagle Scout Andrew Miller remained active after leaving Atlanta, Ga., in 2000 to attend Harvard University. Miller had extensive experience in Atlanta’s Troop 304 and, after his family moved to China, as a member of Troop 1 in Hong Kong.

Determined to continue in Scouting as a college student, he contacted the Boston Minuteman Council.

“A lot of Scouts who want to remain involved don’t think about volunteering at the council or district level,” he said. “While I wasn’t able to participate as a unit leader because of my work schedule, I was able to help in organizing [council] events.”

As a result, Miller worked on the council’s Merit Badge University, an opportunity for Scouts to earn merit badges in a university setting. The event offered advancement opportunities in a variety of badges, from chemistry to climbing to crime prevention.

Miller, who double-majored in geology and history, supervised a staff of 25 and managed a budget of $4,000—experiences that were also beneficial to his education. “I was able to work on my project management skills,” he noted.

Here are some other steps for leaders who want to help former Scouts remain active.

For Scouts who stay close to home, troops can actively recruit them as volunteers. This is valuable, said Gwilym Clarke, former Scoutmaster of Troop 233 in Hampstead, N.H., because it’s important for a troop to have younger adults among its volunteer leaders.

“[Scouts] often connect better with leaders closer to their age than with guys my age,” said Clarke. And giving back is something that young adults who have recently left Scouting are often inspired to do, he added. Their response to a troop’s invitation is frequently positive “because they are able to make a connection with something they’ve been a part of for a long time.”

Clarke has also boosted involvement by getting a former Scout to come back with a Scouting buddy or two. “The trick is to get a few of them to drop in with friends,” said Clarke. “They’re natural mentors, and they have a lot of skills they can share.”

Jimmy Grzelak, a former senior patrol leader with Troop 114 in Southwick, Mass., agrees that keeping older Scouts involved in troop activities is essential to a troop’s ability to be boy-run.

Younger Scouts may find role models or mentors in the Scouters and can visualize what Scouting can do for them down the road. In recent years, Troop 114’s Eagle Scouts have gone on to become assistant Scoutmasters and (at age 21) committee members in the troop.

“Of course you encourage former Scouts to visit, but it usually doesn’t take a lot of encouragement,” said Grzelak. “Scouting is one of the rare places where an 18-year-old befriends a 12-year-old….It’s that friendship that brings people back.”

Instead of treating a Scout’s 18th birthday as a conclusion, consider it a milestone on a path to lifelong Scouting involvement.

“Being an Eagle Scout is an honor, but it’s not the aim of Scouting,” said Grzelak. “[Achieving] Eagle [should not be] the end of the trail.”

Victoria Groves is a Boston-based freelance writer.

Some Helpful Tips

Here are five strategies to encourage participation from former Scouts.

  • Promote summer camp jobs. Working at a council camp allows young adults to reconnect with troop members.
  • Cultivate older youth as mentors. They become role models for younger Scouts. Allow them to run projects, serve as advisers, or tag along on a camp-out.
  • Appeal to their résumé-building needs. Helping run a Scouting event can highlight leadership and management skills on their résumés.
  • Encourage “drop-ins.” Reassure former Scouts that their presence and participation are always welcome and valued.
  • Invite them to Eagle Scout ceremonies. Former Scouts may have been an important part of the new Eagle’s Scouting life.

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