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How to offer financial assistance to Scouting families in need

“I don’t have any income at this time, so I need help if possible.” 

“Our family’s currently in Section 8 housing and on food stamps.”

“I’m a teacher’s aide and a single mother of two children.”

Those are just a few snippets of the financial assistance forms Pack 3371 in Lafayette, Ind., received last fall. The pack recruited more than 20 boys, and nine needed help to pay for registration fees, uniforms and/or activities. A few parents said they couldn’t enroll their boys without financial assistance.

“They’ll help out however they can. But money they don’t have,” says Cubmaster Jeff Rattray. Fortunately for those families, Pack 3371 is committed to making Scouting available to every interested boy. “We’ve taken care of all these people,” Rattray says. “We don’t want to leave anybody out.”

Pack 226 in Edmond, Okla., has a similar philosophy, says Cubmaster Joe Priest. “If a boy wants to join Scouts, we’ll make it happen no matter what the financial situation is,” he says. “When we have our open house night, I make that really clear to all parents.”

How can your pack help families that are struggling? You can start by considering a few simple questions.

How much can you afford?

Unless your pack has lots of spare cash (and what pack does?), it’s important to consider how much assistance you can afford to give. You don’t want to overpromise and under deliver, nor do you want to fall short in other areas.

When Pack 226’s leaders set up their assistance program, they voted to create a rolling balance of $500, which Priest says has been sufficient. Rattray’s pack, on the other hand, doesn’t cap its assistance, although the pack has had to rework its budget after helping so many families last fall.

Where will the money come from?

Since money doesn’t grow on trees, you must identify a funding source. The obvious source is a fundraiser like selling popcorn. You could earmark a certain percentage of income for your scholarship fund or set aside money that exceeds a given threshold.

But money can come from a couple of other sources as well: your chartered organization and pack families. Pack 226’s fund actually began with donations from leaders, Priest says. “It kind of started with a few of the leaders putting money in whenever they could.”

Rattray says adults in his pack occasionally make donations as well. In fact, he has noticed that promoting the pack’s scholarship fund spurs donations to it.

How will parents apply for help?

In Pack 3371, parents are asked to complete the Sagamore Council’s campership form, which asks for such information as how much popcorn their boy sold and, if none, why not. “Instead of being need-based, it’s merit-based,” Rattray says. In Pack 226, parents simply contact Priest if they need help.

Whether you use a form or not, it’s important to have a system that preserves confidentiality. “The only one allowed to make a decision [on scholarships] is myself or our assistant Cubmaster or our committee chair,” Priest says.

Pack 3371 also strives to maintain confidentiality with its applications. Rattray acknowledges, however, “when you’re a den leader, you know who’s got issues and who doesn’t.”

What do you expect of families?

Decide up front what, if anything, you’ll ask of families receiving assistance. Pack 226 requires them to sell popcorn, which helps replenish the scholarship fund. Rather than take the prizes the Last Frontier Council offers, the pack takes a higher commission for Scouting-related purchases. “It’s a great life lesson at that age,” Priest says. “It’s awesome to see the smile on their face when they are able to earn their own way in Scouting.”

Pack 3371 also encourages Scouts receiving assistance to sell popcorn, offering them a range of incentives when they do. If a boy sells enough popcorn, he can cover next year’s registration fee, book and neckerchief and still have money left over for his Scout account. “Some of them sold plenty of popcorn this fall and won’t need assistance next year because they’ve covered themselves and other boys that way,” Rattray says. “Some of them are putting needy-Scout forms through for next year.”

What other help is available?

Many councils offer camperships for day camp and resident camp, and some have other assistance available as well. Rattray suggests checking with your council to see what help is available. For example, the Sagamore Council offers half-camperships, so Pack 3371 is able to split the cost of camp for needy Scouts with the council. That helps the pack preserve its funds while ensuring that Scouts can attend camp.

It was camp, by the way, that first taught Rattray about financial assistance. After he had gone away to college, he heard that one of the boys in his troop was going to summer camp on scholarship. But the troop didn’t have a scholarship fund. Rattray’s dad, who was the Scoutmaster, had quietly paid the boy’s way.

That example continues to guide Rattray. “If nothing else, I’ll do it the way my father did it,” he says.

Read more articles about Cub Scouting at SCOUTINGMAGAZINE.ORG/CUBSCOUTS.