Scouting magazine

Advice from a leader who breaks down barriers for Scouts in need

JACK HERMAN’S FIRST exposure to Scouting came when his oldest son, Andrew, joined Cub Scout Pack 609. After a couple of years as an active parent, Herman signed on as Tiger Cub den leader for his second son, Kyle. Not long after his third son, Jacob, joined the pack, Herman became Cubmaster. He served as both Cubmaster and den leader until Kyle crossed over into Troop 609. 

Herman hoped to coast for a while, but that was not to be. After the Scoutmaster died, he was recruited for the job, which he held for five years. In 2012, he stepped back to become an assistant Scoutmaster, focusing primarily on camping and high adventure.

The next stage of Herman’s Scouting journey is just around the corner. Daughter Emi is 13 and eager to join Venturing. In fact, she recently attended a Venturing rock-climbing trip as a guest. “My little girl smoked the boys up the cliff,” he says. “It was great.”

Describe your community. Our community is very heavily Hispanic, very blue-collar. We have quite a population of people living in the country illegally, so we have a lot of kids who were born here but are in a situation where they’re really not quite sure what’s going on in their lives. We also have a large black community here, in which you have folks who were never really exposed to Scouting.

What about first-generation American kids with parents from Mexico? Did they have Scouting back home? Boy Scouting in Mexico, for example, is pretty much reserved for the upper classes. Here, when you try to get a boy to join, they say, “We can’t do that because only the elite get into Boy Scouting.” We have to convince them that that’s not the case.

How do you deal with the language barrier? As a leader who doesn’t speak much Spanish, it’s tough. There’s a lot of sign language involved. The BSA does offer most materials in Spanish, which is great.

Are the language problems limited to parents? For the most part. But can the kids read well? Not really. They understand English, but they don’t always understand how to read it. With a lot of these kids, we give them Spanish books because it’s what their parents read.

Do language issues affect your Scouts in other ways? Absolutely. It is very difficult to keep boys engaged when the parents have challenges with the language. You get the feeling that they are embarrassed or left out. As a result, the parents stop coming and the boys drop out.

Have you used outside role models? I have a friend who is mayor of North Chicago. He is black and an Eagle Scout. We try to get him in front of these kids as much as possible as a role model. I’ve invited him to a few Eagle courts of honor and used him for the First Class requirement where a city official has to give a talk to the boys. Believe me, he’s more than willing to do whatever it takes.

Given the population you serve, is transportation an issue? If a boy needs to come to a meeting, but he can’t get a ride, all he has to do is ask and we’ll go get him — while maintaining Youth Protection guidelines.

What about recruiting leaders when many parents are single parents or work several jobs? Unlike some troops that have a person in every role you can imagine, we have a number of people doing double duty because they’re all we have. But these people are dedicated enough that they want to see the troop succeed.

What about fundraising? We sell popcorn and wreaths. Instead of taking the prizes for popcorn sales, we take a percentage of the money that a boy earns and put it in a special account for him to be used for anything Scout-related.

How else do you help Scouts pay for activities? Our council offers camperships. I would say the majority of our boys do take advantage of that. When it comes to expensive trips, we put the boys on a payment plan: bring $10 or $20 to every meeting, for example.

What’s an example of a big trip you’ve taken? We recently went to the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. We did five days of kayaking and camping out on one of the islands. The boys I took on this trip were, with maybe one exception, very experienced campers. We spread the cost over 10 to 12 months. When we made the payment-plan suggestion, people snapped it up.

Is camping a new experience for most of your Scouts? Many have never been away from mom or dad; never been anywhere that the air is clean and clear; never had an opportunity to canoe or hike or build a campfire. When you have boys who have never been outside the city and you take them out at night and you have them look up, they don’t want to leave. I’ve seen that happen.


Years as a Scout Volunteer: 13

Current City: Waukegan, Ill.

Current Position: Assistant Scoutmaster, Troop 609

Day Job: Co-owner, Dynamic Property Renovations

Favorite Camp: Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Scout Reservation, Pearson, Wis. “That’s the premier camp in our council. You can either go with the program they offer, or you can develop your own program. The staff is very flexible and will help you in any way they can.”

Proudest Moment in Scouting: Seeing a young man with a troubled past and difficult family situation become an Eagle Scout. “We never gave up on him. He’s off to college now.”