Fort Leavenworth, Kan., is home to 14,000 people, three elementary schools and just one Cub Scout pack. Pack 1 isn’t just any pack, however. It’s one of the oldest packs west of the Mississippi, and it serves more than 150 boys and girls who attend the U.S. Army installation’s three elementary schools. It also has an annual turnover rate of 80%, because families typically come to the post for one-year training assignments that align with the school year.
How does Pack 1 maintain continuity from year to year? And how does it manage such large numbers? Pack leaders Carol Gersema and Kerum Steele shared the secrets of their success — secrets that could make your pack more successful, too.
Divide and Conquer
Although Pack 1 is a single unit with a single committee, it operates most of the time in sub-packs.
“There’s not an area large enough to hold us on a regular basis, so we break it down, with one sub-pack for each elementary school on post,” says Gersema, a 20-year volunteer with the pack who now serves as chartered organization representative and treasurer.
Sub-packs meet separately most of the time (under the leadership of an assistant Cubmaster), but the whole pack comes together for Pinewood Derbies and semiannual campouts.
“I can’t imagine going into a pack that has 150 Scouts,” says Steele, who’s in her third year with the pack (her family’s third due to Army moves).
Currently a den leader, Steele says the structure gives Pack 1 a more personal feel.
Major events — like Pinewood Derbies — can be big challenges for large packs. Over the years, Pack 1 has figured out how to make those events as efficient as possible yet still fun for the Cub Scouts.
Take the pack Pinewood Derby, for example: It runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on a Saturday in February, but each age group comes for only an hour.
“We’ll have the little guys and gals come first from 8 to 9, then the next group will be 9 to 10, and so on,” says Gersema. “Each hour has a championship race and a family race if parents want to make a car.”
The winners from each group return at the end for the championship round, so they — along with the volunteers in charge — are the only ones spending more than an hour on site.
Blue and gold banquets are held by sub-pack at the same location on the same day, but at different times. One happens at noon, one happens in the afternoon and one happens in the evening.
“We rotate those slots so sub-packs can take turns with different times every year,” Steele says.
Efficiency continues at monthly sub-pack meetings, which are limited to an hour. According to Steele, that means minimizing announcements and being efficient with awards. She has seen all sorts of Pinterest-worthy ways to hand out belt loops and pins, but she’s fine with baggies.
“For 150 or 160 Scouts, that could be a lot of money spent on materials just to pretty up their awards,” she says. “The kids actually love their awards no matter what they come in.”
Deciding and Delegating
Each May or June, the pack finalizes its calendar for the next program year.
“We try and come into every new year with a plan already in place; a lot of work is done over the summer to line things up,” Gersema says. “And we pretty much use the same calendar year after year.”
Pack leaders make reservations for meetings and events but leave the rest of the planning to volunteers who take on just one or two projects a year. That’s not to say those volunteers don’t get support, however; pack leaders give them planning guides and references to what’s been done in the past.
“They give us tools, but they don’t micromanage,” Steele says. “That’s why I think a lot of these events have been so successful.”
Focusing on the Families
When you join a pack of 150 Cub Scouts, it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. Pack 1’s membership chair, Gwynn Pierce, makes sure that doesn’t happen. An 18-year pack volunteer, she gets to know all the Cub Scouts and leaders by name and is always around at activities.
“Scout leaders and Scouts can stop in and get questions answered or share accomplishments after their meetings,” Gersema says. “That’s the personal touch that lets our pack members feel important and a part of the pack.”
And that’s perhaps Pack 1’s most important secret to success.
“We’re in it for the youth; we’re in it for our military families,” Gersema says. “We’re here to help them on this journey of building great character and good family values, but also to make memories.”
I live and volunteer in the same District as Pack 1. They are exceptional, without a doubt. The US Army’s Command and General Staff College brings Graduate level, high performing, officers into our Council and District. They are pretty much exceptional parents and Scout Leaders. We in the District appreciate them while they are here, miss them when they rotate out, but are always looking for the next inbound crop. The older Scouts in the Troops and Crew are also impressive Scouts.
The greatest Scouting treasure from Ft. Leavenworth, however, is the group of Scouters who are in Staff and Support at the Fort. As long timers, the give the Ft. Leavenworth Units continuity and institutional memory, which is important for such units with massive turnover.
All in all, Scouting at Ft. Leavenworth makes all of Scouting strong. I applaud them.